Monday, December 26, 2016

The newest issue of the Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy: "Bergsonian Continuations: Commemorating 75 Years Since the Death of Henri Bergson"

Very interesting issue, no pay-wall. Featuring a new translation of Bergson and many great articles. Check it out, link HERE. Copying contents below:


Journal of French and Francophone Philosophy
Vol 24, No 2 (2016)
Table of Contents

Forum
——–
Introduction: 75 Years Later (1-2)
Mark William Westmoreland
Politeness (3-9)
Henri Bergson
Mysticism and War: Reflections on Bergson and his Reception During World War I (10-20)
Donna V. Jones
Human Rights and the Leap of Love (21-40)
Alexandre Lefebvre
Bergson and the Morality of Uncertainty (41-61)
Adriana Alfaro Altamirano
The Intuitive Recommencement of Metaphysics (62-83)
Camille Riquier
On Bergson’s Reformation of Philosophy (84-105)
Keith Ansell-Pearson
Beyond Dualism and Monism: Bergson’s Slanted Being (106-130)
Messay Kebede
Darkened Counsel: The Problem of Evil in Bergson’s Metaphysics of Integral Experience (131-153)
Anthony Paul Smith
The Concept in Life and the Life of the Concept: Canguilhem’s Final Reckoning with Bergson (154-175)
Alex Feldman
Bergson before Bergsonism: Traversing “Bergson’s Failing” in Susanne K. Langer’s Philosophy of Art (176-202)
Iris van der Tuin
The Cinematic Bergson: From Virtual Image to Actual Gesture (203-220)
John Ó Maoilearca

Roundtable
——–
Bergson(-ism) Remembered: A Roundtable (221-258)
Mark William Westmoreland and Brien Karas, eds.

Articles
——–
Beauvoir’s Reading of Biology in The Second Sex (259-285)
David M. Peña-Guzmán
Solidarity and the Absurd in Kamel Daoud’s Meursault, contre-enquête (286-303)
Sarah Horton

Review Essays
——–
Recent Work on Negritude (304-318)
Chike Jeffers

Does logic have a normative status?

An interesting question, SEP entry updated and discussing it HERE.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

BADIOU ON INFINITY AND THE GOOD LIFE: “mathematical rudiments and poetic breakthroughs” (Agent Swarm blog post)

Link to original below:

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BADIOU ON INFINITY AND THE GOOD LIFE: "mathematical rudiments and poetic breakthroughs"
// AGENT SWARM

In my recent series of posts I have been presenting an entry into Badiou's system by way of his readings of various poets. For the moment I have translated and summarised from his discussion of poems by Arthur Rimbaud, René Char, and Victor Hugo, and next I will be moving on to Mallarmé.

Badiou's philosophy has been amply discussed in terms of the mathematical condition and of the political condition, but a more existential entry is possible. Badiou himself has placed increasing emphasis on the question of "what is it to live?", on the problem of the good life, true life, and happiness.

However, Badiou maintains that although this is a genuine and important philosophical question, it cannot be answered at the purely speculative level as it involves the category of "life", which is an empirical category. Poetry has the advantage of transposing life into language.

According to Badiou, poetry, like mathematics, is particularly suited to the critique of the dominant ideology of the finitude of human life. This ideology of finitude is the source of the multiple obstacles and repressions to the life of immanence, which is necessarily a life of immanence to truths conceived as infinite processes immanent to a determinate world.

After discussing Victor Hugo's poem "Words on the Dunes" and extracting the concept of infinity as point Badiou passes to a discussion of ω, the first infinite ordinal , which is the order type of the natural numbers, that can also be identified with the entire set of natural numbers. There is no immediate predecessor to ω, i.e. the meaning of ω – 1 is undefined, but ω has an infinity of successors.

Badiou concludes this discussion of "mathematical rudiments" by extracting a typology of infinities: the infinite as point, as place, as horizon, and as repetition. He then returns to poetry to "explore the labyrinth of the different forms taken by the couple finite/infinite".

The role of poetry and of the "poetic breakthroughs" it accomplishes (but I would argue this characterisation applies also to science fiction) is to provide figurations, between the speculative and the empirical, of the noetic life and its incorporation in or exclusion from the truths of science, art, politics and love.

Badiou concludes at the end of the first year of his seminar on the immanence of truths:

"The principal obstacle encountered…, the nucleus of the repressive practices that constrain us to be ignorant of the replies to the question "what is it to live?", is the multiform ideology of the finitude of life. Which is natural, as every process of truth is virtually infinite…We have thus explored the labyrinth of the different forms taken by the couple finite/infinite, making use of, in order to do this, mathematical rudiments and poetic breakthroughs".


Friday, December 23, 2016

Gadamer's Aesthetics SEP entry updated



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Gadamer's Aesthetics
// Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Gadamer (1900 - 2002) does not provide an account of the aesthetic in any customary sense. His approach to art runs, in many ways, against conventional philosophical expectations. Aesthetic qualities are not debated in the manner of the analytic tradition of modern philosophy, nor does he concern himself overtly with the problems of aesthetic pleasure. Gadamer's approach to aesthetic experience stands squarely in the phenomenological tradition.
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Tuesday, December 20, 2016

Cosmos & History special issue on Hegel

A hidden gem in the archives from the journal Cosmos & History (incidentally the same journal in which I've published on contemporary speculative metaphysics as well as an interview with Iain Hamilton Grant; also where I'd like to publish my updated interview with Ray Brassier). It's a great online journal overall, free to read, and the link below is to a great issue:

http://cosmosandhistory.org/index.php/journal/issue/view/5

"How can experience provide an external constraint on judgment without falling prey to the myth of the Given? Sellars vs Merleau-Ponty" (PowerPoint on academia.edu)

Interesting write-up in the form of PowerPoint presentation, HERE.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Wilfrid Sellars on the Myth of the Given (Part One, Podcast audio)


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Episode 154: Wilfrid Sellars on the Myth of the Given (Part One)
// The Partially Examined Life Philosophy Podcast

On "Empiricism and the Philosophy of Mind" (1956). Is knowledge based on a "foundation," as Descartes, Locke, et al. thought? Sellars says no: The allegedly basic elements upon which knowledge would be built either have to be propositions, in which case they involve a lot of prior knowledge involved in language use and so aren't really basic, or they're "raw feelings," in which case they can't actually serve as reasons for anything; reasons have to be propositional. 

quote of the day: neurolivestock and the third order of being

"It’s as if the underlying forces that constitute our universe of things is neither wholly physical nor biological but organized under this third form and constitutes time and mobility (speed), as well as seeks to develop its own originary being in the cosmos fusing both physcial and organic forms through these very processes of exteriorization and objectivation...It’s as if among us is an alien order of being that we have been for too long in denial, and the rise of the machinic civilization we see around us is this strange mixture and hybrid world of technical objects that are overtaking us as the 'supposed' pinnacle of intelligence on earth. A life by other means than life… an intelligence at once totally other and uncannily familiar."

 - Bernard Stiegler

(Pointer to Social Ecologies blog, link HERE. The quote seems especially appropriate: Twitter and Facebook being the "internet ghettos" that they are.)


And more...this time from Matt Drudge:

“I don’t know why they’ve been successful in pushing everybody into these little ghettos, these Facebooks, these Tweets, these Instagrams,” Drudge said. "While the Internet started out as a renaissance-style free range of ideas, establishment interests have since corralled Internet users into a handful of social media sites where dangerous groupthink can blossom in favor of the status quo, he pointed out."

Drudge added, “Because everybody is so hungry for referrals, for likes. I don’t need to be liked. I don’t need to be liked at all.”

Scroll, scroll, scroll...

Sunday, December 18, 2016

"From Enactivism and Neurophenomenology to Whitehead's Ontology of Organism" (YouTube video)


Matt Segall with some interesting commentary on Whitehead's ontology, enactivism, and neurophenomenology, HERE (audio commentary on YouTube).

Saturday, December 17, 2016

Beyond Objects: The Reversal of Phenomenological Ontology's Order of Analysis - Begin with Representamen as Perceptual Ground (Powers, not Things)

Lanigan has a slightly dated paper (1995) that leaves us with some clues as to how phenomenological ontology may find a successfully realist yet speculative, and yet non-object oriented order of analysis, via Merleau-Ponty's reversal of phenomenology's traditional transcendental starting point of the Transcendental Ego (Husserl, or Sarte's auto-nihilating consciousness) into an other-yet-identical outside of consciousness which is realized as "conjuncture," however before realization is the preobjective sustaining "ground" of the as-yet-to-be wholly articulated individual (object). (E.g. The Peircean Triad.)

I have translated Lanigan's title to bring into relief this important underlying point of his paper.

For those who read Schelling or Peirce this specific form of phenomenological ontology - carnal yet semiotic, reversed into perceptual sensibility yet also translucently phaneroscopic, opens pathways yet to be explored in current debates surrounding idealism/realism in contemporary speculative-metaphysical philosophy. In this I have found the later work of Merleau-Ponty to be key. A true "transcendental naturalism" worth exploring.

Link below...

http://www.focusing.org/apm_papers/lanigan.html

Friday, December 16, 2016

Free-writing a pensive post (Part 2 of 3)


In my last post I had reflected on the roughly ten or so years since my teaching career began (or more appropriately seven year teaching career since I took my Ph.D. in 2009, twelve years if you count since the M.A. - I usually just round and say ten years roughly) and spoke of how Immaculata University had been my home institution until this past month when, in terms of career and trajectories, Moravian College became my new institutional home.  I discussed how difficult it was for me to turn down Anna Maria College in Boston last summer placing all bets on Moravian and how the location of Moravian seemed to make all the more sense when it came to Na and I  being happy where we are in Pennsylvania, given our home, her job, and overall where  we are in life. So things have worked out and we consider ourselves fortunate.

In this post I want to reflect abit just about where my scholarly interests have been this year alone; for I fear if I go too far back the post itself will balloon out of proportion.  I do want to quickly nod to how the year previous was dedicated to animal emotions, philosophical ecology, and environmental aesthetics (overall what I would group as "the philosophy of organism") and how that year or so of research led to several articles, radio appearances, and reading groups unto themselves.


***

0. In addition to environmental philosophy I and a few brave students circled back around to Hegel to look again at how Hegel in his early theological writings and Phenomenology might figure into contemporary environmental discussions concerning the philosophy of organism (pace the trinity of Schelling-Hegel-Peirce).  This in turn led me to one John William Miller whose books I read for a winter break (Miller was all of a naturalist, idealist, realist, influenced by pragmatism, etc. etc.) Miller is on par with the likes of C.S. Peirce, who by today's standards is still somewhat of the least read of the American philosophers who is nevertheless brilliant and ought to be read more, but sadly isn't. In my opinion Miller was truly one of the first American philosophical ecologists and fits neatly into discussions concerning environmental philosophy, philosophical ecology, and the idealism/realism debate in contemporary metaphysical-speculative philosophy.

1. As the year went on I found out that for the 2016-17 school year I would be teaching courses geared toward aesthetics, and so that was my one hallmarks in addition to the above.  In the summer we began to read Kant's Critique of the Power of Judgement followed by Merleau-Ponty's The Phenomenology of Perception (summer for Kant; fall for MP).

2. Fall had me teaching Philosophies of Art & Beauty, which was phenomenal.  I ran the course how it was taught to me as an undergraduate - and the students loved it.  Two texts I could recommend are Joshua Billings Genealogy of the Tragic: Greek Tragedy and German Philosophy and the very dated but still very relevant Schopenhauer by Patrick Gadiner.  Neither text was required: I read both for fun while teaching the course and found out alot of very interesting background information. We ran the course seminar style and from the feedback I received the students really enjoyed the course and learned alot.

3. Speculative Realism: An Epitome is complete and now in the proofing/editing process with Kismet Publishing.  More than likely the book will now appear in early 2017 and will be made available Open Access, but will also have a print version available for purchase too. I have been told that the Preface especially is "brilliant," and among my academia,edu papers it garnered the most number of visits in the fewest amount of days (somewhere around 600+ views within three days time).  I am told by the publisher that this is one of their most anticipated books and I am expecting that this book's publication is going to be huge.  So be on the look out for that.

4. Other than Speculative Realism: An Epitome I'll be working on a number of short book reviews, although I plan only to publish in hardcopy for a journal somewhere only one or two of them.  This upcoming year (2017) I plan to see to publication Speculative Naturalism: An Ecological Metaphysics which I am now thinking about changing the title to the more simple title of, Transcendental Naturalism.  I am literally on version number four or five of the book as the more time that passes the larger it grows and the ideas morph and change.  But I am considering McGrath's New Perspectives in Ontology Series through Edinburgh for that.  I'd rather the book take a natural course and thus take a time to find an organic expression of publication rather than be rushed and forced.  I think its good that the Kismet book would appear first so that readers could see how I approach speculative philosophy to begin with before they dive into a 500+ page magnum opus of mine.

I also have the idea of using UMinnPress's "Forerunner Series" to engage in some "gray publishing" by publishing a very short book I would call After Nature.  It would feature the best of/re-written blog posts from here at After Nature in an essay book format.  But that is just an idea so far and its still very much up in the air, mostly because I am attempting to trim back on publishing over the course of the next two years. But, if pressed I think that series/publisher would be a good fit for an idea like that. 

5. It seems as I go forward my guiding question has been (and will continue to be), "In what ways can transcendental philosophy be incorporated into a rigorous, thorough-going naturalism regarding 'what is'?"  I have been looking at Schelling, Hegel, Kant, and Fichte within light of contemporary European/Continental philosophy especially with aesthetics, ecology, and logic and metaphysics in view.  Whatever I write will take up that theme conversing with the work of Ray Brassier and Iain Hamilton Grant. But this last part I shall save for elaboration in my upcoming and third (last) part of this post's series.


More soon ...

Thursday, December 15, 2016

finals week and a home-made video

Video of me driving on the way home through the Delaware National State Forest (we essentially live in the middle of the state forest near Delaware Water Gap, where this video was made); video made two years ago around this time in December after a light snow storm but the mighty landscape of the Pennsylvanian mountains never changes.

Still, because today it is 22 degrees and snowing outside I thought this video was fitting. Plus, it is finals week so posts will be slow.

Featuring music from the Norwegian band Ulver from the Kveldssanger (1996) album. In their "trilogy" it is probably my favorite.

Enjoy.

The third person in the trinity: Schelling-Hegel-Peirce


"Peirce is most generally considered a pragmatist and is most often presented to students as the first person in the trinity: Peirce-James-Dewey; yet, it is also accurate to say that he stands as the third person in the trinity: Schelling-Hegel-Peirce. It is an uncontroversial fact that he was never very much at home with the pragmatism of his day or with its advocates, and in his capsule autobiographies he closely associates himself with German idealism, and specifically with the philosophy of Schelling. In what follows I shall outline some of these perspectives."

Joseph L. Esposito, "Peirce and Naturphilosophie" in Transactions of the Charles S. Peirce Society Vol. 13, No. 2 (Spring, 1977): 122-141.  LINK.

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Free-writing a pensive post to kick off December break: Where I have been (Part 1 of 3)

Gabrielle Library, Campus of Immaculata University, June 2011 (PHOTO: Niemoczynski)

As I am sure is the case for many After Nature readers, this is the time of the year when the semester winds down and its great wheels slowly screech to a halt where, for a few brief moments, it seems possible - yes, *finally* possible - to just for a few moments simply "pause, collect, and reflect." (Note well: Inevitably this will be a longer blog post, so for those who are skimming this then the below might not be for you.  Then again, maybe you are like me and today just happen to have some time and feel pensive enough as well in that you may be curious to read about what I have been up to.)

However let me just say that I don't have opportunities to just free-write like this very often, so the purpose of this post is just to free-write a little about where I've been, where I am, and where I might be going. I'll try to keep things as simple and to the point as I can. If that seems palatable then please feel free to continue. This first post will focus on where I have been, specifically in terms of my teaching. The second and third post will focus on my current teaching and scholarship and where I plan to take things in the future.

***

Transitioning *back* to the life of a full-time college professor: The past semester at my new VAP position was exceptional.  This was my first semester in my new VAP position "officially" and in some ways it felt very familiar while in other ways it felt completely new.  I think I am lucky to have had the former tenure experience that I did while teaching with the Loras College philosophy department out in Dubuque, Iowa some years ago (for as horrible as all of that was); and despite the, for lack of a better way to put it, "insanity" present out there, I at the very least was subjected to the grind that many first-year tenure track folks find themselves subjected to and have been able to apply that knowledge to the grind of my current position today.  In other words, the 60-80+ hour workweeks of new full-time professor do not come as a shock to me (although with Loras there was plenty, and I mean plenty more that the average rational human being would find shocking in addition to any typical grind. But I digress...).

Looking back I do tend to look on the bright side as, unlike with Loras, Moravian is actually worth it.  Not that that is a surprise. I knew that it was a great job the moment I first spoke with them over the phone.  Very good people, extremely friendly and supportive, honest, and caring.  Fitting in, having good, caring colleagues who have your best interests in mind, having bright students, and teaching interesting classes, there's alot that makes the pain of adjusting to your first year of full-time professor life worth it and my current position never ceases to amaze me - so much so in fact that it doesn't feel like a grind at all.  True, I am tired...but again, when I reflect on just the experience of teaching there, I simply feel so blessed. If anything, it energizes me - if that makes sense.

So without trying to gloat, I am very, very happy in my new position and am very, very thankful for it.  I think it is ok to be grateful for such an opportunity considering all of the drama I had to go through during those Loras years to make a come-back and essentially prove "the haters wrong" by continuing to go forward.  Which I did. Because, again, afterall, there were people out there who outright said "Oh, he'll never find another full-time teaching position again."  Or, "Oh, his health will never allow him to teach again."  That because they simply didn't like me, but also because they were intentionally trying to devastate my mindset of ever hoping to return to full-time teaching after just having had a "trans ischemic attack," otherwise known as a 'ministroke."  So I have to smile to myself these days because through blood, sweat, and tears I have come this far and then some. There were people who literally wanted to see me destroyed and I wasn't destroyed. I came back better than ever. While it has only been four years since all of this happened, tops, it feels like all of that went down decades ago.  But it's behind me now, and my recent successes achieved from my own hard work have helped me to to put that unfortunate past behind me.  Having a modicum of security now as compared to then, knowing that I worked for it, is something that (with as much humility that is possible) I am proud of; proud and certainly glad to have survived that.

Leaving Immaculata: I began my teaching career in 2004, the summer I believe, while teaching with my Masters degree in philosophy for Immaculata University.  The heart-breaker with this is that this semester was actually my last with them, so in effect a twelve year long teaching career with Immaculata has ended as of this month.  Even while out on the tenure-track with Loras for a year I still taught online for Immaculata and over breaks.  Even while I landed temporary full-time gigs at other schools such as West Chester University philosophy or East Stroudsburg University philosophy Immaculata was always there (and let's be honest, at the time it was for the money as much as it was for the experience). Although I did not teach there for the money exclusively - I needed to make ends meet, true.  But Immaculata always had a special place in my heart compared to West Chester if only because they treated me eminently better.  They truly cared.  Until just this year, Immaculata was my institutional "home" and as of this semester I am saying good-bye to them. I do so with the utmost respect and gratitude.

For me, like Moravian is now, Immaculata was always about a loyalty to first the students and my colleagues; and second, a loyalty to the general mission or philosophical vision of the school.  In my heart I was of course praying a tenure spot would open up with them, eventually, but it did not.  Sadly the school's classes began to dry up as financial woes shrunk class sizes from 30+ students down to 10, and then down to 5 or 6 students in a class - at which point I was paid prorated.  I did however give over a solid decade of what essentially was full-time teaching to Immaculata: 3/3 load each semester, teaching great classes.  My colleagues were exceptional (especially Stephanie Theodorou, whom I became great friends with, and we even did some collaborative research together) such as the Philadelphia Summer School in Continental Philosophy and a co-edited online OpenAccess book on animal emotions.  We even appeared together to do a radio interview!

As I mentioned above, fit is everything.  And with Immaculata there was a great fit.  But fit is also something that, honestly, takes at least a year or so to truly see if it is legitimate.  And there is real heart-break when beyond a year then *everyone* knows how excellent you'd be working there. So that is why it was a heartbreaker to leave because I knew that it was a great fit, they just didn't have the money to open up a tenure line for me, nor would they any time in any foreseeable future.  At least I knew that their words "We would if we could but we can't" were true.  Other places where I was temporarily teaching (West Chester University philosophy for example) had said the same thing but didn't mean it. While relying on the numerous students I was bringing in to declare as majors and demonstrate to the Dean that the department required a tenure line in order to handle all of these new students, they decided to use my blood, sweat, and tears to open a line but then not even short-list me for an interview for the position.  Once I realized that they were using me I left to continue on to teach where my hard work and genuine sincerity and care for the students would actually be appreciated. Immaculata was always leagues beyond West Chester in terms of honesty, integrity, fairness, justice, and most of all class.  

Immaculata was always solid and supportive, between 2004 and 2016 they were my institutional home.  I learned alot as a teacher, as a scholar, as someone contributing to their community. But, when one door closes another opens and they are certainly supportive in me leaving to take a more stable long-term (if not permanent, if converting to tenure) position with Moravian. So I thank Immaculata very much for everything they've given me during the past twelve years.

Turning Down Anna Maria College for Moravian: Yes, this is true. I can't remember if this was last summer or the one prior. I want to say last summer. I am nearly positive.  In any case, this is when the whole banking on Moravian "is an all or nothing deal" idea came up where essentially my wife and I had to decide as a couple what would be best for us given the prospects of my career.  When Immaculata fizzled out Anna Maria College was part of my last year on the job market and believe it or not they offered a tenure position.  In Boston, about four hours north of where my wife and I had just bought our first home in Pennsylvania not even a year earlier.  The home is near my parents, about an hour from Na's job (which she absolutely adores - she is now a "Global Project Manager" - and good for her, having come to the US with English as a second language, I am astonished by her tenacity and success); we are pretty much "in" the State Park with 80 acres of undevelopable land behind/surrounding us, mountains, forests, tress, etc. just beautiful.

 I mean, if I really wanted I *could* make a four hour commute up to Boston and back each weekend (that's four hours each way - and then sleep in a studio apartment during the week) only seeing my wife on weekends - but is that the kind of life we would want? We tried the commuter marriage while I was out at Loras and neither of us enjoyed that very much: and really, neither of us want to do that again. So, it was then (last year) that I had to decide that my career or any prospect for a tenure career at least was "over."  If not being able to accept a tenure offer in Boston then why would I continue to keep myself on the market?  I had learned to accept that I would be adjuncting (or having the status as an "adjunct" despite 3/3 loads) with Immaculata.  But then that is when Moravian called and suddenly things turned around pretty much out of nowhere.  The timing was a life-saver, to say the least.  Without Moravian coming in I probably would be in Boston right now making a four hour commute every Friday and Sunday.  Yikes.  I can't even fathom that.

Settling into my "new" institutional home of Moravian: But let me count my blessings. Things could be a lot  worse.  In the past many times they have been worse.  But as Moravian finishes up this semester I look back and reflect upon how far I've come, especially when there were such negative forces trying to hold me back, kill my passion, tell me that I wasn't worth anything, and so on.  Through our hard work I think we've come a long way.  I am so proud of Na for her patience with my career, I am so happy and glad that she can finally see the fruits of my success after struggling for so many years in attempting to find some measure of stability that would work for us.  I am glad that she has been able to see me through my health issues and see me finally return to teaching full-time which for a time looked like that would be an impossibility.  So we have been truly blessed.

To close, being blessed for Na and I is first and foremost the fact that we have each other and that my health has stabilized for the time being; that I have been blessed to be able to accept the Moravian VAP.  It is a great job where I am able to work with wonderful colleagues and students alike, it allows me enough time to slow down and focus both on my teaching and research by developing new, interesting classes that I haven't taught before or revamp older classes that could use a new twist; my classes are able to support my research trajectories - which is great - and the institution offers tremendous research and scholarship support.  And of course, finally, there is the stability of a permanent rolling contract (every two years) which if not an outright plan for tenure was the next best thing that I was looking for.  I couldn't ask for more.

Nalina and I have worked hard for the best ten years and I think we have both succeeded (she probably more than I! She never ceases to amaze me...) - but we now own our beautiful home, we live in a beautiful part of Pennsylvania with plenty of nature around and a good deal of privacy where we can enjoy ourselves, we can easily drive to my parents to take care of them if need be which is such a blessing for those who have aging parents, and we can still get to Philly or over to NYC on weekends for our cultural fix despite living in the remote wilderness that we do live in, but most of all...things finally settled down where we were able to take root. Being able to say that we've "taken root" in the world of philosophy is truly an accomplishment.  As I looked back Nalina and I have been together for ten years and married for nine.  I have only had my Ph.D. for seven years.  Being able to say we are settled down and have taken root after seven years with the Ph.D. is nothing to sneeze at: I mean, that includes two or more tenure-track position offers in those seven years (there were more but that's a story for a different day), two VAP positions (one of which is now permanent), moving from the Midwest to the Eastcoast and back not just once but twice... I mean, that's alot. It's good to finally be able to settle down and just now finally start to look at myself and say, "Ok, that was where I have been, but where am I now?"  What am I doing now and then where do I go from here?

In my next post I plan to journal about "where I'm now" and talk about my current scholarship, what I am reading these days, and what I am thinking about.  In a third post I'll try to reflect upon where things might be heading in the future... So stay tuned!

And of course, thanks for reading.




Thursday, December 8, 2016

Uexküll’s Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men




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Uexküll's Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men, entry directory
 
by Corry Shores

[Central Entry Directory]
[Jakob von Uexküll, entry directory]

Entry Directory for

Jakob von Uexküll

A Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men: A Picture Book of Invisible Worlds
[A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans]
[Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen: Ein Bilderbuch unsichtbarer Welt]

Uexküll, Jakob von. 1934. Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen: Ein Bilderbuch unsichtbarer Welten. Berlin: Springer.

Uexküll, Jakob von. 1956. Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen: Ein Bilderbuch unsichtbarer Welten. In Streifzüge durch die Umwelten von Tieren und Menschen: Ein Bilderbuch unsichtbarer Welten. Bedeutungslehre, pp.19–101. Hamburg: Rowohlt.

Uexküll, Jakob von. 1957. A Stroll through the Worlds of Animals and Men: A Picture Book of Invisible Worlds. In Instinctive Behavior: The Development of a Modern Concept, pp. 5–80. Edited and translated by Claire H. Schiller. New York: International Universities.

Uexküll, Jakob von. 2010. A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans. In A Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans, with A Theory of Meaning, pp.41–135. Translated by Joseph D. O'Neil. London/Minneapolis, Minn.: University of Minnesota Press.

.

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The minds of other animals (aeon article)



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The minds of other animals
// Aeon

Animal consciousness is taboo in many areas of biological science. What's so hard about the inner lives of other species?
By Antone Martinho
Read at Aeon

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

quote of the day

"The real is to be described, not constructed or constituted."

- Merleau-Ponty, Preface to The Phenomenology of Perception

Nature and Nothingness


Here is the cover for Corrington's forthcoming new book Nature and Nothingness. It looks absolutely phenomenal. I really like the cover art.  Content-wise this looks to be Corrington's best yet.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Welcome to Sin News: Journalism for Digital Millenials Who Want the Truth (McSweenys)

If you don't get the joke watch anything recently put out by Vice News. The below will be that much more hilarious.

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Welcome to Sin News: Journalism for Digital Millenials Who Want the Truth
// McSweeney's

We're Sin News — a new kind of news organization. We're hip. We're now. We're aimed at young, digital native audiences who give a damn. We get it.

We take drugs. Lots of drugs. And then we report on the news. We smoked a bunch of blunts and then interviewed the Undersecretary of the Treasury for Domestic Finance. We got high on ketamine, hosted a roundtable discussion about Aleppo, and came up with few, if any, meaningful insights. We injected ourselves with heroin and reported on how it feels good to sit in the corner of the room for a while. Too much for you to handle? Then change the channel, square.

Yeah, you could say that our angle, is a little… off. We film everything a few degrees off-center; not enough for you to notice right away, but enough so after a few minutes, you'll say, "I think the camera is a little off-center." Also, we overexpose all of our shots, and the subject is rarely in focus. Don't like it? Then go back to your lame news anchor and desk. We shoot all of our news footage on old iPhones, and we always get the notification that says we're running out of storage.

We think that censorship is bad. Most networks wouldn't show you a video of a clown punching a baby. But we would. We've got dozens of those videos. If you want censored news, then you can get the hell out of here. Yeah, we said "hell!" No suit is going to tell us what to say. We're modern day Edward R. Murrow's. We also say other words too, like "dick" and "poop."

We go places that normal news outlets won't go. We'll skydive into a volcano. We'll backflip into a war zone. We'll go to a really dope club and just dance. We report the stories that other outlets are too afraid to report. We'll do a five-part investigative series on spooky goblins. We'll open up a bunch of caskets to see if there are any vampires in them. We're not afraid! Except for the last one. We're kind of afraid of Draculas.

We don't just have cameras, we talk into them. We take the traditional narrative construction of the proscenium — the fourth wall demarcating performance from audience — and burn it to the goddamn ground because we don't play by your rules. We say things like, "I can't believe this. This is so weird. It's also dangerous," because otherwise, how would you know how unbelievable, weird, and dangerous the situation we've gotten ourselves into is? Yeah, that's right — we spell things out for you. Without nuance. Booooom!

We're really into branded content — which is like advertising, but for people who are rad. We report on the stories that you care about, and that our marketing partners care about. Here's a story about the adverse effects of ICE's crackdown on refugees from Honduras… and also, we're all pounding Diet Sprites!

We don't wear suits when we report the news. We wear jeans. And hoodies. And T-shirts. Sometimes, the T-shirts have band names on them, but other times they don't have any band names on them. Sometimes we want to wear the T-shirts with the band names, but we can't because we didn't do the wash. Are we blowing your mind right now? How does laundry work?

We're raw. We're wild. We tell our viewers what we're thinking, as we think it. We think Snowden is a hero. We think that transphobia is wrong. We think that a bird just flew by. Or, maybe it was a very large bug. Either way, did you see it? It looked cool.

We don't have researchers. We don't have fact checkers. We've got an intern in a gimp suit who listens exclusively to Phantogram and Beach House. Every so often, we give him an article to copyedit, or a granola bar to make sure he doesn't die, but that's only because if we don't, we'll go to jail.

We don't just report the news, we fuck the news. We go out with the news, grab a few beers, take the news back to our place, ask for consent, and then have sex with the news. We do all sorts of different positions, and experiment with some things with the news that we were always interested in, and had seen on the internet, but never really had the courage to try.

We're Sin News. We love stories. We love the news. We also love vaping.


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Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Mishima "The Rite of Love and Death" (1966) - short film

My new love affair with Yukio Mishima (1925-1970) has yielded discovery of the below. Sometimes referred to by other names, I believe "The Rite of Love and Death" is the best translation for his fantastic short film which I am posting here.  The Kanji in the background translates to "sincerity," "honor," and "fidelity."  This fits perfectly as we continue our discussion of tragedy in Philosophies of Art & Beauty. Over break I'll certainly be reading as much of Mishima that I can.

On a side note Mishima is arguably Japan's greatest author/playwright/literary figure of the 20th-century, much like Ernst Junger from Germany - whose work I have been admiring for years.

Monday, November 28, 2016

Has dogma derailed the scientific search for dark matter? (Aeon article)

Link below:

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Has dogma derailed the scientific search for dark matter?
// Aeon
According to mainstream researchers, the vast majority of the matter in the Universe is invisible: it consists of dark-matter particles that do not interact with radiation and cannot be seen through any telescope. The case for dark matter is regarded as so overwhelming that its existence is often...
By Pavel Kroupa
Read at Aeon

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The Meaning of Nature


Conference paper on the eco-philosopher and American naturalist and idealist, John William Miller (1895-1978), HERE.  Many ideas are similar to Merleau-Ponty, Alfred North Whitehead, and John Dewey, for those interested.  Truly a pioneer in "philosophical ecology" that is so popular today.

Saturday, November 26, 2016

Southern Illinois U Carbonale announces potential layoffs, program cuts

Article from back in March however only just recently discovered it. Some very shocking news. According to the article (link HERE):

Potential reductions at SIUC include:

- Elimination of more than 180 faculty, administrative professional and civil service staff positions
- Elimination of academic programs; reduction of more than 400 classes
- Elimination of more than 300 student employment positions, including on-campus jobs for undergraduates and assistantships for graduate students
- Merge four colleges into two colleges, eliminating two deans and associated office support.
- Reduced hours at Morris Library - the building will be closed up to 28 hours per week, including all day Saturday
- Reduction of funding for non-academic student programming support, including programs for underserved populations, retention initiatives, and counseling services.
- Elimination of men's and women's tennis
- Reduction of institutional funding for deferred maintenance in campus facilities
- Reduce state budget support for WSIU-TV (Broadcasting Service) by $200,000
- Eliminate $509, 505 state budget support for Touch of Nature
- Eliminate $189,000 state budget support for University Press.
- Eliminate $292,450 state budget support for University Museum
- Eliminate $148,300 state budget support for the Center for Dewey Studies.
- $887,498 reduction of research support
- Reduction of funding for 23 SIUC research centers and institutes, which operate in support of externally funded research grants.
- $528,662 reduction of information technology support and hardware

Friday, November 25, 2016

Extraterrestrial Intelligence and Dark Matter


Scientists explore the idea that dark matter may house a key to understanding advanced extraterrestrial intelligence.  Link HERE.

Wednesday, November 23, 2016

"His Ferocious But Short-Lived Assault" Conference on the Work of Nick Land 2017

Call for Papers
"His Ferocious But Short-lived Assault" 
Interdisciplinary Conference Assessing the Legacy of Nick Land

2nd – 3rd June, 2017, University of Liverpool 

This conference is the first devoted to the impact of Nick Land’s writings. As controversial as influential, the (retired) author of A Thirst for Annihilation and Fanged Noumena, has influenced not only philosophy but a range of disciplines. In the short period between his emergence as the new rising star of British philosophy and his ‘burn-out’ less than a decade later, Land instigated lines of investigation that remain relatively unexplored.

Link HERE.

"Suffering and Evil in Nature" EN Conference 2017

Robert S. Corrington writes:

The theme for the 7th International Congress on Ecstatic Naturalism (April 7th and 8th, 2017 - at Drew University) will be: Suffering and Evil in Nature. We are very lucky to have the Korean Professors back with us this year, so the theme will be quite international.

Below is a description of the conference, as provided by Corrington:



"Suffering and Evil in Nature"
7th International Congress on Ecstatic Naturalism  
April 7th and 8th, Spring 2017 -Drew University, Madison New Jersey, United States

It is a vexing issue as to whether nature can be evil or not. While most would say "no" it is still a topic worth probing. Is evil a merely human trait or does it somehow come from the unconscious of nature; namely, from nature naturing? If we can talk of an ordinal psychoanalysis of nature, is the door then open for a robust discussion of evil beyond the human in the context of a non-theistic religious naturalism? The problem of suffering seems easier to deal with. Is there suffering in nature? Virtually everyone would answer "yes." But the issue of human and non-human suffering remains a complex one and, for some, involves a muted form of theodicy to "justify" suffering. Yet the facts of Darwinian evolution are stark and discouraging, given that extinction is one of the few certainties in evolution. But when we transition to the problem of human suffering, the issues multiply, especially for religious naturalism. The Congress will explore both issues from a variety of religious naturalistic perspectives, among them being ecstatic naturalism.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Agent Swarm on Pluralist Metaphysical Research



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PLURALIST METAPHYSICAL RESEARCH PROGRAMMES: Feyerabend, Deleuze, Laruelle, Zizek, Serres, Stiegler, Badiou, Latour
// AGENT SWARM

My long-term philosophical project is the critical analysis of the differing pluralist French Continental philosophies, those of Deleuze, Laruelle, Zizek, Serres, Stiegler, Badiou and Latour, as competing alternative metaphysical research programmes (in the sense proposed by Karl Popper).

I describe, analyse and evaluate these diverse metaphysical research programmes in terms of a loose partially overlapping set of criteria:

openness, pluralism, testability, realism, diachronicity, apophaticism, and democracy.

These criteria were originally derived from Paul Feyerabend's later philosophy (as outlined in the articles collected in CONQUEST OF ABUNDANCE). They give us useful descriptive and evaluative categories for dealing with contemporary French pluralism.

Feyerabend is often associated with a destructive criticism leading to an anarchism that flouts every rule and a relativism that treats all opinions as equal. This negative stereotype is based on ignorance and rumour rather than on any real engagement with his texts.

Feyerabend's work from beginning to end turns around problems of pluralism, ontology and realism, culminating in the outlines of a sophisticated form of pluralist realism. The still largely unknown ontological turn taken by Feyerabend's work in the last decade of his life was based on eight strands of argument: ontological difference and pluralism (ineffable Being as distinct from the multiple manifest realities), realism, testability, cosmological criticism, the historical approach, the quantum analogy (complementarity), and the primacy of democracy. See: Feyerabend's Cosmological Pluralism

My past advisors on this project were Alan Chalmers, Jean-Toussaint Desanti, and Jean-François Lyotard. I learned much from attending the seminars of Michel Serres, Gilles Deleuze, Michel Foucault and Kenneth White. More recently I have profited from exchanges with Charles Spinosa, Bernard Stiegler and Bruno Latour.

A useful first approach to my project: IS ONTOLOGY MAKING US STUPID? (2012):

IS ONTOLOGY MAKING US STUPID?

My most recent publication (2016), evaluating Bruno Latour's AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE from this perspective:

De-briefing Aime Project



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Sunday, November 13, 2016

Brassier’s Autopsy in Russian

Ht to Reza.

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Brassier's Autopsy in Russian
// Eliminative Culinarism

Sygma have just posted 'Спекулятивная аутопсия', Pavel Borisov's Russian translation of Ray Brassier's postscript to Object-Oriented Philosophy, 'Speculative Autopsy': link.

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Saturday, November 12, 2016

"Toward a New Materialism: Matter as Dynamic" (article recommended by a reader with some of my reflections about it)

After Nature reader Don Vande Krol emailed me this interesting article, link HERE.  It was published in Minding Nature Vol. 8 No. 1 of January 2015 so it is fairly recent.

The argument of agential realism is that agency is not a property of objects (a predicate) but rather any objects' defining substantive core (the essential nature of any object in order to be an object, at all).  Thus in  strict sense agency (creativity) is that which makes possible any property whatsoever.

The only problem I see, though, when I read arguments like this is that one seems to lack a proper principle of individuation: that is, if activity/creativity is central to the identity of a thing rather than substances with properties, then other than activity one must account for what makes something uniquely an individual.

Friday, November 11, 2016

new translation from Meillassoux's "L'inexistence divine"


Of course due to politics many folks are simply unaware of that this newly translated material even exists, but Nathan Brown has by far done a superior job when compared to the other translation from "L'inexistence divine" that is out there (it is different material but from the same source, which is Meillassoux's dissertation).

Chris Watkins is the exception but his translations are minimal or fragmentary, as helpful as they are. You can find those in his book Difficult Atheism (see After Nature posts HERE and HERE).

Link to Brown's translation HERE.

Thursday, November 10, 2016

BADIOU, THE ONE, THE INFINITE: six theses (Agent Swarm blog post)

Obviously please vist the original as well.

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BADIOU, THE ONE, THE INFINITE: six theses
// AGENT SWARM

In the introduction to his seminar L'INFINI: ARISTOTE, SPINOZA, HEGEL (1984-1985) Badiou lists eight fundamental theses concerning the concepts of the One and the Infinite. Three are contained in BEING AND EVENT (1988) :

"1. The One is not, being is given only in the form of the multiple.

2. A situation, thought as multiple, is in general infinite.

3. Every truth, considered in its being-multiple, is infinite".

Five more have been added in his subsequent works, Logics of Worlds (2006) and The Immanence of Truths (forthcoming 2017):

"4. Every world is a multiple measured by an inaccessible infinite cardinal.

5. In every world, there is one and only one element which is the inexistent of this world.

6. The finite does not exist. It results from the combined action of two infinites of different types.

 7. Under the action of the infinity of truth, every finite production is divided into the work and the waste product.
8. Finitude is the essence of all oppression, and its overcoming supposes an infinite that is new to the regard of those who structure the world considered".


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Final lecture on Kant, Critique of Pure Reason, Robert Paul Wolff Lecture 9 (YouTube)

Sunday, November 6, 2016

Friday, November 4, 2016

quote of the day

"The human body is the best picture of the human soul."
- Ludwig Wittgenstein

Saturday, October 29, 2016

"Where to begin with Deleuze?" (Agent Swarm blog post)



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Where to begin with Deleuze?
// AGENT SWARM

It can be a good idea to start at the end and work back. This would mean first reading the short essay "Postscript on societies of control" and WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? And complete with the interviews collected in NEGOTIATIONS, followed by Charles Stivale's summary of Deleuze's ABC Primer and the videos.
An epistemological entry is possible with the chapters on the new image of thought in Nietzsche and Philosophy, and in Difference and Repetition. I would add the discussion of the image of thought in Dialogues and in Letter to a Harsh Critic. One could go on to read the FOUCAULT book next, and chapters 6 (the powers of the false) and 7 (thought and cinema) of the TIME-IMAGE. RHIZOME also belongs to this epistemological thread.
The Kantian dimension is very important. It is interesting that in Deleuze's courses on the cinema he originally intended to use Bergson for the movement-image and Kant for the time-image (I am basing myself on my notes taken at that time, as I attended Deleuze's courses from 1980 to 1986). So I think that Kant's presence in the TIME-IMAGE should not be underestimated.
On a more autobiographical slant, I first read the ANTI-OEDIPUS as I was very much interested in the philosophy of the psyche (not desire, the psyche), which has not been commented on so much, although now, thanks to Bernard Stiegler, people are beginning to talk more about Simondon's concept of psychic and collective individuation, which runs through all Deleuze including his later stuff on subjectivation.
Soon after I arrived in Paris in 1980 Deleuze began a new phase, talking about painting and then the cinema, which lasted about 5 years. So I think the image could be another entry into Deleuze's work, and one could start with the book on Francis Bacon and then read the two cinema books.
LOGIC OF SENSE is a great entry into Deleuze from the angle of stories and literature and philosophical anecdotes, and ties into the KAFKA book and "On the superiority of anglo-american literature" in DIALOGUES. Next would be chapter 8 of A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, at least. Deleuze's work is full of stories and allusions to stories. In the cinema books there is the material on the act of fabulation, which is continued in WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY?
If you understand French it is an amazing experience to listen to Deleuze's seminars. Those from 1980 to June 1986 can be found here: http://www2.univ-paris8.fr/deleuze/rubrique.php3?id_rubrique=4 (i.e. ANTI-OEDIPUS and A THOUSAND PLATEAUS related courses, Spinoza, Painting, the four years on the cinema, and the two years on Foucault. For the last year on Leibniz, you can download his classes here: http://gallica.bnf.fr/Search?ArianeWireIndex=index&p=1&lang=FR&f_typedoc=audio&q=deleuze.
WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? is a very good pedagogical introduction. I didn't appreciate the book when it was published in 1991, because it seemed to be a regression compared to A THOUSAND PLATEAUS, favoring demarcation over transversality. However, now I feel that the theorisation of the different relations with chaos explains some things that were only implicit in the previous books, especially in the TIME-IMAGE.
I think that WHAT IS PHILOSOPHY? not only responds to Badiou's and Laruelle's work quite effectively but anticipates Bruno Latour's theorisation of modes of existence. So maybe Latour's AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE could be considered a way of entry into Deleuze.


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Greg Sadler

Greg Sadler emailed me, which was great because I've been watching alot of his content for years.  All of it is top notch and I have to say that his "Half-hour Hegel" series on YouTube has set a standard that is on par with the best of hardcopy published Hegel scholarship (meaning, his videos *are just as good as* the best writings of Harris, Findlay, etc.).  I am sure most After Nature readers already know who he is, but if you don't go to his YouTube page HERE.

One thing: definitely see the playlist he devoted to his "more personal talks."  These have inspired me to consider at one point vlogging. I had once thought podcasting might be a way to go (this was a few years ago), but decided against it.  I still am not sure if vlogging would be a good way to go after After Nature ends but I sometimes imagine transitioning the blog over to a YouTube channel, which to continue on in "spirit" would be nice to call, After Nature.  A big however to this though is that I am camera-shy, so that'd be a major obstacle.  Anyway, Greg's personal video series are just as good as all of his formal lectures available on the playlists on his YouTube channel.

But Greg has inspired me to produce content for YouTube in the form of vlogging, possibly. I think it helps folks relate to each other and seeing the person behind the content produced is oh-so important.

Greg seems like a great content-producer, scholar, and fine human being.  It's always nice to meet like-minded folks online - as rare as that happens.  Brian "Skoliast" has always been great (Speculum Criticum Traditionis blog); Adrian Ivakhiv of Immanence blog; the notorious Dirk Feldmen is always passing along great links. Karen Oyama has always been great and supportive.  Matt Segall over at Footnotes to Plato has been legendary in carrying forward conversations; Terrence Blake, Jason Hills, Pete Wolfendale.  These are all folks who are active online and if you don't know their work I say definitely seek it out and see if it's for you.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Human sounds convey emotions clearer and faster than words (New Savanna blog)



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Human sounds convey emotions clearer and faster than words
// NEW SAVANNA

It takes just one-tenth of a second for our brains to begin to recognize emotions conveyed by vocalizations, according to researchers from McGill. It doesn't matter whether the non-verbal sounds are growls of anger, the laughter of happiness or cries of sadness. More importantly, the researchers have also discovered that we pay more attention when an emotion (such as happiness, sadness or anger) is expressed through vocalizations than we do when the same emotion is expressed in speech.

The researchers believe that the speed with which the brain 'tags' these vocalizations and the preference given to them compared to language, is due to the potentially crucial role that decoding vocal sounds has played in human survival.

"The identification of emotional vocalizations depends on systems in the brain that are older in evolutionary terms," says Marc Pell, Director of McGill's School of Communication Sciences and Disorders and the lead author on the study that was recently published in Biological Psychology. "Understanding emotions expressed in spoken language, on the other hand, involves more recent brain systems that have evolved as human language developed."
The primary research report:
M.D. Pella, b, K. Rothermich, P. Liu, S. Paulmann, S. Sethi, S. Rigoulot, Preferential decoding of emotion from human non-linguistic vocalizations versus speech prosody, Biological Psychology, Volume 111, October 2015, Pages 14–25

Abstract: This study used event-related brain potentials (ERPs) to compare the time course of emotion processing from non-linguistic vocalizations versus speech prosody, to test whether vocalizations are treated preferentially by the neurocognitive system. Participants passively listened to vocalizations or pseudo-utterances conveying anger, sadness, or happiness as the EEG was recorded. Simultaneous effects of vocal expression type and emotion were analyzed for three ERP components (N100, P200, late positive component). Emotional vocalizations and speech were differentiated very early (N100) and vocalizations elicited stronger, earlier, and more differentiated P200 responses than speech. At later stages (450–700 ms), anger vocalizations evoked a stronger late positivity (LPC) than other vocal expressions, which was similar but delayed for angry speech. Individuals with high trait anxiety exhibited early, heightened sensitivity to vocal emotions (particularly vocalizations). These data provide new neurophysiological evidence that vocalizations, as evolutionarily primitive signals, are accorded precedence over speech-embedded emotions in the human voice.

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Monday, October 24, 2016

"How the old and the new make the mind ebb and flow" (Aeon Essays)



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How the old and the new make the mind ebb and flow | Aeon Essays
// Aeon

For some 2,500 years, humans have located the mind in the brain inside our heads. But we ought to consider the origin of mind with an open mind. Is the mind truly within the brain? Or is this an illusion?
I gained some insight back in the 1980s, as college drew to a close. I was in my 20s and working in Mexico for the World Health Organization on a project to study curanderos – folk healers – in a region where the press of modernisation of a local dam, La Presa Miguel Alemán, 250 miles south-east of Mexico City, was changing communities and local medical services. One morning, on a horseback journey to interview a local healer as part of my project, the saddle on my horse loosened and, with feet still strapped into the stirrups, I was dragged, they tell me, a hundred yards over gravel and rock, my head banging against the ground beneath the horse's racing hooves. When the young and frightened horse finally came to a stop, my riding companions thought I must be dead, or at least that I'd broken my neck. I did break my teeth and nose, and damaged my arm. The head trauma induced a state of global amnesia that lasted about a day.
In the aftermath of the horse accident, I became attuned to a level of knowing beneath personal identity, personal belief and personal expectation. I had no idea what to call this change in 'me' so I never discussed it with anyone, putting it into a category of some existential wakeup call to lighten up, given life's fragility following that near-death accident, to be grateful to be able to move my neck, be alive, be awake and aware. I didn't think of it then as a gift, but I realise now it was one of those unplanned experiences that are turning points, even if we don't realise their impact at the time.
How do all these layers of reality, these domains of life, find some common home, some common ground of understanding? Two terms that offer some insight and indicate how information is processed in our minds and brains are 'top-down' and 'bottom-up'. These terms are sometimes used for the anatomical location of processing: the higher cortex (seat of executive function) at the top, the lower brainstem (heart rate, breathing) and limbic areas (emotion) at the bottom. But the same terms are also used for layers of processing not related to the anatomical distribution of up and down. Instead, they are used for the degree of processing of information.
In the view we will be using here, top-down refers to ways we have experienced things in the past and created generalised summaries or mental models, also known as schema, of those events. For example, if you've seen many dogs, you'll have a general mental model or image of a generic dog. The next time you see a furry canine strolling by, your top-down processing might use that mental model to filter incoming visual input, and you won't really see the uniqueness of this dog in front of you. You have overlaid your generalised image of 'dog' on top of the here-and-now perceptual stream of energy that creates the neural representation of 'dog'. What you actually have in awareness is that amalgam of the top-down filtering of your experience.
So here, 'top' means that prior experience is activated, making it difficult to notice the unique and vibrant details of what is happening here and now. The top-down generalised notion of dog will shade and limit your perception of the actual animal in front of you. The benefit of top-down is that it makes your life more efficient. That's a dog, I know what it is, I don't need to expend any more energy than needed on insignificant, non-threatening things, so I'll take my limited resources and apply them elsewhere. It saves time and energy, and therefore is cognitively efficient. That's top-down processing.
On the other hand, if you've never seen a spiny anteater before, the first time you come across one on the trail, it will capture all of your attention, engaging your bottom-up processing so that you are seeing with beginner's eyes. These are eyes leading to circuitry in the brain, not shaping and altering ongoing perception through the top-down filters of prior experience. You'll be taking in as much pure sensation from eyesight as possible, without the top-down filter altering and limiting what you see now based on what you've seen before.
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When we travel to a foreign country, bottom-up perceiving can fill our journey with a profound sense of being alive. Time seems extended, days full, and we've seen more details in a few hours than we might have seen in a week in our familiar life. What seen means for bottom-up perception is that we become more attentive to novelty, seeing the unique aspects of what is, literally, in front of our eyes. The social psychologist Ellen Langer at Harvard University calls this 'mindfulness', and has done numerous studies to reveal the health benefits of being open to the freshness of the present moment.
The novel experience of foreign travel, in contrast to the sense of dullness in our lives back home, also reminds us of what life is like in familiar terrain: top-down can dominate bottom-up and give us a familiar sense of the same-old, same-old. A street at home with just as much detail seems dull compared with the novelty of a street in a foreign town seen for the first time. This loss of attention to the familiar can be called top-down dominance. Prior learning creates top-down filters through which we screen incoming data and lose the detail of things seen for the first time.
This top-down dominance is one of the side effects, if you will, of experience and knowledge. It's one of the downsides of expertise – we stop seeing clearly because we know so much. We know what a dog is, so let's move on and not lose attentional energy by focusing on something we already know. We save our attentional resources for something more pressing than the familiar. Knowledge from prior experience helps us become selective in what we perceive so we can be more efficient in allocating attentional resources and more effective and rapid in our behavioural responses. But something gets lost with that efficiency. We literally walk next to the roses and pass them by, naming them, knowing them as the flowers they are, but we don't stop to immerse ourselves in their scents or notice their unique rainbow of colours and textures.
The mind is both embodied and relational. Energy and information flow within us as well as between us
One general way of considering the distinction between these perception modes is that with the bottom-up we are experiencing the mind as a conduit of sensory experience, whereas in top-down we are additionally a constructor of information. A conduit enables something to flow freely, directing that flow but not changing it much; a constructor is fuelled by input and then generates its own output, a transformation that changes the fuel into another form: it constructs a new layer of representational information beyond the initial sensory stream.
The mind can be a bottom-up conduit and top-down constructor.
To help answer the question 'Who are we?' consider that we are at least a conduit and constructor. It might be that if only one or the other is utilised in our lives, we become blocked in our functioning. Without the constructor, we don't learn; without the conduit, we don't feel. Could this be an extreme constructor thing to say? My conduit mind somehow urges me to stay open about this – maybe being only a conduit is fine. But if I have put these thoughts into words, my conduit is connecting with my constructor to stand up for itself – a sign of the importance of both, don't you think, don't you feel? Both are important, each playing an important but distinct role in our experience of being alive. Use one without the balance of the other, and our lives become limited. Differentiate and then link the two, and we become integrated.
The mind is both embodied and relational. In our communications with one another, we often send linguistic packets of top-down words with narratives and explanations that are already constructing the reality we are sharing with another. Even when we try our best to use words to describe what we are experiencing, rather than explain what is going on, we are still using the construction of linguistic forms.
And in our brain? Energy and information flow within us as well as between us. The nervous system, including its brain, plays a major role in shaping our embodied energy-flow patterns. This is how brain research illuminates, though not with totality, what the mind is and who we are.
One recent finding is that in the brain there are two anatomically distinct circuits mediating conduit and constructor. A more lateralised (side) process involving sensory input areas includes the anterior insula (which some say is part of the ventrolateral prefrontal cortex) and the consciousness-mediating dorsolateral prefrontal cortex (the upper side area in the front of the brain, behind the forehead and above and to the side of the eyes). Notice the term lateral in each of these regions. These side circuits seem to be active when we focus primarily on moment-by-moment sensation. In contrast, we have a more centralised circuit in the brain that seems to generate thought and construct all sorts of top-down chatter about others and the self.
Sensation might be as bottom-up as we get. Since we live in a body, our within-mind experience is shaped by the physical apparatus that lets us take in energy flow from the outside world. We have our first five senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste and touch; we have our proprioceptive sense of motion; and we have our 'interoceptive' sense of the signals from the interior of the body. These perceptual capacities to sense the outer world and internal bodily world are built upon the physical neural machinery that enables energy to flow. Information is created with these energy patterns, generated as ions flow in and out of membranes and chemicals are released in the pathways of neural activity. As energy flows into the brain from our external sense organs, such as our eyes and ears, or from internal receptors of our body's muscles, bones and internal organs, we move from sensation to perception – with pure sensation as close as we get to being fully present in the world.
When we assemble those bottom-up sensations into perceptions, or go even further and reflect on the meaning of a sensation or perception, associating it with thought and memory, we are utilising the activity of a more central circuit that involves distinct areas, including midline areas of the prefrontal cortex, and regions such as the precuneus, medial and temporal lobes, lateral and inferior parietal cortex, and cingulate cortex. All this observing circuitry is a part of a brain system that neuroscientists call the default mode network, which matures during development into a cohesive, integrated whole residing at the midline front and back areas of the brain.
This circuit is called 'default' because when a test subject is at rest in a scanner, the network continues to fire as the baseline without the volunteer having been assigned a specific task to perform. What does this circuit involve itself with? 'Self and others', also known as the OATS system. In fact, some neuroscientists have suggested that elements of the default mode circuitry give rise to our sense of personal identity and might be connected to our mental health. Studies of mindfulness meditation have pointed out that this system becomes more integrated with sustained practice. We are reflective and social beings, and it would be natural to focus on others and self as a baseline activity when we're just hanging out with no particular assignment – even in a big blasting brain scanner.
wording the world can make us more distant still from the sensory richness that surrounds us. We then move further in a top-down mode
Perhaps it was this OATS system that was temporarily disabled after my horse accident. Without the engagement of a more distanced constructor of this top-down circuitry, the direct sensory input of each moment at that time could then more easily fill my awareness. Without the top-down filter of prior experience and personal identity, I was literally seeing things for the first time. The lateral sensory bottom-up conduit circuit and the midline top-down constructor/observing circuit have been shown to be reciprocal in their activation: when one is turned up, the other is turned down. When my midline construction circuit was knocked offline for a day, I could experience a fuller, richer, bottom-up, sensory world through the conduit of my within-mind machinery.
Construction could have many top-down layers. One is at the level of perception, so when we see a familiar dog it is just a dog. We literally sense the visual input of the dog but do not perceive that input with any great detail of awareness. We can also have the experience of observing at a distance, having the experience of 'Dan is seeing a dog. How interesting for him. Let's move on.' Such observation with the presence of an 'observer' – in this case, Dan – might be just the beginning of the OATS activity. Now there is a personal identity that indicates who is doing the seeing. Once I actively link autobiographical and factual memory together with linguistic forms, top-down has become the active constructor, and the OATS activity is off to the races.
We are now observing, not sensing. Such observation can then give rise to a well-defined witness – we witness an event from an even more distant stance. Language emerges from this observational flow, and wording the world can make us more distant still from the sensory richness that surrounds us. We then move further in a top-down mode to narrating what we are witnessing and observing. This is how we OWN an experience, as we observe, witness, and narrate an event – and become far more distant than if we were simply immersed in the sensory bottom-up flow of our conduit circuitry in the present moment. This is the balance we live day-by-day, moment-by-moment, between top-down and bottom-up, conduit and constructor.
The experience of living in the moment is potent and profound – and one longstanding hypothesis holds that it bubbles up from an ultra-thin layer of the upper brain. Vernon Mountcastle and other neuroscientists noted decades ago that the flow of energy in the cortex, the highest part of the brain, was bidirectional. Movement was through the cortex's vertical columns, most of which are six cell-layers deep. The highest layer is labelled number one; the lowest is labelled six. Folded over and over itself, the cortex appears thick, but six layers of cells is actually quite thin, like six playing cards laid on top of one another. The cortex serves to make neural 'maps' of the world – taking in our sensory input of sight and sound and building larger maps, finally constructing our conceptual thoughts about self and other – OATS.
Imagine the possibility, yet-to-be verified, that our sense of wonder, the thrill of the new, moves from the outside world through our senses to those microscopic layers – six to five to four. Travel up one more layer, and we start to parse and analyse, then add language, and reality shifts again. We humans revel in the experience the mind provides, even as its boundaries and contours remain at large.
Reprinted from 'Mind: Journey to the Heart of Being Human' by Daniel J Siegel, Copyright © 2017 by Mind Your Brain, Inc. With permission of the publisher, W W Norton & Co, Inc. All rights reserved.

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quote of the day

"Art is the disclosure of the invisible genesis of things."
- Maurice Merleau-Ponty

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Galloway with a nice Laruellian interpretation of Heidegger

Discussing truth in immanence. A nice little write-up about Heidegger.  Link HERE

Some years ago Paul Ennis and I had been discussing whether there was a "realist" Heidegger. We agreed his work in the '30s accomplished being just that.  For example, THIS post, "Heidegger's Realism and German Idealism."

Friday, October 21, 2016

Zizek on the new realisms/new materialisms


In a 400+ book called Disparities. The table of contents looks interesting at least and seems as if the book will cover, among other things, the return to Hegel in contemporary metaphysics, contemporary speculative philosophies, the new realisms/materialisms etc.  See the link HERE.  On amazon it looks as if the hardcopy will be for about fifteen dollars. I'd like to peruse the book through google books to see what sorts of things are discussed, who, and how before I were to consider reading it. Given the topics I'd be honored if After Nature blog were included somehow in this book as I know Zizek is a regular reader of my blog.

As an aside, Birbeck will be offering a Masterclass on the book led by Zizek himself. Details HERE.