A New Paradigm, a New Worldview?

Science, says Thomas Kuhn, has periods of crisis, when there is no agreement about the dominant paradigm, when application of the paradigm which has previously governed scientific enquiry in a particular area discloses an unacceptable number of anomalous cases which cannot be convincingly assimilated to it; at such moments new paradigms may be proposed which are more successful in accounting for the evidence and which necessitate a radical re-evaluation of work governed by earlier paradigms.

But what if this were true of Society itself? Are we not proving this even now as we question the tenets of two hundred years under the socio-cultural paradigm of Secularism and Enlightenment? For two hundred years we’ve questioned the old sense of liberal subjectivist identity and have found it wanting; and, yet, isn’t the very political structure that supported such an identity become in itself obsolete? We still pretend with ourselves that democracy which underpins the whole gamut of our socio-cultural system is somehow static and sacrosanct as if it were the last bastion of social justice and freedom between us and … what? chaos, change, difference?

If one does away with the progressive enlightened Subject what remains of its society and culture? Obviously we’ve been critiquing to the death the notion of Self-Subject for sixty odd years to the point that the notion of a Self has vanished into the neuroscientific void and emptiness of a non-category of there is no one home… the Self as empty and non-essential, and the socio-cultural world that supported it – our humanistic heritage is but a dream of stupidity and error; and, yet, we continue to support the political structures of Representation of these empty Identities without ever questioning their validity. When will we topple the whole enterprise of Secular Democratic Society and Culture and formulate something new?

We bandy about all these new-fangled notions of inhuman, posthuman, transhuman, anti-human as if there were within those untidy knots of scholarship, philosophy, scientific and theoretical work something hinting at a sea-change in thought which might suddenly reveal a new socio-cultural framework to replace the failing edifice of Enlightened Secular worldview. When will it step out from the cave of its dark intuition and reveal itself? Are we to battle over new forms of rational and non-rational thought till doomsday arrives and does away with the whole human project; or, will we actually begin awakening to a new worldview that can shape us to the new?

Throughout that untidy thing we term loosely ‘history’ there were always small groups, advanced harbingers of change, secretive enclaves of intellect and imagination who broke through the barriers of resistance and gave birth to such paradigm shifts. Artists, philosophers, poets, essayists, critics, scientists, etc. who shared among themselves this strange new world with new cognitive and imaginative concepts and metaphors toward this transitional world. We saw this in the Enlightenment of the philosophes…. So who are our philosophes? Who among us are the Avant-garde leading the way to a new worldview that can replace this sick and dying, even decadent and broken world of ruins within which we too are suffocating and dying… ?

Sometimes I believe we are doomed to end in that false infinity of post-modern thought in which we’ve become subject to what deconstructionist criticism calls ‘infinite deferral’ or ‘postponement’. As if we will never arrive… lost on the sea of time looping in an endless world of critique without any sign of ending or beginning, only the destitution of non-thought and stasis: a living death amid the sea-change of a global catastrophe. As if we were all watching the future coming at us as doom and gloom when all along there were in our hands the very tools at hand that would have given us the ability to change. Will we change, or will we just continue circling in the darkness of this cave of doubt frozen to the screen of some shadow world film in which we are forever prisoners of some master puppeteer? Can we break away from that dark screen and walk out of the cave of this era’s inability to act and create something new to move the human project forward or see it finally play out its end-game in self-lacerating defeat at the hands of its own inability to act? It’s really up to all of us to do something now, to act on this subtle swerve of time and change and help it awaken in our midst, to build a future worth living in out of the dying embers of a decaying civilization which is already passing into oblivion.

Thought of the Day: The Limits of the Mind

At times philosophers are like magicians whose whole world of magic is bound within evasion and trickery, seeking to keep your mind occupied by the bells-and-whistles of distraction and stage props while the real work goes on elsewhere and in plain sight. The philosopher’s old enemy was the rhetorician, the Sophist, who could use the figures of intellect and speech to cover over the truth in a veil of pure illusion and make it seem by way of metaphor and rhetorical flourish the very thing itself. But the philosopher is himself caught in the trap of self-deception, believing that the very words he so uses under the scrutiny of careful persuasion and example have the power to awaken truth from its hiding places while all the time as Nietzsche reminds us: “Even great spirits have only their five-fingers’ breadth of experience – just beyond it their thinking ceases and their endless empty space and stupidity begins.”

Monstrous Existence: Icon of Creativity and Destruction

.‘Oh Mother’  – Kali-Ma, Queen of Life and Death: dance upon my ashen bones, dine upon my entrails, feed upon my darkest soul!
…..– Hymn to Night & Time

Smash the mirror: it’s a lie what you tell yourself, the world is invisible and waiting. Let the darkness seep in and envelop you. The world of light you see around you is but the flotsam and jetsam, a drift of rainbow plumage on a sea of energy that seeks its daemonic day in the Sun.

Enter your melancholia as if it were your lover’s body; and like a lover savor its dark passions, then like a Mantis slay it, be done with it, and eat it alive till there is nothing of melancholy left but only the power of your dread life.

Think on Black Kali-ma, an image of the fierce life of creative destruction that is this universe – Time’s darkest face and image: a poetic icon of all that exists in its most monstrous form and formlessness, – being and becoming, the turning plover of the ancient milky way: the sea of milk and pure energia; the ever-turning wheel of death and becoming, the distilling wisdom of tens of billions of years living in the circle of fire at the center of hell: Time’s dark dominion that shapes the powers of all things, good or ill. The Iron Prison within which we circulate like algorithms forged in the electronic void. Broken vessels of some former age of silence wherein the collapse of all being brought forth the bursting flames of being like the breath of a great dragon, only to falter in the extremity of Night’s dark and impenetrable belly…

Seek out the graveyards of ancient fools of time, sit on the headstones of forgotten masters of despair, laugh at the impossibility of your monstrous existence. Then savor its bittersweet tang, and enter into your dark jouissance!


The Kālikāhṛdaya says:

‘I worship Kālī the Destructress of Kāla the Shining One, who is the Bīja Krīm who is Kāma who is beyond Kāla and who is Dakṣinakālikā.’ Gandharva-Tantra says: ‘Hrīm, I bow to Mahādevī who is Turīya and Brahman. He who remembers Her does not sink in the ocean of existence.’ Candī says: ‘Oh Thou whose Body is pure Energia who hast three divine eyes, who weareth the crescent moon, to Thee I bow for the attainment of all Evil.’

A Short Note on Zizek

Been rereading The Ticklish Subject by Slavoj Zizek of late and realize I like the early works better than the later. Later Zizek is bloated, untidy, full of long repetitions, along with copy and paste jokes and assays from his earlier works. He’s sloppy and needs an editor. His arguments with himself have become habit rather than a staging for some new concept. Why do philosophers think they need to repeat what they’ve done better in earlier works? Why repeat yourself over and over and over again?

One of the great differences between Zizek and his friend Badiou is this sense of total command on the part of the Frenchman, a fastidiousness; even a certain fussiness over each sentence: structure, word, meaning. Badiou’s works never overstep or overreach, every word has its place in the systematic format of his books. It’s as if he’d read and reread certain passages, honing them down to perfection; to the point that one could not replace, excise, or change the wording without losing the conceptual thought altogether. With Zizek it’s just the opposite, one is given page after page of repetitious monologue, as if the philosopher we’re happily engaged in argument with himself at the total expense of any future reader.  As if it would be too much bother to go back and revise, edit, or change anything…. anything at all.

Does he ever allow someone to read his works early on? Are his editors disciples afraid to say the truth: ah, Zizek maybe you could tidy up this or that passage; your locutions seem to go on and on without really giving us clarity, but rather confusion. To read later Zizek is to know in advanced that one is condemned to reread certain passages over and over because his affectation for dialectical materialism is in the scale of rhetoric lacking that polish and precision one expects from such a touted pop icon. No if one wants a philosopher’s philosopher, one reads Deleuze and Badiou, not Zizek. Zizek is a street philosopher, a speaker who can reach the mass mind but rarely reaches the pitch one expects from such a giant intellect.

But one says just the opposite of his early works. Here the mind of the philosopher is sharp, witty, controlled; he speaks what he measures, nothing more, nothing less; he offers apt examples, and displays an acumen and reserve that one expects and demands of such writing. His style is still verbose, but it seems compact and to the point, rather than obtuse and sprawling like his Less Than Nothing is. The several works of The Essential Zizek Series I would recommend without reserve. Here one listens in on a mind inquisitive, challenging, probing; tracing a concept into its dialectical interplays among various philosophers without getting bogged down in details. Maybe he had better editors in the early days? Either way these works and essays – and, above all, Zizek is an essayist of the first order – have that refined eloquence of the obvious, yet reach into an abyss that few have traveled to develop and explicate concepts that instruct and delight those who know.

Jorge-Luis Borges: Tlon and the Hronir; and, The Immortal

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 Until recently, the Hronir were the accidental products of distraction and forgetfulness. … A scattered dynasty of solitary men has changed the face of the world. Their task continues.

– Jorge-Luis Borges, Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius

In that delightful tale of the planet Tlön, Uqbar, Orbis Tertius
by Jorge Luis Borges we come upon those strange objects, the Hronir. Objects that have allowed archaeologists the ability to both interrogate and even to modify the past, which “is now no less plastic and docile than the future”.1 We discover these objects are both uncanny and weird, and the planet upon which they were discovered resembles that break from the principle of sufficient reason that Schopenhauer and Meillassoux see as the veritable power of contingency unbound: a place where “the duplication of lost objects is not infrequent”. One might think of Lacan’s objet petite a – that lost or missing object, the impossible object of jouissance that is irrecoverable; yet, exists in its very lostness, an object whose very presence is revealed in its utter absence. Like a Lover’s kiss that one can no longer imagine, but rather feel in the movement of one’s desire.

Continue reading

A tidbit…

irony

How do we know on the internet when someone is being ironic rather than literal in their statements? In real life one can take a cue from the bodily behaviors of facial expression and intonation, as well as vocal cues of pitch or density as the other is speaking; but, in writing one looks for context rather than the actual descriptive phrase. But what if the phrase is a common off-hand expression… oh, say: “Oh, that sounds like fun!” Would one know when this sentence is floating there without any supporting context that the author implied it as ironic rather than a statement of fact, or does one take the context from the previous statements of the other to which this statement is a reply? On the internet typically we add to these statements such things as “lol” (lots of luck). In that we might say: “Oh, that sounds like fun! lol” then one might realize… oh, he was just being sarcastic or ironic, less than serious or literal. He didn’t mean what he said. But if one didn’t add this epithet of “lol” would that always imply that the statement should be taken literally?

Obviously if someone knows the person in question, and has listened or heard or read such off-hand statements before in other contexts one would realize it. Yet, for those who have never known the author or speaker such things would need some added indicator to allow the other to understand: ah, this is an ironic statement, not to be taken literally. I’m being pedantic, of course, because I fall into that trap myself all the time: saying something off-hand that I meant as ironic or satiric, but discover after the fact that people have taken as a literal statement rather than a figure of speech in the ironic sense. Does this happen to you very often? Let me know of your stories… 🙂

How Technology Shapes Us

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How many times has a new technological invention changed the course of history, created new forms of social, political, and philosophical – and, yes, even religious views about ourselves and the universe. One could recite a litany of inventions that have had both a material and immaterial impact upon our world and the way we perceive it.

Think of it this way. Before the launch of the Hubble Space Telescope (HST) in the 1990’s we thought we had a fairly accurate picture of the formation and eventual heat-death of the universe, etc. But with the launch of this new technological wonder scientists were able for the first time to study aspects of the universe that had up to that moment been closed off in speculation and theory.

Before the launch of this telescope one thing was fairly certain about the expansion of the Universe. It might have enough energy density to stop its expansion and recollapse, it might have so little energy density that it would never stop expanding, but gravity was certain to slow the expansion as time went on. Granted, the slowing had not been observed, but, theoretically, the Universe had to slow. The key here is that it was all theory. No one had actually been able to observe what was going on. Instead we developed elaborate mathematical theorems to describe what we did know rather than what we didn’t know.

But with the launch of this telescope scientist instead of being bound to an armchair philosophy of math and theory were able to get a front row seat and open a window onto the great outdoors of being. What they discovered in their observations of very distant supernovae is that, a long time ago, the Universe was actually expanding more slowly than it is today. So the expansion of the Universe has not been slowing due to gravity, as everyone thought, it has been accelerating. No one expected this, no one knew how to explain it. But something was causing it.

But what was this mysterious X that was causing this? No one had an idea. Yet, as they began readjusting their theories to meet the truth of what they were observing they discovered even more paradoxical truths: the major part of our universe is made up of something other than matter. Yes, you heard me. What these scientists realized is that matter, our phenomenal world of rocks and dust, stars, and galaxies, etc. made up only 5% of the known universe. But if their mathematical calculations were correct then what is the unknown stuff that makes up the other 95% of the universe?

What these scientists discovered as it turns out is that roughly 68% of the Universe is dark energy, and another 27% is made of Dark matter. The rest – everything on Earth, everything ever observed with all of our instruments, all normal matter – adds up to less than 5% of the Universe. One can find all kinds of information on this on the web. I particularly liked the National Geographic breakdown: here. Of course these names were given because what they masked is not really something we know anything about at all. Nothing. All we know is the math is correct. That there is this quantified certainty that something exists behind these unknown knowns. But exactly what this something that is less than nothing is not known. Oh sure they have several theories, but have no proof for these theories… again, everything is speculation based on theoretical mathematics rather than empirical verification. Many countries are spending millions of dollars on detecting this mysterious unknown. China is entering the race to detect mysterious dark matter in a big way, with a huge facility in Sichuan province set to begin collecting data in the coming weeks. (see Space)

The point I wanted to originally make is not the astounding truth of these two new aspects of the universe, but how technology impacts the way we view the universe itself. Up to this time neither scientists nor philosophers could give a detailed explanation about our universe. All we had were educated speculations based on a limited set of known facts. It was from these that we built up our pictures and representations of the universe.

This same thing is happening now with the advent of neuroimaging technologies in the 1970’s. After centuries of brain inquiry and research these new technologies gave neuropsychologists and neuroscientists images of living, functioning brains. In other words we didn’t need to speculate about what was happening internally in our minds, perceptions, etc. We had indirect access to the living processes themselves through these neuroimaging systems.

The two main types of neuroimaging technologies are the Structural and Functional Imaging systems. Structural imaging provides images of the brain’s anatomical structure. This type of imaging helps in the diagnosis of brain injury, and the diagnosis of certain diseases. Functional imaging provides images of the brain as patients complete tasks, such as solving math problems, reading, or responding to stimuli such as auditory sounds or flashing lights. The area or areas of the brain that are involved with completing or responding to these tasks “light up,” giving researchers a visual 3-D view of the parts of the brain involved with each type of task.

So many of the speculations concerning the mind that had been the bread and butter of philosophers of Mind for centuries is now part of the technological mind-toolset of scientists and doctors. Yet, the social, political, religious, ethical impact of these technologies and how they are changing our view of the human are barely scratching the surface. Both scientists and philosophers are scrambling to revise their empirical and systematic understanding of the human under the impact of these technologies.

One of the issues is description itself. How to frame the relevant data that is being exposed in the neuroimaging technologies? As Bickle and Mandik tell us:

Given that philosophy of neuroscience, as other branches of philosophy of science, has both descriptive and normative aims, it is critical to develop methods for accurate estimation of current norms and practices in neuroscience. Appeals to intuition will not suffice, nor will single paradigm case studies do the job because those case studies may fail to be representative.1

On Amazon alone I found a few hundred books on various aspects of this new technological world of the neurosciences and the impact of neuroimaging systems. Yet, in process of uncovering the best of these works I discovered the usual mix of pop cultural reference mixed in with expertise, along with shoddy conceptuality. It always seems that people love to cushion the effects of technologies impact rather than giving us the straight up and up.

I know my friend R. Scott Bakker loves to keep reminding me that the neurosciences will give us what philosophers only dreamed of: the truth about the Mind/Brain, etc. But with every new book I read by a reputable scientist I become more and more disillusioned not by the scientific findings, but rather that scientists with the best intentions (ah! that word, intention) try to convey the conceptual truth of what they are discovering, but invariably fall back into descriptions that use old worn out metaphysical jargon, tropes, metaphors, etc. that confuse and abuse the issue rather than clarifying the actual facts of their findings. Then one turns to other commentators to get the clarification that was not forthcoming in the original rendition of the finding.

So who do we go too to give us the narrative facts of the issue? The scientists, the philosopher; or, some middle-party science journalist who can fuse the two? Is there an answer? Since not all of us have the scientific credentials or background to study the actual first hand data ourselves shall we be bound to some second-hand appraisal of this data; either through the lens of some scientist’s or philosopher’s framework? Or can we develop a shared framework that the educated public can use to know what is of value? Isn’t this an age-old problem?

I know in ages past – at least for literature and culture, we had this educated creature called the literary critic who was able to filter in and out the public validity of a work and present us with the best and brightest of the lot. So that instead of reading 500 books that repeat each other’s findings in various modes of expertise, we could instead discover the best “authority” and most equitable purveyor of this knowledge. Of course now days people frown on such thinking as anti-democratic and elitist. So that instead we have anyone and everyone as their own DIY expert. What to do?

Maybe I should wait for some technological cyber-mind, some AI of the neo-knowledge set to rise up out of the dead world of the Smithsonian library who will be able to sift through the remains of human knowledge at the blink of an eye: who will then speak to me in some alien register of the stupidity of all our learning. Then give me the monstrous truth.

Bickle, John, Mandik, Peter and Landreth, Anthony, “The Philosophy of Neuroscience“, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Summer 2012 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.),

Slovoj Zizek: The Parallax Shift

object

…the gap that separates the knowing subject from the known object is inherent to the object itself, my knowing a thing is part of a process internal to the thing, which is why the standard epistemological problem should be turned around: not “How is my knowledge of the thing possible?” but “How is it that knowledge appears within the thing as a mode of the thing’s relating to itself?”

– Slavoj Zizek,  Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism

Our alienation from an object is the Object’s self-alienation. When we lose the object, it is not only that the Object abandons us, the Object abandons itself. Is this sheer non-sense? Have I suddenly plunged into a realm where things begin to think through me, rather than me thinking about things? Do things awaken in my mind of their own accord? Are things constituted by our mind or is the opposite true, that our mind is constituted by things. We know that the typical transcendental idealist ploy is to reflexively regress from the object to its subjective conditions of possibility. As Zizek will remind us even the philosophy of the “linguistic turn” remains at this transcendental level, addressing the transcendental dimension of language— that is, how the horizon of possible meaning sustained by language in which we dwell functions as the transcendental condition of possibility for all our experience of reality.1 He will add:

Here, then, “the signified falls into the signifier,” for the signified is an effect of the signifier, it is accounted for in the terms of the symbolic order as its transcendentally constitutive condition.  What dialectical reflection adds to this is another reflexive twist which grounds the very subjective-transcendental site of enunciation in the “self-movement” of the Thing itself: here, “the signifier falls into the signified,” the act of enunciation falls into the enunciated, the sign of the thing falls into the Thing itself. (ibid. see notes*)

In dialectical materialism Zizek will tell us that the “primordial” difference is not between things themselves, also not between things and their signs, but between the thing and the void of an invisible screen which distorts our perception of the thing so that we do not take the thing for itself. The movement from things to their signs is not that of a replacement of the thing by its sign, but that of the thing itself becoming the sign of— not another thing, but— itself, the void at its very core. (LTN, KL 123-12303)

What if we suddenly see between the object and the void the truth in the Möbius band: the property of being non-orientable. Zizek will define this as an example of the parallax shift, which refers to the apparent motion of an object when it is seen from different perspectives. Žižek, referring to Hegel tells us that the dialectic does not overcome the Kantian division of antinomies, but rather asserts them as such. The Hegelian synthesis, in other words, is the recognition of the insurmountable gap between two positions. This synthesis can only be achieved through a parallax shift.

…more on this in my next post…

1. Zizek, Slavoj (2012-04-30). Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism (Kindle Locations 12220-12237). Norton. Kindle Edition.

Notes* : When asked to explain the meaning of a term X to someone who, while more or less fluent in our language, does not know this specific term, we invariably respond with a potentially endless series of synonyms, paraphrases, or descriptions of situations in which the use of the term would be appropriate. In this way, through the very failure of our endeavor, we circumscribe an empty place, the place of the right word— precisely the word we are trying to explain. So at some point, after our paraphrases fail, all we can do is to conclude in exasperation: “In short, it is X!” Far from functioning as a simple admission of failure, however, this can effectively generate an insight— if, that is, through our failed paraphrases we have successfully circumscribed the place of the term to be explained. At this point, as Lacan would have put it, “the signifier falls into the signified,” the term becomes part of its own definition. It is a little bit like listening to old mono recordings: the very crackling sounds that filter and disturb the pure reproduction of the human voice generate an effect of authenticity, the impression that we are listening to (what was once) a real person singing, while the very perfection of modern recordings, with their stereo and other effects, strangely de-realize what we hear. (LTN, KL 12220-12237)

When are we most alive?

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There are moments when I look into that deep well of memories, seek out in the brain’s twisted archive of fragmented neuronal lights; dip down into the chemical vats of its blind pathways certain traces that have established themselves, left their mark in a knot of neurons: discover in its uncertain, lingering waves events that have been copied into the tissue of my three pounds of mentation. In such moments I sometimes discover signs of past life, remembrances of past awakenings, moments in that time temple of traced livingness in which I suddenly felt most alive.

Most of the time it comes in snatches like dream fragments: a forest glen where a young doe looks up, her eyes pointedly staring into mine – a meeting of two beings forming a silent acknowledgement; else, other moments when the pain of a nail ripping into one’s flesh touches one’s being, awakens one to the power and resistance of things, of how they can bring one low, destroy in an instance one’s illusion of safety; or, the power of a smile, the trace of a woman’s mouth that hides more than it reveals: her eyes full of mischief, laughter, impishness. Sometimes these fragments from the neuronal stream pop up as one is going about work or play, mindlessly, like an automaton; living habitually through the day to day cycles without thought or care.

At such moments one will stop, awaken from one’s stupor for just a quick second, becoming aware of the other, of that self one has never known, but always seen scampering through the traceries of these neuronal flashes and memories. What is the Self that it follows one like a ghost? Is it nothing more than these disturbed memories? A broken stream of neurons floating among light bundles that suddenly trigger past events? Are we mere moments in a screen play we did not create, but rather have become unwilling players in its willy-nilly fabrications? Or is it more than the dark traceries below these jutting memories that reveal distorted signs of our only ever real life, a life marked by moments of awakening when the mind is so clear and alive that it sees into things as they are, alive and knowing? A life when the knower and the known awaken to each other?

Have you ever thought about the difficulty in bringing back the face of a loved one out of that dark sea of neurons? Seeking the trace of her appearance in the clouds of images that seem like some protean world that is in continuous metamorphosis? The way she would look up at you with that red baseball cap, her hair stuffed up in a knot, her coal black eyes full of dark-fire, that little turn of her lips, a grin sparking at you revealing both intelligence and humor. When she is gone what remains?

Does the universe hold these things forever? Will the memories in my neurons disperse among the stars, or will stars sing of them in some distant corner of the universe the moment my flesh dissolves into the earth? If I transcend my flesh and become machinic as some posthuman fabricators of descent foresee, will those memories have the same weight for that new positronic mind as they have had for my fleshly one? What in the reaches of those eons when our mechanical children look back on their ancestry will they remember? Will they feel as we feel, will they think as we think; will they know love and laughter, sorrow and terror; will they be troubled in their sleep with dreams?

We tell ourselves stories in the night to comfort us against the unknown terrors that surround us. Will our positronic children do the same?