Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Thinking and Being; Enlightenment and Extinction, Part 4

Thinking about being....and botox. (Picture has nothing to do with the post)

In the last post, we finished by saying that Brassier would establish the thought of anti-correlationism by understanding the nuanced logic given by Quentin Meillassoux in regards to the principle of absolute contingency. This is established through Mellisassoux's "figures of factuality." Brassier will establish Meillassoux's "figures of factuality" in order to further establish the logic of anti-correlationist thought then. In this post we will go into the third figure under the name of the "inconstancy of nature." We will go into this because this is where the idea of anti-correlationism finds difficulty in establishing the anti-correlationist "perspective" it wishes to achieve. Firstly though, Brassier sites Meillasoux's nuanced argument in regards to the impossibility of contradiction which breaks the "law of contradiction" from giving certain and definite outcomes to phenomena in general (providing the first principle for contingency). The argument goes like this: "If something is at once what it is and what it is not, then it cannot undergo transformation for it is already what's not...a contradictory element always exists as what it's not. It remains self-identical in being-other than itself". In other words, contradiction exists so it's not a contradiction since it has an identity. There is no contradiction if it already exists. Even if we think of something right now, and can think of its contradiction, this contradiction already exists. At the very most, one can say that 'two specific things exist at a difference from one another' but even in this statement the subject is already defined as 'two specific things' and being predicated in difference from one another. In regards to Hegel's original perspective on this, "absolute identity is capable of sustaining contradiction, since only the absolute can be identity of sameness and alterity." What is "wholly other" is already identified as just that, "otherness." Its nature is solidified in the identity of what's not, which already exists in being what's not. With that being said, the absolute envelopes the possibility of any contradiction by understanding that everything is always identified. What is contrary to what is happening is identified as a contrary nature, so this contrary nature simple exists as what is already not happening right now for instance. This argument for the non-possibility of contradiction is in order to establish the next point in Meillassoux's principles of factiality which is the necessary existence of contingency. This principle will make the correlationist's attempts at understanding being through thinking difficult. This argument goes something like this: 1. the weak interpretation,"if and only if something exists, then it exists contingently" and 2. the strong interpretation, "that it is absolutely necessary that contingent entities exist." Brassier explains the infinite regress involved in the weak interpretation of the necessity of contingency which always relies on the idea of "existence," making contingency relative to something called "existence." When trying to prove existential contingency though, one will have to put the idea of "existence" in the contingency bracket itself. This will ultimately lead to the strong interpretation where regardless of something called "existence," contingency still exists (relative to whatever "entities" mean. "Entities" and "existence" need to be explained further.) The regress that manifests from the "if and only if something exists" in the weak argument is nullified when the contingency no longer is concomitant with the idea of "existence." So far then we have a non-contradictory contingency of phenomena that is being established by Meillassoux. In this sense, contingency is absolutely necessary. But is this statement included in a realism of non-contradictory contingency? If not, is this where the "speculative" in "speculative realism" finds its place? If it is, then "speculative realism," like phenomenology, is still a descriptive science. These problems we will move onto in this post with the third figure of factiality nominated as the "inconstancy of nature." Here we will run into problems with the anti-correlationist's hopes of absolute dissociation.

The idea of the "inconstancy of nature" is to further dissociate our experience from "what's really happening" thereby fulfilling the realist interpretation. There's no better place to start understanding this anti-correlationist perspective than in Hume's A Treatise of Human Nature, specifically with his billiard ball example. Brassier explains it as such; "We cannot assume that any particular occurrence of AB - where A and B are bound together by contiguity, priority, and conjunction - instantiates a universal principle of causation...Hume's response is that our belief in causality and inductive inference more generally is merely a function of the association of ideas, and hence a psychological habit, nothing more. But habit does not provide a rational warrant for the inductive inference that the instance AB instantiates a universal law whereby it must follow A." To make this example more clear, lets establish the actual thought experiment that Hume made regarding billiard balls. When we see a billiard ball being hit into another billiard ball, we presume that the second billiard ball (B) reacted from it being hit by the first one (A) (This principle of causality is obviously established as "Law of Motion" for Newton). Hume assumes this much of the billiard balls in his thought experiment; 1. that they are in a position of contiguity (proximity), 2. that they are in a position of priority meaning that one ball is before another ball, and 3. that they are in a position of conjunction meaning that they are being perceived as being together. What's important to understand in these axiomatic relationships between billiard balls with this thought experiment is the fact that relationships first have to be perceived. But this is a problem for anti-correlationism that wants to firmly establish the dissociation between perception and reality. But if they follow Hume closely, they see that no matter how much it may be the case (high frequency) that "B follows from A", it isn't the case that this will always be the case, hence making this law of causality not a law because it can't be established universally. But who's establishing laws universally? We are establishing laws universally; The same "we" who perceive reality and are not reality. Maybe the contention put forward by anti-correlationism ought to be more in line with the desire to create laws in general. Newtons Laws of Motion are based on our never-ending perception of what always happens in experience. Newton took that much for granted in that there are beings that have to have perceptive phenomena in order to establish something like a universal law. The anti-correlationist has to think to themselves that this taking for granted of perceptual beings is a natural argument in favor of idealism. In other words, being never has to think that it's perceiving in order to perceive and ultimately come up with ideas. When Brassier states that the perception of billiard balls ostensibly showing a universal law is a "psychological habit, nothing more," what is the impetus behind seeing psychological habits as simply as "nothing more." Mental habits exists. That the association of ideas becomes a habit is something that exists. That this is then taken and nominated as a transcendental category is something else. Even if we eliminate this Kantian impulse to put habit into a transcendental category, the habit of perception still exists. Even if we nullify the universal laws understood by Newton, it's still the case that being will see things in high or low probabilities and instinctively react to these probabilities. But for Brassier and Meillassoux, these are all our presumptions, and that is the salient point in this thought experiment of dissociation. The unstated inference by correlationism is the one whereby the correlationist infers from the claim that "science's representation of reality requires the uniformity of nature the quite distinct claim that this uniformity - and hence the laws of nature- is necessary." In other words, because we (being) happen to represent nature in a uniform manner, doesn't mean that we can then make the leap to say that our representation is necessary and always the case. The difference here is between uniformity and necessity. For example, because phenomena happen all the time in high probabilities doesn't mean that it's necessarily the case that this high probability will always happen (necessarily). But this subtle distinction assumes a sort of quasi-metaphysical space for "necessity." If this is the case, then the concept of "necessity" will need to transcend its own conceptual limitations into the sphere of the arche-fossil for example. It will have to presume that what happened in the dispossessed time of the arche-fossil was necessarily contingent. While we can't assume uniformity to this arche-time, we also can't assume non-uniformity (contingency) to this time. In other words, the idea of the "necessity of contingency" has to allow for the possibility for uniformity in a time before the nervous system. This needs to be emphasized. The necessity of contingency ought not to entail a conception of a chaotic universe, but simply a conception of the universe that is completely unknowable, whose contingency could be uniform or chaotic or anything else that comes to the imagination of the thinker who can never know the contingency. For our representation though, we can't assume that uniformity is always necessary, solely because the concept of necessity "transcends" representative being. That everything can always be the case denies the possibility of uniformity, regardless of how much uniformity may always happen to us. In this sense, there's no problem with Kant's (correlationism's) transcendentalism as long as it knows that representable knowledge is always in reference to us. But this fact ought to be a harbinger for not being so interested in everything in reference to us (This is a simple question to put forward: "Why are we so interested in everything in reference to ourselves?"). By this principle of contingency, we (being) are not necessary, so why are we so interested with what happens to us? Brassier asks "Is uniformity a real feature of things-in-themselves or merely a phenomenal illusion generated by our relation to things?" The salient point for Brassier is establishing us (being) as "merely" contingent. The "merely" speaks for itself and instinctively guides the desire to wedge being from the arch-fossil.

Now the problem appears. Brassier establishes the fact that Meillassoux has established the diachronicity between thinking and being by destabilizing the necessity of uniformity that being and correlationism establishes for itself. What is left? There is a speculative opportunity that has not been reached yet for Meillassoux: "Thus, as Meillassoux sees it, the outstanding task yet to be accomplished by modern philosophy is a speculative explicitation of the dimension of diachronicity which subtends the Galilean hypothesis. It is philosophy's failure to recognize the speculative implications of science's Copernicanism which has resulted in the Ptolemaism of correlationism. In ratifying the diachronicity of thinking and being, modern science exposes thought's contingency for being: although thought needs being, being does not need thought." So then, what is the speculative opportunity for being independent of thought that Meillassoux wants to overturn in his perception of philosophy's Ptolemaism? To be more poignant, what is being without thought? If we refer to an arche-time, that's fine, but why then rely on a concept of ontology (being) in general? While we can understand the desire for a Ptolemaic counter-revolution in philosophy, what's more difficult to understand is maintaining a concept of being independent of the concept of thinking which is to be understood as concept-creation at an absolute distance from reality. But this separation of thought from being can't happen without a separation from the concept being. Being is thought because it's a concept. Brassier sees this in Meillassoux's thought. "Mellassoux's problem consists in identifying a speculative guarantor for this disjunction between reality and ideality which would be entirely independent of the evidence provided by mathematical idealization of the ancestral phenomenon in the ancestral statement." The problem is in the idea of "identifying" some sort of speculative guarantor ("guarantor": a word which we should be enormously suspicious of relative to an argument for a principle of absolute and necessary contingency) for the arche-fossil independent of being (thinking being). "If everything is necessarily contingent regardless of the truth of the thought 'everything is necessarily contingent,' then everything could be necessarily contingent even if we had no way of thinking the truth of that thought coherently." In other words, we have strong correlationism because we give ourselves the luxury of being able to say at the very least that "everything is necessarily contingent regardless of the fact of this statement being made." We are saying something about something before the evolution of the nervous system knowing that what we are saying has nothing to do with that time. If the speculative guarantor is the "ancestral statement" of absolute disjunction between thinking and "being," then the guarantor is simply a thought linguistically expressed, like every other philosophy that would like to establish a reality for a mind-independent reality. At the end of Part 1 in Enlightenment and Extinction, Brassier asks, "can we think the diachronic disjunction between real and ideal while obviating any recourse to a transcendental divide between thinking and being?" This is the question. And if it can be thought, can it be thought without being linguistically expressed, without it having to be expressed always to someone else, through a published book for example?

(At the very least, the concept of being shouldn't pertain to an arche-time. This arche-time wasn't "being.")

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