Saturday, July 22, 2017

quote of the day




Q. Meillssoux

"The most underrated thinkers in the history of philosophy are Reinhold, Jacobi, Maimon: the German thinkers who formed the junction between Kant and Fichte. With these philosophers, we draw close to the edge of what would soon become the volcano of German Idealism. It is a volcano that would not have been able to erupt without them, even though Schelling and Hegel esteemed them lightly."

- Quentin Meillassoux

Friday, July 21, 2017

quote of the day



"Essence becomes matter in that matter's reflection is determined by relating itself to essence as much as it does to the formless indeterminate. Matter, therefore, is the simple identity, void of distinction, that essence which is, with the determination that it is, the other of form. Hence it is the proper base or substrate of form, since it constitutes the immanent reflection of the determinations of form,or the self-subsistent term, to which such determinations refer as to their positive subsistence.

If abstraction is made from every determination, from every form of a something at all, matter is what is left over. Matter is the absolutely abstract." [Boldface emphasis mine, After Nature ed.]

- G.W.F. Hegel, Science of Logic


Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Our visit to the Nietzsche Haus

Sign-post to the Nietzsche Haus 
PHOTO: Niemoczynski, 2017

Sils Maria is an indescribable place, if one wants to paint a picture of it perfectly. I'm not sure words could do justice to the peace which is that place. Granted, Switzerland now has a special place for me - mostly because of its picturesque landscapes, its pine forests, its mountains and peaks, and of course its quaint and romantic way of life . But if I had to put my finger on it (and I believe Nietzsche had mentioned this) - there is something about the air there. Something, rejuvenating, perhaps?

“Well, my dear old friend, I am once more in the Upper Engadine. This is my third visit to the place and once again I feel that my proper refuge and home is here and nowhere else.” 

- Friedrich Nietzsche to Carl von Gersdorff, Sils Maria, late June 1883

Our visit to the Nietzsche house was quick but informative. The house is tucked away just off the street past the train station stop which is marked "Sils Maria." Proceed not even a minute's walk to your left and the Nietzsche house is there off the street on the left.

My wife wasn't so much interested and began studying the adjacent hotel, a charming building in its own right. And for a few minutes she began to say how nice it would be that if we had children we could venture here as a family and vacation. I agreed. (We desperately want children, and the thought of vacationing in this beautiful place with my wife, and hopefully one day children, for a moment moved me.)

As to my expedition regarding more philosophical things, I think I learned more just by absorbing the surrounding experience of the mountains and forests, the creek nearby, the silence only being interrupted by the sounds of insects or the wind. But it was Nietzsche's own bare room which spoke most profoundly to me.

Inside the home there are many, many books which are organized according to various donated collections. There are various artifacts and items to look at, and a room dedicated to Nietzsche studies or exhibitions (currently in one of the rooms are paintings by an artist who lived in the house recently for two years). For me, though, it was Nietzscbe's room as well as the view from his room to the mountain outside which affected my experience of this place. Reminiscent of the painting by Caspar David Friedrich I had to think that the "wanderer"who was meant for those mountains could have only been Nietzsche himself. Inside his room there is not much to see but certainly much one might sense. The walls are bare, one small carpet is at the center of the floor, there is a small bed, and there is a porcelain washbowl and pitcher across from the bed. That's it.

But, there is a thing that struck me - and let me say right away that this will come off as quite personal and thus perhaps strange - is how Nietzsche placed on his wall a green piece of wall paper. Neat and rectangular, there it was in the midst of his Spartan-like room. But, it was the tone of the green which struck me. The tone was deep and seductive.

The Wanderer above a Sea of Fog, Caspar David Frierich, c. 1818
When I first discovered Nietzsche at age 19 one of my favorite poems that he wrote was called "The Sun Sinks," written in the year of 1888. I know this poem by heart and can recite it freely. However, there are a few very interesting lines in that poem which reference the color green. And yet within Nietzsche's room, his sheets? The color green. His carpet? Green. The wallpaper? Green. The room was bare save for whatever minimal color there was, it was green.

If one is to reflect upon the meaning of green in that poem alone, let alone its place in Thus Spoke Zarathustra, the poem's use of color all hangs upon green and its place vis-a-vis the abyss. Standing there, in Nietzsche's room, looking out from his window, to his fabled mountains of Zarathustra, I realized that the color green was for him, the abyssFrom there we hear about gold, blue, brown, black, and so on.

But "green," a dark majestic green, is the color of the golf-course greens where I was a night watchmen, my own Zarathustra at age 19, reading Nietzsche and marveling beneath the stars in the middle of those humid but cool, clear summer nights at 3am. Here in Sils Maria I was at the very place where one of the most influential philosophers who attracted me to philosophy in the first place lived. And here I was gazing out his window - at the same forests, the same mountains, the same stream. My Nietzsche journey had come full circle as I looked out his window.

Now that I have become part of "the establishment" of academia - a "philosophy professor" - part of that same establishment Nietzsche so despised, Herr Nietzsche and his anti-philosophy has crept up from behind me yet again to spur me into open reflection, just as he had when I was 19. And for that, my good friend, Friedrich Wilhem Nietzsche, I am thankful.

Today I still ask that most dreadful question, why? Hanging onto my late '30s, with respect to that question maybe Nietzsche's response, fittingly from the poem, remains the same when I found him while I was so young. "Stand firm my brave heart, do not ask: why? -"



A visit to the house costs 8 Francs (no Euros accepted).

***


Below one can find photos with captions of my visit. I'll attempt to upload a video of me traveling the path behind the house where Nietzsche would take walks when he could. As Sils Maria is a place for holiday one can see a hotel near the one where Nietzsche himself stayed. The only two cars that pass in the video toward the end were the only two heard during the hour I was there. Otherwise it was complete silence.

Finally, I am not an expert video producer so my apologies for the camera work (which is non-existent). I just wanted to show what the path looked like and attempt to transcribe to video the experience of what it may have been like for Nietzsche to walk along that path. Of course, that is impossible. In the end this was really an amazing experience and is on par with our visit to the Heidegger Hut (link HERE). Both visits were magical. Now on to the photos and video...

Mountains en route to the Nietzsche Haus

We've arrived! Sign directing visitors to the Nietzsche Haus, just off the street at Sils Maria, Switzerland 

View, front of the house

Entrance

Dedicatory sign above front door

A simple stone path directors visitors 
Left side front of house



Right side front of house where Nietzsche stayed

Forest path behind the house



View of the mountains from the front path front of house

View of adjacent hotel

Some visitors leaving Sils Maria

Leon and Na leave Sils Maria

Last glance at the lake before we leave for Turano


Read also about our visit to the cabin where the most infamous philosopher of the 20th-century Martin Heidegger (1889-1976) would stay each summer, and where he would eventually write his masterpiece, Being and Time (1927), link HERE.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Alex Galloway on Malabou: Does Malabou's Hegelian Materialist Ontology Require the Bios of Deleuze?



Alex Galloway's blog has a nice post up titled, "Malabou's Life Resistance" (link HERE). Galloway mentions one quotation from Malabou that I found quite interesting.
"[D]on't let philosophy condescend toward technology or biology; allow materiality to be philosophical on its own terms; conceive of resistance from “the living being itself...the bio-,” not from “the philosophical concepts that tower over it.” 
This is compelling considering Malabou's Hegelian lineage, but then again - for Hegel, concepts "move," and thus a sense of activity and agency, akin to dimensions of bio and bios do indeed figure.

Commenting on her essay, Galloway writes,
Malabou is most interested in the fundamental distinction between symbol and life. Both the symbol and the symbolic have long had an important role to play in fields like semiotics and psychoanalysis, not to mention philosophy as a whole. The symbol is a concrescence of meaning. The realm of the symbolic is the realm of language, the realm of abstraction, the realm of linguistic universality. The symbol aggregates and focuses meaning, abstracting it away from particularities in favor of a more unified, formal point of focus. “Bio-” on the other hand, the realm of material life, is often characterized in terms of its lived particularity, in terms of an irreducible material condition.
With respect to the relationship between bios and materiality and concept and symbol, rather than maintain that the conceptual or symbolic "tower over" kinetic expressions of bio's materiality, perhaps we might claim materiality's movement occurs via  the becoming of bios and hence accommodate rather than reject the Hegelian-conceptual given its ability to "move" in terms of both mediums. Such movement, or "transitive conceptual relation" as I would call it, is not without its tension, however. Galloway identifies this tension as a "bias" when either side of the symbol-life or mind-body dynamic is emphasized at the expense of the other. He writes, "The philosophical bias is the bias in which the realm of mind is superior to the realm of body, or as Malabou puts it here, the symbolic superior to that of life."

Galloway continues to explain how the materiality of bios is also capable of accommodating the symbolic or conceptual in a genetic sense by way of ratio or "rationality" through logos. This genetic sense belongs to logos and is of a double nature for it is both with and without the universal. Put in Hegelian terms that Malabou would support, the universal in motion yields Concept or Notion. This double sense of both with and without universal can explain the bias either against bio's materiality from the point of view of the abstract universal, or against the abstract universal from the point of view of materiality. Obviously Malabou attempts to fuse the two and "heal" the "against" within any dialectical movement of bios. This presents a paradox, though. In healing the bias, the "against," one kills the very life one seeks to perpetuate. Is stoppage of kinetic conceptual movement wanted; or indeed is it even possible, save only for death? Or at the very least, if not for death, is a culmination in an Absolute the only true possible harmonization of, or reconciliation between, abstract universal and materiality; bios and concept? One obviously cannot turn to Hegel in any orthodox manner for an answer (for, following the suggestion of H.S. Harris, Hegel was so realist of a philosopher that even he would not be a Hegelian today), and yet Malabou's neo-Hegelianism, even with its approach of 'plasticity," seems to leave us wanting (for we are given no conclusive answer to the problem of bios within a dialectical ontology). And so other means, Galloway suggests, stand in need of utilization in order to address the problem at hand. What means exactly, one might ask? Galloway astutely points out those offered by the 20th-century philosopher Gilles Deleuze.



Before presenting how Deleuze may offer some resources to address the problem of bias, Galloway explores this bias in a number of contexts, one being Quentin Meillassoux's argument concerning ancestrality and the arche' fossil. This particular relationship in Meillassoux highlights the tension between materiality and bios, or more presciently, a materiality before bios. Meillassoux's philosophy presents how any correlation between consciousness and being, or between life and matter, is always already relative to the advent of the human being who phenomenologically initiates such distinctions. Galloway explains that,
Meillassoux superimposes correlationism into an historical era (with a beginning and an end), as if to suggest that the historical advent of modern humans entails the historical advent of phenomenology, and thus to go back “before” humanity entails the absence of correlation itself. That's not how history works....Meillassoux makes extinction part of the discussion of historical time, whether it be the absence of the human through human extinction or a condition before humanity emerged on planet Earth -- that is to say before human consciousness emerged.

Has Meillassoux managed to universalize the correlation in such a way that its bias contains an unsuspecting refusal to go beyond an always already correlated ratio - indeed one without genetic logos? (And recall, Galloway earlier in his post explains the crucial relationship between logos and ratio, which is key in discussions concerning speculative metaphysics, especially for those on the side of the fence where the likes of Meillassoux, Brassier, Laruelle, and even Grant all sit). Further, as such, is it the case that Meillassouxian materiality refuses its own dialectical agency, its own movement of the concept which is the movement from Matter to Life, and from Life to Consciousness?

Here seems to be a nod from Malabou to a moment in her Hegelian lineage that Meillassoux's metaphysical project is missing (and this is a nod only, not necessarily a successful implementation). Malabou's neo-Hegelian  materialist ontology at least points toward materiality's own genetic conditions and those conditions' capacity to engender conceptual movement of bios. By contrast, Meillassouxian metaphysics appears to be in denial of the reality of the contradiction (and this means also the reality of the negative) inherent and available in bios required not only for conceptual movement but for the sort of eventuation that brings about the contingent occurrence of Worlds. In short, we may say that it is only within bios that the sort of contingency and spontaneity, but also negativity, required for the eventuation of Worlds might be found, for only it possesses the double-sense of genetic logos that can withstand the transition from one sort of World to the next (that is, the double-sense of genetic logos is conducive to both ratio and negativity, and hence conducive to the production not only of matter, but of life and consciousness - where in Meillassxou's transcendental materialism each side cannot accommodate the other, whether matter and life or matter and consciousness). Hence with Meillassoux one has preserved the "bias" but lost a way from one World to the next, or, at least  lost a way containing any semblance between Worlds or "healed" Worlds in transitive relationship (and this seems required to attain the fourth World, that of Justice). This is especially odd considering that Meillassoux's "secret master," Hegel, constructs a metaphysics based exclusively upon that transitive relationship. Even an occurrence or "advent" of worlds, disjointed through contingent or miraculous occurrence as they may be, must be transitively related for a progression to occur.

What might we learn of such a hinted unity within Malabou's Hegelian materialist ontology? And how might we attempt to see through that potential unity?

Turning back to Deleuze as one who may offer resources to address the bias against life, perhaps we might say that that unity could be found in the "one life" of immanence whose own bios contains the drive of negativity and ontological contradiction called for from within the Hegelian project. For it is indeed Deleuze's plane of immanence that in being multiplicity nevertheless maintains ontological difference within itself. But, is Deleuze's project also capable of generating "transitive conceptual relation" and opening genetic sense by way of ratio through logos? Does Deleuzian genetic sense belong to logos in such a way that its double nature is both with and without the universal, and hence capable of "healing" the bias?

Galloway astutely points out the following:
Is Malabou a Deleuzean now without realizing it? Can we expect a new turn by Malabou in the future, a fully Deleuzean turn? She vocalized a call. And the one thinker already answering her plea is that very anti-Hegelian she so strictly resists, the one who professed many years ago of “one life only,” the one who has spoken of the unity of biological and political resistance, the one who so thoroughly refuses the philosophical bias against life: no other than Gilles Deleuze.
With that in mind, I should mention that, perhaps, a reconciliation between Hegel and Deleuze is certainly possible and that in my reasoned judgment speculative metaphysics today certainly might benefit from working through such a union. What that might mean precisely however, is very much up in the air.

For more on the notion of reconcillation between Hegel and Deleuze see HERE and HERE. For Malabou's take on Meillassoux, with an MP3 audio file, see HERE. My criticisms of Meillassoux's failure to adequately appropriate the power of the negative in Hegel as well as sufficiently position the universal vis-a-vis necessity as the sole principle of the Absolute is forthcoming.

Finally, while not of a connection between Hegel and Deleuze, the link between abstract universal and materiality, bios and consciousness to concept and sensible intuition, one Iain Hamilton Grant has the below to say regarding Fichte and Deleuze. Indeed, the "volcano" of German Idealism is something Meillassoux has mentioned as a quite powerful resource (see forthcoming "quote of the day" from him within a few days). And so, while initially a "quote of the day" post HERE at After Nature, allow me to copy Iain Hamilton Grant's thoughts regarding Fichte and Deleuze below.


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From After Nature blog "Quote of the Day", 2017 June 17



"The most profound attempt to articulate linguistic sovereignty over a non-linguistic cosmos is Fichte's. It is profound because in his quest to do so he eliminates a priori any question of a cosmos which is not fundamentally logically constituted, by which I mean constituted from the position of the constitutor – from the Ich that posits. This is not as it were an absolute Ich, this is just an Ich that posits….All that he is ultimately interested in is that constitutive position as subjectivity, but linguistically or logically, in order to articulate whatever cosmos can be articulated at the cost of the elimination or reduction, as far as possible, of the actual cosmos. I thought that this was ingenious actually, and I spent some time working through how Fichte does this, and its basically the Ich and the nicht Ich, these two are inseparable and are always in some sort of tension; but the tension can always be reduced to near zero by means of the Ich's fundamental colonization of the space of the nicht Ich. So, all that is required is that wherever I come across something that shocks me, I simply insist that it was mine all along. And that's essentially the linguistic paradigm. There is no difference between that and a metaphysics as it were that shuts its gates where language apparently has limits; although where language has limits is a bizarre question to ask insofar as presumably, as far as it is asked, it is linguistically constituted as a constitution of the cosmos. 
Now, that same Fichtean moment, I think you find it in Deleuze. You find it expressly in Deleuze's relationship to Plato. There's an extraordinary series of passages in Difference and Repetition where he says the time to overcome Platonism has come, but the question of what Platonism is has elided us save only for a few caveats that Plato is not a Platonist – there were no Platonists after Plato. But the question is what is Deleuze doing with Plato? And we find this out in Logic of Sense where he situates Plato as the materialist wise enough to invert the order of the normative with respect to the ontological….So what Deleuze is, is a Fichtean. You can back this up I think by looking at the reception of German idealism in France. France has been dominated by Fichte, there is a constant influence of Fichte there. So Deleuze is a Fichtean, that is my thesis…. 
The real reason why I argue this is because in Difference and Repetition you'll find Deleuze saying the present inquiry must accommodate all the categories of nature and freedom. But why are there two sets of categories, why the split? Where are there a set of categories for nature and the other for freedom? And in what does Deleuze's materialism consist if he acknowledges this pre-categorial split as it were, between nature and freedom?…Here you have precisely the recipe for the categories of nature without the need for Fichte at all. [But] Deleuze celebrates the tradition of German idealism for their discussion of the auto-positing concept [of the categories]. So I don't think it's too much of a reach actually to see the dominance of the ontological as being the precursor to the dominance of the ontological over the normative." 
- Iain Hamilton Grant
 
"It is to the degree that he goes beyond the aporias of the subject and the object that Johanne Fichte, in his philosophy, presents the transcendental field as a life, no longer dependent on a Being or submitted to an Act – it is an absolute immediate consciousness whose very activity no longer refers to a being but is ceaselessly posited in a life…. A life is the immanence of immanence, Absolute immanence…." 
- Gilles Deleuze "Immanence: A Life"



Saturday, July 8, 2017

Decoding nature through sound

Apropos my post on biosemiotics and media ecology from a few days ago...

Also thought that this was interesting too. The below trailer is just "ok," although do watch the full 10 minute piece on Aeon videos HERE.

There are vanishingly few places left on land untouched by human-made sounds, and those quiet areas are shrinking every year. No one knows this better than the US sound recordist and acoustic ecologist Gordon Hempton, an Emmy award-winner who specialises in capturing the sounds of nature. At once a profile, a guided meditation and a call to action, Being Hear follows Hempton as he records sounds on Washington State’s Olympic Peninsula – a National Park that contains the continental United States’ only rainforest. Combining Hempton’s measured words with striking scenes and sounds of the park’s lush vegetation, rippling waters and diverse animal life, the film suggests that ensuring that parts of nature remain untouched by human sound starts with us listening attentively and with intention.

Monday, July 3, 2017

Mathew David Segall, media ecology, and biosemiotics



Beltzville State Park, PHOTO: Niemoczynski

Mathew David Segall has posted a draft of a paper he presented entitled, "Toward A Communicative Cosmos: Whitehead and Media Ecology." Reading over the draft I had a few thoughts and connections, especially with respect to a possible connection he (or others, after reading the draft) might be interested in between media ecology and biosemiotics. Here, though, are two interesting quotations opening up the draft, after which I'll copy his first paragraph in excerpt and then provide a few links of my own.

“Not all communication is human communication. Animals and machines, atoms and the earth, the seas and the stars are themselves full of curious communications, and our efforts to have intelligence with such entities reform our own practices as well. A vision of communication committed to democracy cannot foreclose on entering into intelligence with radical otherness, including the earth, other species, machines, or extraterrestrial life.” 
—John Durham Peters (“Space, Time, and Communication Theory”) 
“We find ourselves in a buzzing world, amid a democracy of fellow creatures.” 
—Alfred North Whitehead (PR, 50) 
In what follows, I draw upon Alfred North Whitehead’s organic cosmology in an attempt to expand the scope of media ecology beyond its ordinarily humanistic horizon. Neil Postman defined media ecology as the critical study of how media technologies envelope and form cultures. As McLuhan famously put it, “Man is an extension of nature that re-makes the nature that makes the man” (Take Today: The Executive as Dropout, 66). This definition of media ecology is premised on the idea that human beings have a foot in two different worlds: a natural or physical environment that includes our own living bodies, and a media environment that extends our embodied expressions into a non-material space of meaning....Whitehead’s organic cosmology allows us to generalize media ecology’s focus on the medium instead of the message, such that the world itself is brought into view as a medium of communication. Perhaps such an imaginative generalization of media ecology into an ecological metaphysics or metaphysics of the medium can sensitize us to the primal logos of the cosmos.

Already one might be privy to, especially give the quotations above, Segall's call for a need for humans to embrace tolerance toward forms of communication that extend beyond the merely verbal, and which extend beyond the stream of mere human-to-human communication in a communicative cosmos, a cosmic community where communication is more abundant than we might initially think.

I think the resistance towards such a view is that some tend to think that it presupposes that, somehow, the universe "has" a meaning, the idea that there is some sort of set, fixed, stable, objective meaning, teleological in nature that gives "purpose" to life, or meaning and purpose to the universe as a whole.  In other words, that the universe "has" a purpose or destined meaning for human beings to realize and fulfill.  But this is hardly what Whitehead had in mind, and Matt's paper expands wonderfully on the notion of how media are capable of communicating messages and meaning beyond the human although contiguous with the human.  This indeed is not to suppose any overarching purpose or meaning to the universe as a whole, but only that semiotic expression - media expression - is indeed a natural feature of the universe as it stands among other natural principles.  But, what are these messages?  What does it mean to say that the universe is expressive? Here allow me a quick thought or two of my own before posting a few links.



If media ecology is premised on the idea that natural environments are capable of expressing non-material spaces of meaning (see for example Angelroothan's "Forests, signs, and the 'weird' Peirce HERE; or After Nature's posts on the book How Forests Think HERE and HERE), and that such "generalizations of media ecology" might help us focus on an "ecological metaphysics" intent on opening up lines of communication between human and non-human in the cosmic community, then perhaps looking to biosemiotics for other sources of what embodied expression might mean could be fruitful.  This was my initial thought, at least.  Lord knows how important Whitehead's notion of panexperientialism is for biosemiotics, or how influential the doctrine of panpsychism as put forward by C.S. Peirce is for biosemiotics - C.S. Peirce, who is often regarded as a founding father of the discipline, and so on.

Part of what I am struggling with now however is, how is "meaning" so-called related to or relevant to the notion of "information."  Looking to a "natural semiotic," scientific research suggests that data, or information, is indeed part and parcel of the physical, material universe, and indeed that this is how the universe actually works in its development - both cosmological and biological.  This is to say that things we normally suppose to not be able to communicate actually do.  It also opens the question of just how much of the universe actually expresses this information right before our very eyes. As it appears that data-information communication and expression is essential for life to thrive, expressive agents' behavior could be places where we haven't even thought to look.  This is important more generally on a practical level as many today refuse real meaning expression even to non-human animals, let alone other non-human forms of life.  On the contrary however, it appears that most (if not all) forms of life - what it means even to be "living" - is premised on information communication and exchange.

The easiest way to begin the conversation obviously is to look to the realm of "life" and ask, what is being expressed in the living and its behavior?  Science still struggles with the notion of what the term "life" actually means (read the Cosmos & History issue on "What is Life?"- it is one of my favorite philosophical explorations of this question, see HERE), but we do know that one fundamental characteristic of of life (whatever that term might mean) is that it is fundamentally expressive.  Expressive of what, you might ask?  Depending on who you ask you will likely receive different answers.

A conservative answer might be something like, at the very least, "information," or "data" (tree rings expressing age, for example); or less conservative answers such as "meaning" or "mind" (bacteria behavior expressing memory and intelligence).  But I think that it is not so far off to say that whatever life is, it does express something.  To me, Floyd Merrell's response to the question of life's definition -"Life is the creative response to a creative nature" - rings true. Biosemiotics, as well as media ecology, takes as an a priori starting point that material media is a means of internal expression.  Insofar as life is a kind of dynamic materiality, it is expressive of its own inner dynamisms, whether that be information housing or processing, or perhaps sign-meaning exchange (e.g. "thought"). Further, it is expressive of exchanges with other communicative agents. Are humans able to understand such exchanges, or are we inevitably "out of the loop?"

One thought I had was whether through scientific-technology it would ever be possible to enable non-human forms of life to "speak for-themselves."  If certain brain wave patterns that correspond with certain animal behaviors could be identified, for example the brain wave pattern that occurs when a cat is hungry could be fit with an electronic emission of a voice that says "I'm hungry", emitted from an electronic voice-box collar around the neck, then a very primitive form of species-to-species speech could be opened.  Granted, this line of communication is already there if we just learn how to listen.  A cat may meow if hungry (we now know that cat vocalizations are strictly in response to humans, cat's don't do so otherwise), or a cat may purr if comfortable or excited, and so on. Indeed a natural semiotic stream of communication is already present.  But, I think it would be interesting to see if research couldn't be done in translating these species-to-species communications to see if a common form of meaning might be found - this without imposing human understandings of what such meaning might "mean."







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Here is some material from previous After Nature posts that might be interesting given what is mentioned above. All of the following posts were written by me at some point or another during the past few years, so rather than link them I'd like to post their content in this post to save the reader trouble of having to click through everything. The original posts remain and can be found by searching for their respective title if you are interested to link any one specifically.


From "The material ontology of signs: a few (free) and briefer introductions to biosemiotics"


For lengthier (and more theoretical) materials you'll want to be searching for Jakob von Uexkull (A Foray into the World of Animals and Humans is a good place to start), or even anything by Deleuze on Peirce and semiotics can be quite good (see THIS dissertation, for example, Toward a Material Concept of the Sign).  Deleuze, Whitehead, Peirce, von Uexkull all have biosemiotical theories that can stand as introductions.

See also:

"What is biosemiotics?" Alexei Sharov

"Biosemiotics" Soren Brier

Biosemiotics (Living Book About Life)

"Theses on Biosemiotics" Kalevi Kull

Jesper Hoffmeyer academia.edu page

Jesper Hoffmeyer presentation (below)





From "Some resources on biosemiotics and Uexküllian-Peircean phenomenology"


I thought to provide some resources given my post on semiotics from a few days ago.  Some of the below might be useful for After Nature readers who are new to semiotics.

1.) On whether the natural semiotic must be a living system or not, "The Scope of Semiosis: Can Non-living Systems be Considered Semiosic?" HERE.

2.) "How Living Systems Become Minded," HERE.

3.) "Feeling" is the bond between any and all objects or agents, HERE.

4.) "Why We Should Take Biosemiotics Seriously," HERE.

5.) On biosemiotics and information transfer.  See "Can Plants Communicate?" (HERE); "The Mind of Plants" (HERE); "A Phenomenology of Vegetal Life" (HERE); and "If Cats Could Talk" (HERE).

6.) Readers might want to check out the OHP book on biosemiotics HERE which is free for download, or the work of Jakob von Uexküll found HERE, again free for download; or THIS post on the biosemiotic philosophy of organism.

7.) Finally, THIS Powerpoint is extremely helpful on Uexküllian phenomenology.


From "The Scope of Semiosis: Can Non-living Systems be Considered Semiosic?"

An interesting paper on how biosemiotics approaches non-living artifactual, semiosic systems.

Link HERE.  Copying abstract below.


"Peirce, Biosemiotics, and the Scope of Semiosis"
Jonathan Beever
Rock Ethics Institute, Penn State University

Biosemiotics relies on an account of semiosis, or meaning making. That account is fundamentally Peircean, using Peirce's triadicity to extend semiosis beyond human communication to all living systems. But the scope of semosis is an open question whose answer might be that not only all living systems but also some nonliving ones must be considered semiosic: an unpleasant result for the biosemiotician. This paper will demonstrate the Peircean basis of biosemiotics and examine a range of justifications for stopping semiosis at life, finding each one insufficient in distinguishing between our common conceptions of life and artifact. This problem - namely, how the biosemiotician might conceptually differentiate, say, trees from thermostats within the Peircean framework - points to an important problem for both biology and Peirce scholarship.


From "Irreducible relationality and infinite density: quote of the day and a thought or two"


"A new creation in which the inner and outer realms are united, and the interior depths of inwardness are identical with the exterior and outer depths of every other." 

Thomas J.J. Altizer - The Descent into Hell

This quote was taken from Matthew McCraken's blog about radical theology.  On his blog THIS post in particular had me thinking (again) about the metaphysics of individuation: specifically about the concept of relations and their necessity, as well as about how - following Adam Kotsko to some degree (see quote below) - individuals, centers of experience, are "nodal" in the sense that each center is "infinitely deep" in terms of the potential that actuates those centers. Yet, in being self-actuating, individuals, centerpoints of experience, singulars etc. etc. are *related* by the fact that all require that potential in order to *be* individuals. In other words, through that potential - a generic category of freedom; indeed, a relational universal, individuals are capable of their self actuation.

A significant part of this actuation is semiotic communicative expression by way of feeling, sensation, emotion, or empathy - as well as temporal future self-creation.  In the end we have a relation of self to other, self to self, and other to other (thus my interest in the Altizer quote).  

"The world is a network of physical and spiritual relationships of which humanity forms a nodal point. The world is not somethinggiven or static, but continually arises out of the interactions among thesingularities that make it up."

Quote from Adam Kotsko - The Politics of Redemption

When it comes to articulating the *nature* of singulars and how they express but also partake in relations, I believe that it is not just about articulating an environmental aesthetic construed strictly in terms of sensation or materiality.  What we need is an environmental aesthetic ground in what I call an "ecological metaphysics," one that takes aesthetics, and more specifically the expression of the aesthetic into consideration.  This is to say that information also comes into play in discussion of what it means to be an individual.

The material aesthetic expression of singulars is semiotic in the sense that semiosis accounts for agents (singulars that act through potential, ontological freedom), their relations, and the expressions of those agents in and through relations.  Stated differently, an environmental aesthetic, one that is truly ecological, must account for the information produced by agents, their relations, and their various conjunctive and disjunctive syntheses that make for a natural semiotic.  This semiotic exists, or better "subsists," within an ecological network, and indeed, in part constitutes it.  Therefore, as much as aesthetics understood traditionally contributes to our understanding of metaphysics in the most general sense, semiotics understood within the realm of an "ecological metaphysics" is an invaluable tool as well.  Knit with aesthetics this ecology produces biosemiotics if "bio" refers to the living sensate empirical world in its most radical and broad sense (Jamesian and Whiteheadian empiricism). Afterall, what *doesn't* self-communicate?

What this boils down to is that relations are irreducible and that an environmental aesthetic, if it is to be thoroughly ecological, must account for relations and the natural semiotic that goes with them.

See these posts from some time back:



From "Inhuman Rationality and Cosmos as the Space of Reasons"

The below had me thinking about how the space of reasons in any form of true universality must be cosmos itself, that is nature understood in the most just, capacious sense as possible. This includes the possible admission of intelligences other than that of human intelligence whether terrestrial or extra-terrestrial. In what sense might we say that rationality - i.e. "reason" - is something inhuman in the sense that not just humans are capable of it in a larger cosmic space of reason's practice?

From the blog Three Pound Brain in THIS post, called "Alien Philosophy":
Are there alien philosophers orbiting some faraway star, opining in bursts of symbolically articulated smells, or parsing distinctions-without-differences via the clasp of neural genitalia? What would an alien philosophy look like? Do we have any reason to think we might find some of them recognizable? Do the Greys have their own version of Plato? Is there a little green Nietzsche describing little green armies of little green metaphors?
The post then continues to quote Kant, as follows:
The highest species concept may be that of a terrestrial rational being; however, we shall not be able to name its character because we have no knowledge of non-terrestrial rational beings that would enable us to indicate their characteristic property and so to characterize this terrestrial being among rational beings in general. It seems, therefore, that the problem of indicating the character of the human species is absolutely insoluble, because the solution would have to be made through experience by means of the comparison of two species of rational being, but experience does not offer us this. (Kant: Anthropology from a Pragmatic Point of View, 225)
I am intrigued by Kant's query, which is a query in the 18th century mind you, into the starry heavens above so as to think, how might we garner a characteristic property of rational beings in general.  That's amazing because, really, he is considering nonhuman forms of life whose rational being could divulge truly universal principles of knowledge that transcend our own terrestriality.  In short, he recognizes the inhuman nature, or "extra-human" nature of reason.

Further on, this piece from the post:
Of course, the plausibility of humanoid aliens possessing any kind of philosophy requires the plausibility of humanoid aliens. In popular media, aliens are almost always exotic versions of ourselves, possessing their own exotic versions of the capacities and institutions we happen to have. This is no accident. Science fiction is always about the here and now—about recontextualizations of what we know. As a result, the aliens you tend to meet tend to seem suspiciously humanoid, psychologically if not physically. Spock always has some ‘mind’ with which to ‘meld’. To ask the question of alien philosophy, one might complain, is to buy into this conceit, which although flattering, is almost certainly not true. 
And yet the environmental filtration of mutations on earth has produced innumerable examples of convergent evolution, different species evolving similar morphologies and functions, the same solutions to the same problems, using entirely different DNA. As you might imagine, however, the notion of interstellar convergence is a controversial one. [2] Supposing the existence of extraterrestrial intelligence is one thing—cognition is almost certainly integral to complex life elsewhere in the universe—but we know nothing about the kinds of possible biological intelligences nature permits. Short of actual contact with intelligent aliens, we have no way of gauging how far we can extrapolate from our case. [3] All too often, ignorance of alternatives dupes us into making ‘only game in town assumptions,’ so confusing mere possibility with necessity. But this debate need not worry us here. Perhaps the cluster of characteristics we identify with ‘humanoid’ expresses a high-probability recipe for evolving intelligence—perhaps not. Either way, our existence proves that our particular recipe is on file, that aliens we might describe as ‘humanoid’ are entirely possible.
And:
Evolution assures that cognitive expenditures, the ability to intuit this or that, will always be bound in some manner to some set of ancestral environments. Evolution means that information that makes no reproductive difference makes no biological difference. 
An ecological view, in other words, allows us to naturalistically motivate something we might have been tempted to assume outright: original naivete. The possession of sensory and cognitive apparatuses comparable to our own means Thespians will possess a humanoid neglect structure, a pattern of ignorances they cannot even begin to question, that is, pending the development of philosophy. The Thespians would not simply be ignorant of the microscopic and macroscopic constituents and machinations explaining their environments, they would be oblivious to them. Like our own ancestors, they wouldn’t even know they didn’t know.

Here are some excerpts from posts from After Nature where I've picked up on some of this before.

From "Thoughts on a 'NeoPresocratic Manifesto'"
The other side of the coin is to divulge the rational conceptual space that is extra-human by identifying the interplay between emotive, subjective, or felt intensive-qualitative experience and the conceptual apparatus that assists in propelling the life of qualitative intensive experience. In a sense, this larger intensive but conceptual space is even non-human in its "naturalness"; so it includes human beings but transcends human beings (thus it is "non-human"). 
By recognizing the larger-than-human space of rationality we see that a.) aesthetic contrasts of value create normative dimensions of experience that humans are subject to, and b.) these dimensions of experience transcend human-to-human ecologies of knowledge and therefore guarantee a truly rational but also normative aspect to reality itself. Indeed, reality or nature is rife with "experience" that is both conceptual and of an aesthetic value yet which is, also, not human.

From a quote of the day:
Reason liberates its own spaces and its own demands, and in the process fundamentally revises not only what we understand as thinking, but also what we recognize as “us.”    
- Reza Negarestani
And on "Octopus Intelligence," where essentially the point is that intelligence is ubiquitous.

My next question would be, "How ingrained within the world - cosmos - nature - is intelligence but also information in terms of conceptuality (e,g, a "natural semiotic")?  I find myself continually going back to the likes of Hegel, Fichte, and Schelling to sort out the question of mind within nature.  From there biosemiotics builds upon the notion of ubiquitous intelligence that the German idealists had in the 18th and 19th centuries.

From "The Pain of Rocks"
I don't think that it is anthropomorphic to speculatively explore non-human consciousness supposing that non-human worlds of experience overlap or may be like our experience in some respects, as much as they may be unlike our experience in other respects.  
In the tradition of Jakob von Uexkull or even to some degree William James and Alfred North Whitehead, it isn't about multiplying different world pictures nor even rendering them common to ours, even though the diversity of world pictures has its place. I think it is about speculatively and phenomenologically allowing non-human worlds to exhibitively self-display their experiential features where these features are attended to for what they are. 
Removing human beings from nature and stating, "Ok, the experience of others may not be like our subjective experience" doesn't mean that others aren't capable of experiencing emotion, pain, etc. etc. The fact is, it isn't our experience to begin with. If human beings didn't exist, elephants would still grieve the loss of a matriarch, dolphins would still express joy, crabs would still feel pain, and so on. Further still, all things - taking a panexperiential viewpoint - would struggle to persist and would undergo self-relations. We do not need to appeal to analogies involving human-centered experience to make that case. No one is saying the world is like us. I (for one) am simply saying that we are part of the world, naturally, like everything else.
After having watched Pete Wolfendale's talk from the "Inhuman Symposium" I am inclined to think that rationality is *not* merely an invention or category created by the moderns.  Actually, rationality in the fact that it encompasses the human - any human regardless of specific socio-political contexts (what Braidotti was grilling him about, prompting his response that he grew up in an environment that critiques postmodernism) - is something which is a universal horror, at first.

The security of what humans thought gave them the "one up" over everything else turns out to be precisely what motivates forms of life to project critically noumenal realities outside of it.  And so, what is reason then in these universal instantiations, or more specifically and precisely, what can we say of its activity?


From "Can plants really communicate with each other?"


Good friend Adrian from Immanence blog poses the question HERE.  He cites some very interesting research from the publication Quanta.  

“It turns out almost every green plant that’s been studied releases its own cocktail of volatile chemicals, and many species register and respond to these plumes.”

“Just a few months ago, the plant signaling pioneer Ted Farmer of the University of Lausanne discovered an almost entirely unrecognized way that plants transmit information — with electrical pulses and a system of voltage-based signaling that is eerily reminiscent of the animal nervous system.  ’It’s pretty spectacular what plants do,’ said Farmer. ‘The more I work on them, the more I’m amazed.’

Some of this reminds me of James' A Pluralistic Universe, Lecture IV, on Fechner.  Specifically I am thinking about the section on "the plant soul."  See HERE. 


From "Some thoughts on a phenomenology of vegetal life"

The second unit of our Environmental Philosophy class covers "Nature's Value and Moral Standing" where our current section of reading discusses "the case of the individual and the whole" with respect to the birth of ecology and subsequently deep ecology.  In order to determine who or what has moral standing and to what degree (moral significance) we began by discussing the continuum of consciousness and feeling (by looking at the work of C.S. Peirce), first in bacteria and amoeba but then also questioning whether and to what extent plants may warrant moral considerability The debate between biocentrism and ecocentrism in part centers on who or what exactly counts as a subject-of-a-life so as to be included in the "whole" (and whether anything really ought to be excluded from the moral circle simply because it supposedly lacks "sentience" or interests).  The question therefore arises whether it is a moral tragedy to cut grass or fail to water one's houseplant if plants, too, are sentient.

Given this discussion I've been thinking about the philosophy of deep ecologists and ecocentrists (whether Arne Naess or Aldo Leopold) for whom value is intrinsic but for whom also there is value for species, ecosystems, or "wholes" which are not just the individual alone.  If advocating a rights theory (for example such as Regan does), would the value of one plant be equal to many if a plant is meaningfully sentient and feeling, perhaps even "conscious"?  Is killing one tree as morally impermissible as destroying a forest? Why?

Anthropocentric value sees the wrongness in destroying a forest as it relates to the effects produced affecting human beings.  Destroying a forest is wrong because humans think it an eyesore, or it affects what humans require to breathe. However both bio and ecocentrists locate value in specifically non-human terms as the bearers of value are the creatures, systems, and individuals themselves that possess the value - whether alone or in groups. Thus the wrongness of destroying the forest or tree is because those things are value-bearers and are to some degree sentient, or at the very least possess interests.  A side question may be: if the interests of non-humans are always related to other beings' interests (whether human or not), should we attempt to consider those interests alone or as they relate to others?  Is it possible to consider both?  Two titles come to mind: Eduardo’s: Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s Cannibal Metaphysics, and Eduardo Kohn’s How Forest’s Think. See THIS post at angelaroothaan blog, for example.  Part of my argument during discussion was that perhaps the interests of the individual, the whole, but also how the individual relates to the whole (and vice versa) is important.  Tree to forest, forest to tree, and relationship between.

And so given the above, I must ask: are plants sentient and do we have a moral duty to plants? Are they worthy of moral consideration, and if so why?

An interesting article which offers some clues "Can Plants Think?", HERE. See also the After Nature post "Phenomenology of Vegetal Life" HERE. Also the After Nature post, "Can Plants Really Communicate with Each Other?" HERE.

Phenomenology often is dismissed these days for referencing always the human observer or assuming a transcendental plane of human consciousness - or of imputing consciousness and life upon a material nature that is itself devoid of it, and hence a so-called "hippie vitalism."  Rather than phenomenological plenitude or abundance we are told speculative philosophy requires the all embracing and devoid-of-the-living concept (the Hegelian Notion)  However, speculating non-human forms of consciousness and life that may be entirely different than our own may have positive ethical benefits and need not necessarily be or require anthropocentric valuation. There is still much work to be done in phenomenology and speculative, realist philosophy that does not assume a Husserlian idealism or Bergsonian vitalism but nevertheless is capable of exploring questions concerning non-human forms of consciousness and experience.


From "A very interesting post on "anim(al)ism"

HERE is an interesting article I came across this morning. Highlights below.

"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.


From "If a cat could talk and other articles on what the "otherness" of animals might reveal"

First, Aeon magazine gives us "If a Cat Could Talk."  Highlights are below, link to the article HERE.  (If you are a "cat person" it is definitely worth reading the entire article.)

Second is "Not Just a Pretty Boy," about parrots and how these avians with the intelligence of a five year old child reveal complexities in pet-ownership that haven't been previously considered.  See HERE.

Both articles have forced me to think about how I see the reach of reason; of how communication exists within a continuum beginning with sensuous affectivity - aesthetic communication following intelligible semiotic form and information transfer - proceeding along to logical/mathematical  description and communication, a practice of reason that, although one step above the normative and ethical, still evidences the human beings' limitations in abiding to cosmic law.

Peirce was right in saying, I think, that the categories of the human understanding do not "reflect" reality (Kant) but are truly isomorphic to reality.  Thus he was closer to Hegel but moreso Schelling in seeing the universe as ultimately tending toward rationality though never completing succumbing to it.  Firstness is aesthetic qualitative feeling - communication is felt, aesthetic, and sensuous primarily.  Secondness is reaction, two singular items posed to each other form a relationship of contemporaneity from which ethical principles derived; and Thirdness is generality and law - it is the nature of generality as such, for one cannot proceed beyond a singular or particular itself unless a relation to another "can be" generalized.  This is what contemporary "particularists" I shall call them, or those oriented toward singular objects and objects alone, completely miss.  The power and reach of relation ensures communication in logical, rational, and mathematical form - that form itself is an ontology of this Third relation.  Nothing can go further, yet Thirdness generality is never complete.  Or, "The many are one and are increased by one" to put it in Whitehead's language.

It is important to state that Peirce's categories are not hierarchical but are instead co-given, each is dependent upon the other.  Mathematics and the copulas of logic have as much feeling present in them (James' "feeling" of the hesitancy in the logical copula of "but") as much as they possess an abstract and neutral precision in them, or a generality applicable to others.  There is a Firstness in Thirdness as much as there is a Thirdness present in Firstness.  One is nascent, the other blossomed.

When looking into an animal's eyes we often may see "the wheel's turning."  Intelligible form in the multiverse takes on an indefinite variety of shapes and magnitudes; the substratum of this intelligibility is, of course, aesthetic union in more general form.  It is how the varied and different species are able to communicate.



Look into the eyes of a cat for a moment. Your gaze will flicker between recognising another being, and staring into a void…
***
But if the glimpse of a cat can portend the uncanny, what should we make of the cat’s own glance at us? As Jacques Derrida wondered: ‘Say the animal responded?’ If his cat found him naked in the bathroom, staring at his private parts — as discussed in Derrida's 1997 lecture The Animal That Therefore I Am — who would be more naked: the unclothed human or the never clothed animal? To experience the animal looking back at us challenges the confidence of our own gaze — we lose our unquestioned privilege in the universe. Whatever we might think of our ability to subordinate the animal to our categories, all bets are off when we try to include the animal’s own perspective. That is not just another item to be included in our own world view. It is a distinctive point of view — a way of seeing that we have no reason to suppose we can seamlessly incorporate by some imaginative extension of our own perspective.
***
Each cat is a singular being — a pulsing centre of the universe — with this colour eyes, this length and density of fur, this palate of preferences, habits and dispositions. Each with his own idiosyncrasies….So often cats disturb us even as they enchant us. We stroke them, and they purr. We feel intimately connected to these creatures that seem to have abandoned themselves totally to the pleasures of the moment. Cats seem to have learnt enough of our ways to blend in. And yet, they never assimilate entirely. In a trice, in response to some invisible (to the human mind, at least) cue, they will leap off our lap and re-enter their own space, chasing a shadow. Lewis Carroll’s image of the smile on the face of the Cheshire cat, which remains even after the cat has vanished, nicely evokes such floating strangeness. Cats are beacons of the uncanny, shadows of something ‘other’ on the domestic scene.
***
Our relationship with cats is an eruption of the wild into the domestic: a reminder of the ‘far side’, by whose exclusion we define our own humanity. This is how Michel Foucault understood the construction of ‘madness’ in society — it’s no surprise then that he named his own cat Insanity. Cats, in this sense, are vehicles for our projections, misrecognition, and primitive recollection.

From "The Soul of All Living Creatures"


Veterinarian Vint Virga says that animals in zoos, like this lion, need to have a bit of control over their environment.















In a very interesting piece, National Public Radio presents Vint Virga, who proposes we ought to shift back more control to animals in their environments.  Highlights of the program:

"We need to step out of what we consider are the appropriate behaviors as humans and try to put ourselves in an animal's footsteps. ... Affection is shown by being cuddly and lovey for a lot of us — not necessarily all of us — [so we often think] that our cats would want to be cuddled and loved."

"Instead, a lot of cats, if you actually watch their natural behavior when they're in groups, the most affectionate cats might be sitting near each other. They might sit with their tails intertwined, rear to rear, but they're not usually face to face, nose to nose, or snuggled up next to each other. .."

"That says that cats feel comfort and they express their emotions in ways differently than we do. If that's true, then what behooves us [as] ... their caretakers and human family members, is to learn about what it is that cats think and feel rather than [imposing] what we think and feel upon them."

Mp3 and article HERE.