Friday, December 19, 2014

a nice video touching on how ecology is process-relational (Aeon video)

Whale Fall (After Life of a Whale) from Sweet Fern Productions on Vimeo.

new Cosmos & History now online: special issue on "Naturalism" with an article on "Speculative Naturalism"

A very interesting issue of Cosmos & History is now posted, featuring "Naturalism" as its theme (this issue rivals my other favorite from 2008 "What is Life?" - HERE).

What's great is that Arran Gare (the editor) has published an essay on "Speculative Naturalism," tracing its historical roots in American speculative Idealism and the naturphilosophie of F.W.J. Schelling, Alfred North Whitehead, Gilles Deleuze, and C.S. Peirce.  He also situates speculative naturalism in context of "speculative realism" (speculative materialism) and recent Continental metaphysics.

There's really nothing that I disagree with in his characterization of Speculative Naturalism, and I like how his characterization of the view is open to other articulations of it (including my own) while remaining loyal to something of a consonant core of the view as it has developed historically.  In fact, there is nothing that I said HERE in my own paper "Speculative Naturalism" - published some months ago - that contradicts his painting of the speculative naturalist picture.

I have a few thoughts about his paper before posting a link.

All in all, speculative naturalism focuses on speculative query rather than critical analysis; it is a non-reductive form of naturalism when it comes to science (and thus makes room for topics of concern within the camps of Idealism or spiritualism, i.e. mind or Spirit); it challenges strictly analytic types of naturalism (those types that paralyze speculative inquiry); embraces neo-rationalism and speculative materialism (pace Meillassoux, but also Bergson, Deleuze, and Whitehead with emphases on creativity and contingency); and embraces "synthetic" historical thinking and philosophical realism going beyond the anti-realism of deconstructive postmodernism. 

Tracing speculative naturalism's history, of course, begins in Presocratic nature ontologies, although Garre picks up with Quine's naturalism (for constraints of space) to illustrate speculative naturalism's non-reductive character (and such is why Democritus or much later Lucretius would have been left out in favor of, say, Anaximander or Pythagoras, or much later Epicurus, or perhaps even Seneca for admitting reason as a divine principle into the equation, in tracing Ancient origins for the view).  It's a nice touch how Garre also points out the importance for logic for speculative naturalim, given the fact that the general belief is that logical and mathematical conclusions may reach ontological ones.

From Quine Garren then proceeds to set out how the naturalism of American Idealism (Garre mentions Royce but I think John William Miller, Justus Buchler, Paul Weiss, or Nicholas Rescher with his pragmatic idealism would be a bit closer) is able to challenge Quinean naturalism by simply being a more defensible position.  He then travels to the moment of siding with either Kant or Hegel within German Idealism in order  to show how Schellingean ("speculative") naturalism - as it is found in the German moment of Idealism - is superior to Quine's own conception of nature.  So, "between" so to speak Kant and Hegel one must follow Schelling.  I completely agree that it is Schelling's philosophy which is truly the lynchpin for any speculative naturalism.  Let me say just abit more about this.

As I've argued, recovering the tradition of speculative naturalism requires recovering Schelling and his naturphilosophie - a domain of interest that has been brought back to light by figures such as Iain Grant, Sean McGrath, and myself.  The key is thinking about how, not just a speculative nature philosophy sits with regard to reductive materialist naturalism, but how the concept of nature entails a physics of the Idea with respect to the Absolute.  Thus, it involves thinking about mentality, or Spirit for some, but more generally for most about motion, activity, generation, and the conditions of ultimacy.  In other words, speculative naturalism today asks "what are the conditions for the dynamic construction of matter, and how do they - if at all - relate to the Absolute?"  Further, what is the precise relation between the Absolute and intelligence or the Idea?  How does human intelligence - or the creative intelligence of any living form for that matter - represent nature's ultimate determinative conditions?  In order to flesh out these questions Garre points to the American reception of Schelling's nature philosophy, specifically C.S. Peirce.  Garre writes, "Like Schelling, Peirce was a speculative naturalist concerned to conceive physical existence in a way that would enable humans to be understood as creative products of, and participants in, nature."  So a tradition is traced from American (and German) Idealism to pragmatism: from Schelling to Peirce, Dewey, and Whitehead.  On the Continental side Bergson and Deleuze are mentioned.

Garre ends the piece on a practical note and a call for the future: "The development of the natural sciences on the more defensible foundations of speculative naturalism [rather than the foundations of analytic naturalism, or materialist naturalism] makes science consistent with the reality of humans and their potential for understanding and creativity...speculative naturalism supports Aldo Leopold's dictum that 'A thing is right when it tends to preserve the integrity, stability, and beauty of the biotic community.  It is wrong when it tends otherwise."  And so there are ethical implications for speculative naturalism (in addition to the theological ones that I have so oftenly pointed out).  The ethics of speculative naturalism recognizes and augments the condition for the flourishing of ecosystems, of multiple agencies, none of which are separate, static, or strictly quantifiable but are rather interconnected, active, and qualitative and temporal at their core.

Worth checking out the entire issue HERE, or Garre's paper specifically, HERE.  

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Noncorrelationist phenomenology: the Whitehead-Hartshorne-Peirce axis

In polishing my book tentatively titled either Speculative Naturalism: Speculative Realism as an Ecological Metaphysics, or simply Speculative Naturalism: An Ecological Metaphysics, I came across the following part of a book review where two useful paragraphs never made it to print, at least in full. These two unpublished paragraphs will actually form the kernel of a chapter in my book - a chapter that I plan to call “The End of Phenomenology? Not Quite: From Husserl to C. S. Peirce, Charles Hartshorne, and Alfred North Whitehead.”  I think the below paragraphs from THIS review (second part HERE) provides a good taste for the chapter and the amount of detailed argument I plan to present. [Update: I guess I wasn't clear in saying at first that I am the author of the review!]

Hartshorne's “My Eclectic Approach to Phenomenology” articulates a phenomenological method which is a “descriptive science” – one that, in Whiteheadian terms, “gets its basic concepts from the most general aspects of experience” and which does not specifically reference the observer but experience itself” (Harsthorne, 11). Hartshorne articulates how his phenomenology is different from Husserl’s and Heidegger’s - he met and briefly studied with both philosophers during his travels in Europe as a Sheldon Fellow in 1924-1925 (Hartshorne published the first English review of Sein und Zeit in 1929). If some argue that phenomenology may never truly be a “realist” method of metaphysics due to the “human-centeredness” of its methodology (the charge is that the phenomenological method espoused by Husserl is “correlationist” because it refers its results to a human standpoint, that is, always to an observer), then Hartshorne’s version of phenomenology easily dodges the correlationist bullet.

Hartshorne emphasizes that the question of phenomenology is, “As what are sensations experienced?” Disagreeing with Husserl and agreeing instead with Whitehead (and Peirce), Hartshorne explains that, “Experience-of-x is x plus something. But the relation of the two is no mere and. Experience-of-x includes x. Whitehead uses ‘prehend’ for this inclusion” (Hartshorne, 12). This is to say that reality is experiential and not just experiential-for a human observer which activates within an observation some experience. Experience and sense (feeling) are instead said to be one. Hartshorne’s phenomenology, being panexperiential and a priori in metaphysical orientation, shifts speculative query back into an exhibitive display of the real without recourse to a specifically anthropocentric intentionality. As an “eclectic phenomenologist,” Hartshorne elaborates, “I can say…Husserl was right in seeking the source of meanings in concrete experience as such but dismally wrong in trying to conceive experience in abstraction from an actual world, without…dynamic agents other than the experiencing or experiencer itself” (Hartshorne, 24). In this Hartshorne establishes the beginnings of a “non-correlationalist” phenomenology, indebted to both Peirce and Whitehead for its construction.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

"Here's the tiny human twig in the Tree of Life"

Pointer to Nick Land for drawing my attention to this.

From the Tree of Life Web Project : "[T]his epic infographic is one monster family tree, showing the history of 3.5 billion years of life on Earth."
As you look at the graphic, realise that time radiates outward and each kingdom’s appearance is also in chronological order from left to right. What you’ll discern then is a story of origins and mass extinctions, the way life almost bided its time through the Ice Age then hit the gas through the Cambrian Explosion. It was here when the protostomes (everything from trilobites to squids) simply went nuts, and the separation of plants vs. animals as we know them arose. 
Those big white splotches that disrupt various branches throughout the tree represent either extinction events or the end of species whose evolutionary pathway did not lead to further species. 
It’s a pretty sobering thought that humans, all the way down there in the bottom right-hand corner, have been wiping their way through so many species, particularly in the past half a century."
It's also sobering to see how late in the game humans have arrived, and how another mass extinction seems inevitable.  As Whitehead said, other cosmic epochs are indeed possible.  It's mind boggling to see the various natural historical epochs even of the earth's own life forms.

Tuesday, December 9, 2014

a very interesting post on "anim(al)ism"

HERE.  Some highlights:

"Animal is the one who phenomenally shows to have a soul, by being drawn to things, or pushed away by them. The animal is not like the rock who stays where it is, no matter what, or the water, which indifferentially seeks the easiest route. Not even like the plant, which shows some kind of sensitive reaction, but which never moans for pain, or jumps for joy. The animal is the most expressive creature of them all. It cannot resist to react visibly or audibly to what it meets. Even not when keeping things in with grand mastery. So what is an animalist? It is someone who feels that the human being is not only not alone for being part of the world of ongoing translation between all creatures, but still less alone for belonging to a large family of expressive creatures."

"The animalist is by definition an animist, in my view – for I have never met an (non-human) animal who didn’t treat the whole of visible reality as being inhabited by spirit/soul. No fools among animals."

Readers may be interested to see my "If Cats Could Talk" post HERE which considers what the "otherness" of animals might reveal; and my link to "The Soul of All Living Creatures" HERE.

For more on panpyschism see a link to Charles Birch on the soul HERE with a post "Is Matter Mental?", and posts on Plato and Hartshorne on the soul HERE and HERE.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

recommending a smart, compelling, and overall fantastic new series on Netflix

Black Mirror (TV series) is a smart, entertaining, and thought provoking techno-apocalyptic fusion of The Twilight Zone and Tales of the Unexpected.  It has won several awards including Best TV Mini-series at the International Emmy's.

Each episode is a different story featuring different characters.  Each episode, like The Twilight Zone, features a different reality with unique plots and compelling content.

Described as "a twisted parable for the Twitter age," the program generally shows the dark side of life with technology; with twists-in-tale and lots of philosophical ideas to chew on. It masterfully achieves a "techno-paranoia" feel for our modern age.

I started with "The Entire History of You" and was instantly hooked.  Each episode is 60 minutes long, but they're great and well worth watching.  The program has a nihilistic, dark, crypto-techno apocalyptic feel featuring some very interesting themes from within the science fiction genre.  Very good stuff here.  Highly recommended for fans of The Twilight Zone (I was also a fan of the '80s three season version of The Twilight Zone).

More info on Wikipedia HERE.  Two seasons now available on Netflix.

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Nick Land (and Ernst Juenger) on Ultimate Exit

Nick Land put up THIS post about "tech secessionism."  The basic idea stems from "seasteading" where, because no government will give up its lands yet 70% of the world is covered by ocean, experimental city-states not bound by current existing government law could be floated upon the water.  In other forms tech secessionism looks to a mass "ultimate exit" into the frontiers of the Net, where alternate currency and new forms of expressive freedom could be found.  See THIS article on the "ultimate exit," for example.  In short, "cloud-based communities of individuals are imagining city-state-like sites escaping state jurisdiction."

In many ways this sort of fleeing or inner emigration reminds me of the flight-to-the-forest imagined by science fiction author and philosopher Ernst Jünger. Jünger (himself "apolitical") in several places wrote about and anticipated the sort of retreat into the Net that we see beginning to happen today.  But instead of taking the uncolonized frontier of the Net to be an autonomous zone of individual liberty he had a sort of inner spiritual domain represented by the forest in mind.  The frontier of individual liberty, he stated, is any zone where inner freedom is the pillar allowing escape from extraneous forces.  One may look to his science fiction masterpiece Eumeswil (1977) or his essay "Retreat to the Forest" (1951) to see this idea take shape.

In his writings Jünger develops the prototype of the "Forest Fleer," a version of his "Anarch" (neither anarchist nor libertarian but a kind of fusion of both).  In Jünger's words, "One becomes a Waldgänger [Forest Fleer; sometimes translated as Forest-Goer] and by extension an Anarch not only when one enters or flees to the literal forest but at the deepest level of being each single person is already in the forest, is already a forest-goer, the forest being the original untamed core of one's being."  (See THIS post for more.)

Jünger's book The Forest Passage is a testament to opposing the power of the omnipresent state, where freedom found in the forest is found in each individual. "No matter how extensive the technologies of surveillance become, the forest can shelter the rebel, and the rebel can strike back against tyranny."  Indeed, the book is a manifesto for freedom.

I've written about Jünger periodically before, see my posts "The Forest Passage" HERE, "The Magic of the Real" HERE, or "More on Juenger" HERE.

Finally, I think that there is a neat tie between Jünger's embrace of technology as an accelerationist device for freedom - a device that he developed very early on in his writing career in his The Worker: Domination and Form (1932).  The book was never published in English although I do have a copy of Dirk Leach's proposed translation that he had once submitted to SUNY Press in the early '90s.  I plan to scan and post that typescript here time permitting.  But the interesting thought is that Landian themes conducive to a "Right Accelerationism" are primarily Jüngerian in orientation.  There is definitely an affinity, and if I can I'd like to write an essay on NRx, Land, and Jünger in my forthcoming speculative realism book Speculative Naturalism: Speculative Realism as an Ecological Metaphysics (as it covers some of Accelerationism too) which I'll be polishing up this coming winter break.  It would fit in the theme of a metaphysics of freedom, environmental thinking, and political ecology.

My last post touched on wandering and the exploration and colonization of space. Landian-Jüngerian themes are timely (especially given the excitement over Interstellar) in that more individuals are looking not only to the deep space of the cosmos, but also to the deep space present within.  It seems that the renewed dream of space exploration is not only a proposed escape from ecological collapse then, it is also a proposed escape from the forces which deny the human quest to transcend the current and embark into the limitless space of the future.  It is truly a form of Promethean time travel where the "inside" and "outside" become one.

Wanderers (Aeon video)

A stunning vision of the possibilities of humanity’s expansion into space.

Wanderers - a short film by Erik Wernquist

Immanent Polytheism (paper)

Thomas Millary has a new paper up on "Immanent Polytheism" which takes a new materialist and pluralist approach to theology using a diverse range of figures from James, to Latour, to Whitehead, to Connolly and Keller.

The interesting part of the paper is where Millary tries to fashion his own emergent-pluralist concept of gods rather than rely upon the (process-relational) concept of God as creative-ground and universal; or the traditional theistic notion of God as ultimate personality.  For Millary, the concept of gods, rather than the process of emergent creative becoming, cannot be grouped under one universal or concept, as God(s) is or are within panentheistic process theology or more traditional theism.  Millary states that a polytheistic notion of a multiplicity of divine personalities best expresses what a true pluralistic cosmotheology might achieve in rendering adequately divinity.

Thomas and I have corresponded some, and he participated in the Philadelphia Summer School of Continental Philosophy this past summer where John Caputo lectured (and incidentally Millary mentions Caputo's Divine Insistence book of this past year in his own paper).

The only thing I am left wondering, that I am always left wondering with polytheism, is what distinguishes divine multiple becomings (or personalities) as such from other multiple becomings.  It seems to me that the universal of creative ground found in panentheistic ontologies, which are indeed pluralistic as well, is that that creative ground is what precisely guarantees its own ontological integrity so as to be considered ultimate or divine.  Even if all mutiplicities house their own specific creative grounds, some are more capable than others, with only one taking the name "ultimate."  But with this, the notion of personality is lost.  So I haven't figured out how that works just yet.  Maybe Thomas has some thoughts.

Link to his paper HERE.

Friday, December 5, 2014

nominated for an outstanding teaching award

Out of some 300 full-time faculty I've been nominated for an outstanding teaching award (for excellence in teaching).  I am the first non-tenure stream faculty to be nominated in - if I remember correctly - several years because non-tenure stream folks usually aren't considered.  For some reason because of my weird status they considered me mostly from nominations from students.  In other words the students basically demanded it.

So, for whatever that's worth.  I am just excited (and honored) to be recognized for my hard work and really committing myself to my teaching and to my students.