Archive for the ‘society’ Category

Notes on Privacy

June 16, 2013 8 comments

The debates on privacy which have been circulating since the dawn of the internet age tend to focus either on the immutable rights of private companies to control their intellectual property or the obsolescence of the notion of actual people to control access to their personal information. There’s an interesting hypocrisy there, as the former rights are represented as pillars of civilized society and the latter expectations are represented as quaint but irrelevant luxuries of a bygone era.

This double standard aside, the issue of privacy itself is never discussed. What is it, and how do we explain its existence within the framework of science? To me, the term privacy as applied to physics is more useful in some ways than consciousness. When we talk about private information being leaked or made public, we really mean that the information can now be accessed by unintended private parties. There is really no scientific support for the idea of a truly ‘public’ perspective ontologically. All information exists only within some interpreter’s sensory input and information processing capacity. While few would argue that there is no universe beyond our human experience of it, who can say that there is no universe beyond *any* experience of it? Just because I don’t see it doesn’t mean it doesn’t look like something, but if there nothing can see it can we really say that it looks like something?

Privacy would be more of a problem for theoretical physics than it is for internet users, if physicists were to try to explain it. It is through the problems which have risen with the advent of widespread computation that we can glimpse the fundamental issue with our worldview and with our legacy understanding of its physics. With identity theft, pirated software, appropriated endorsements, data mining, and now Prism, it should be obvious that technology is exposing something about privacy itself which was not an issue before.

The physics of privacy that I propose suggests that by making our experiences public through a persistent medium, we are trading one kind of entropy for another. When we express an aspect of our private life into a public network, the soft, warm blur of inner sense is exposed to the cold, hard structure of outer knowledge. It is an act which is thermodynamically irreversible – a fact which politicians seem slow to understand as the cover-up of the act seems invariably the easier transgression to discover and prove. The cover up alerts us to the initial crime as well as a suggestion of the knowledge of guilt, and the criminal intent to conceal that guilt. The same thing undoubtedly occurs on a personal level as subjects which are most threatening to people’s marriages and careers are probably those which can be found by searching for purging behavior and keywords related to embarrassment.

As the high-entropy fuzziness of inner life is frozen into the low-entropy public record, a new kind of entropy over who can access this record is introduced. Security issues stem from the same source as both IP law issues and surveillance issues. The ability to remain anonymous, to expose anonymity, to spoof identifiers leading to identification, etc, are all examples of the shadow of private entropy cast into the public realm. There’s no getting around it. Identity simply cannot be pinned down 100% – that kind of personal entropy can only be silenced personally. Only we know for sure that we are ourselves, and that certainty, that primordial negentropy is the only absolute which we can directly experience. Decartes cogito is a personal statement of that absolute certainty (Je pense donc je suis), although I would say that he was too narrow in identifying thought in particular as the essence of subjectivity. Indeed, thinking is not something that we notice until we are a few years old, and it can be backgrounded into our awareness through a variety of techniques. I would say instead that it is the sense of privacy which is the absolute: solace, solitude, solipsism – the sense of being apart from all that can be felt, seen, known, and done. There is a sense of a figurative ‘place’ in which ‘we’ are which is separate and untouchable to anything public.

This sense seems to be corroborated by neuroscience as well, since no instrument of public discovery seems to be able to find this place. I don’t see this as anything religious or mystical (though religion and mysticism does seek to explain this sense more than science has), but rather as evidence that our understanding of physics is incomplete until we can account for privacy. Privacy should be understood as something which is as real as energy or matter, in fact, it should be understood as that which divides the two and discerns the difference. Attention to reveal, intention to reveal or conceal, and the oscillation between the three is at the heart of all identity, from human beings to molecules. The control of uncertainty, through camouflage, pretending, and outright deception has been an issue in biology almost from the start. Before biology, concealment seems limited to unintentional circumstances of placement and obstruction, although that could be a limitation of our perception as well. Since what we can see of another’s privacy may not ever be what it appears, it stands to reason that our own privacy may not ever be able to play the role of impartial public observer. Privacy is made of bias, and that bias is the relativistic warping of perception itself.

Privacy and Social Media

Continuing with the idea of information entropy as it relates to privacy, social media acts as a laboratory for these kinds of issues. Before Facebook, the notion of friendship floated on a cushion of consensual entropy – politeness. As the song goes “don’t ask me what I think of you, I might not give the answer that you want me to.”. Whom one considered a friend was largely a subjective matter with high public entropy. Even when declaring friendship openly, there was no binding agreement and it was effortless for sociable people to retain many asymmetric relations. Politeness has always been part of the security apparatus of those who are powerful or popular. Nobility and politeness have a curious relation, as the well heeled are expected to embody exemplary breeding but also have license to employ rudeness and blunt honesty at will. The haughtiness of high position is one of reserving one’s own right to expose others faults while being protected from others ability to do the same.

Facebook, while not the first social network to employ a structure of friendship granting, has made the most out of it. From the start, the agenda of Facebook has been to neutralize the power of politeness and to encourage public declaration of friendship as a binding, binary statement – yes you are my friend or (no response). Unfriending someone is a political act which can have real implications. Even failing to respond to someone’s friend request can have social currency. The result is a tacit bias toward liberal friending policies, and a consequent need for filtering to control who are treated as friends and who are treated as potential friends, tolerated acquaintances, frienemies, etc. Google Plus offers a more explicit system for managing this non-consensual social entropy to more conveniently permit social asymmetry.

Twitter has wound up playing an unusual role in which privacy of elites is protected in one sense and exposed in another. Unlike other social networks, The 140 character limit on tweets, which came from the desire to make it compatible with SMS, has the unintentional consequence of providing a very fast stream with low investment of attention. For a celebrity who wants to retain their popularity and relevance, it is an ideal way to keep in touch with large numbers of fans without the expectation of social involvement that is implied by a richer communication system. It gives back some of the latitude which Facebook takes away – you don’t have friends on Twitter, you have Followers. It is not considered as much of a slight not to follow someone back, and it is not considered as a threat to follow someone that you don’t know. In a way, Twitter makes controlled stalking acceptable, just as Facebook makes being nosy about someone’s friends acceptable.

Hacktivist as hero, villain, genius, and clown.

There is more than enough that has been written on the subject of the changing attitudes toward technoverts (geeks, nerds, dorks, dweebs, et. al.) over the last three decades, but the most contentious figure to come out of the computer era has been the one who is skilled at wielding the power to reveal and conceal. Early on, in movies like Wargames and The Net, there was a sense of support for the individual underdog against the impersonal machine. Even R2D2 in the original Star Wars played David to the Death Star’s Goliath computer while connecting to it secretly. The tide began to turn it seems, in the wake of Napster, which unleashed a worldwide celebration of music sharing, to the horror of those who had previously enjoyed a monopoly over the distribution of music. Since then, names like Anonymous, Assange, and Snowden have aroused increasingly polarized feelings.

The counter-narrative of the hacker as villain, although always present within the political and financial power structures as a matter of protection, has become a new kind of arch-enemy in the eyes of many. It is very delicate territory to get into for the media. Journalism, like nobility, floats on a layer of politeness. To continue to be able to reveal some things, it must conceal its sources. The presence of an Assange or Snowden presents a complicated issue. If they friend the hacker/whistleblower/whistleblower-enabler, then become linked to their authority-challenging values, but if they villify them, then they indict their own methods and undermine their own moral authority and David vs Goliath reputation.

Of course, it’s not just the issues of whistleblowing in general but the specific character of the whistleblower and the organization they are exposing which are important. This is not a simple matter of legal principle since it really depends on who it is in society which we support as to whether the ability to access protected information is good, bad, lawful, chaotic, admirable, frivolous, etc. It all depends on whether the target of the breach is themselves good, bad, lawful, chaotic, etc. In America in particular we are of two minds about justice. We love the Dirty Harry style of vigilante justice on film, but in reality we would consider such acts to be terrorism. We like the idea of democracy in theory, but when it comes to actual exercises of freedom of speech and assembly in protest, we break out the tear gas and shake our heads at the naive idealists.

Twitter fits in here as well. It is as much the playground of celebrities to flirt with their audience as it is the authentic carrier of news beyond the control of the media. It too can be used for nefarious purposes. Individuals and groups can be tracked, disinformation and confusion can be spread. David and Goliath can both imitate each other, and the physics of privacy and publicity have given rise to a new kind of ammunition in a new kind of perpetual war.

Why can’t the world have a universal language? Part II

June 8, 2013 4 comments

This is more of a comment on Marc Ettlinger‘s very good and thought provoking answer (I have reblogged it here and here). In particular I am interested in why pre-verbal expressions do not diverge in the same way as verbal language. I’m not sure that something like a smile, for instance, is literally universal to every human society, but it seems nearly so, and even extends to other animal species, or so it appears.

What’s interesting to me is that you have this small set of gestures which are even more intimate and personal than verbal signals – more inseparable from identity, which then gets expressed in this interpersonal linguistic way which is at once lower entropy and higher entropy. What I mean is that language has the potential both to carry a more highly articulated, complex meaning, but also to carry more ambiguity than a common gesture.

When a foreigner tries to communicate with a native without having common language, they resort to pre-verbal gestures. Rather than developing that into a universal language, we, as you say, opt for a more proprietary expression of ourselves, our culture, etc… except that in close contact, the gestures would actually be just as personally expressive if not more. There’s all kinds of nuance loaded into that communication, of individual personality as well as social and cultural (and species) identity.

So why do we opt for the polyglot approach for verbal symbols but not for raw emotive gestures? I think that the key is in the nature of boundary between public and private experiences. I think there are two levels of information entropy at work. Something like a grunt or a yell is a very low entropy broadcast on an intro-personal level and a high entropy broadcast on an extra-personal level. If something makes a loud noise at you, whether it’s a person or a bear, the message is clear – “I am not happy with you, go away.”. These primal emotions need not be simple either. Grief, pride, jealousy, betrayal, etc might be quite elusive to define in non-emotional terms, full of complexity and counter-intuitive paradox. If we want to communicate something which is about something other than private states of the interacting parties, however, the grunt or scowl is a very highly entropic vehicle. What’s he yelling about? Enter the linguistic medium.

The human voice is perhaps the most fantastically articulated instrument which Homo sapiens has developed, second only to the cortex itself. The hand is arguably more important perhaps, in the early hominid era, but without the voice, the development of civilization would have undoubtedly stalled. It’s like the paleolithic internet. Mobile, personal yet social, customizable, creative. It’s a spectacular thing to have whether you’re hunting and gathering or settling in for nice long hierarchical management of surplus agricultural production.

The human voice is the bridge between the private identity in a world based on very local and intimate concerns, and a public world of identity multiplicities. To repurpose the lo-fi private yawps and howls with more high fidelity vocalizations requires a trade off between directness and immediacy for a more problematic but intelligent code. One of the key features is that once a word is spoken, it cannot be taken back as easily. A growl can be retracted with a smile, but a word has a ‘point’ to make. It is thermodynamically irreversible. One it has been uttered in public, it cannot be taken back. A decision has been made. A thought has become a thing.

Inscribing language in a written form takes this even one step clearer, and there is a virtuous cycle between thought, speech, actions, and writing which was like the Cambrian explosion for the human psyche. Unlike private gestures which only recur in time, public artifacts, spoken or written, are persistent across space. They become an archeological record of the mind – the library is born. Why can’t the world have a universal language? Because we can’t get rid of the ones that we’ve got already, or at least not until recently. Public artifacts persist spatially. Even immaterial artifacts like words and phrases are spread by human vectors as the settle, migrate, concentrate and disperse.

Because language originates out of public discourse which is local to specific places, events, and people, the aesthetics of the language actually embody the qualities of those events. This is a strange topic, as yet virtually untouched by science, but it is a level of anthropology which has profound implications for the physics of privacy itself – of consciousness. Language is not only identity and communication, I would say that it is also a view of the entire human world. Within language, the history of human culture as a whole rides right along side the feelings and thoughts of individuals, their lives, and their relation with nature as it seemed to them. The power of language to describe, to simulate, and to evoke fiction makes each new word or phrase a kind of celebration. The impact of technology seems to be accelerating both the extension of language and its homogenization. At the same time, as instant translation becomes more a part of our world, the homogenization may suddenly drop off as people are allowed to receive everything in their own language.

Why can’t the world have a universal language?

June 7, 2013 Leave a comment

Answer by Marc Ettlinger:

To answer this question we need to consider why we have multiple languages in the first place.

Presumably at some point, about 100,000-200,000 years ago, Homo Sapiens started using language in the way we mean language now. At the time, we were spread out over a relatively confined space on the globe and it is practically impossible that language spontaneously arose in more than a handful of places.

Our route out of Africa

So, at one point, there were some limited number of languages among groups of people that had some amount of geographic proximity. It could have been relatively easy for one language to emerge then or that everyone all spoke the same mother tongue anyway and for things to have stayed that way till now.

But that didn’t happen. In fact, the opposite happened. As humans spread across the globe and popultion growth exploded exponentially, so too did the number of languages. In fact, it’s estimated that there were approximately 10,000 languages spoken only a couple of hundred years ago.

There are two reasons for this. The first is that languages change. The second is that language is identity.

It’s easy to see that languages change. Remember struggling through Shakespeare? Yeah, me too, and that demonstrates the change that English has undergone over the past few hundred years.  When that continues to happen and the same language changes in different ways in different geographical regions, you eventually get new languages. The most obvious example is Vulgar Latin dialects turning into the Romance Languages. From one language to many.

So, the first part of the answer is that the general tendency is for languages to propagate and diverge.

Your response may be that we are in a new world order, now, with globalization homogenizing the entire world into one common culture, facilitated by internet technology. America’s melting pot writ large.

The world as melting pot?

This is where part two of the answer comes in. Language is not simply a means for communicating. Language is also identity. We know that people communicate more than ideas with their language, they communicate who they are, what they believe and where they’re from. Subconsciously. So the obstacles to one language are similar to the obstacle to us all wearing the same clothes. It would certainly be cheaper and more efficient, but it’s not how people behave. And we see that empirically in studies of how Americans’ accents have not homogenized with the advent of TV (Why do some people not have accents?).

The same applies with languages — in the face of globalization, we see renewed interest in native languages, for example the rise of Gaelic (Irish language) in the face of the EU.

Having said that, colonialism and statism have lead to a decline in number of languages from its peak of 10,000 to about 6,000+ today, which you can read about here: Is English killing other languages?

Therein you’ll also see discussion of your question. The conclusion there, and what I’d similarly suggest here is that “so long as countries exist, English won’t encroach further.” In other words, the world doesn’t really want a universal language.

As long as humans aspire to have their own distinct identities and form different groups, the same aspirations that drive them to wave different flags, root for different teams, listen to different music and have different cultures, they’ll continue to have different languages.

View Answer on Quora


S33:  Interesting to think about how language changes prolifically even though what language represents often doesn’t change. I’ll have to think about that, re: diffraction of private experience into public spacetime. The cognitve level is more generic than the emotional level of expression – a more impersonal aesthetic.  Ironically, the intent is to make gesture more enduring and objective, yet the result is more changes over time and space, while the language of gesture is more universal. Of course, verbal expression offers many more advantages through its motility through public media.

L’existentialisme est un humanisme

June 3, 2013 4 comments

One of the benefits of having never been interested in reading other people’s philosophy, is that I get to discover them in digestible bits and pieces over a long period of time. I have always found it impossible to learn anything without first having a curiosity about it – which why public education was always a complete waste of time for me. I can only seem to learn answers to questions when the questions are my own.

This is perhaps not unrelated to my topic here of Jean-Paul Sartre’s existentialism and his use of the phrase “Existence precedes essence” in his 1945 lecture L’existentialisme est un humanisme* (turned later into a book). The terms existence and essence can be confusing, and in some senses are interchangeable. Sartre’s use of existence and essence would actually be nearly opposite to my own sense of those words.

If you read the lecture, in which he defends existentialism from misinterpretations by Communists, who accuse the philosophy of being a bourgeois privilege that promotes ‘quietism’, and by Christians as undermining the authority of God and being generally too abstract and lacking human sentiment. Sartre’s defense is to show how existentialism is, to the contrary, an exaltation of humanism and the vital importance of taking action on behalf of your fellow man. He says

“Thus, the first effect of existentialism is that it puts every man in possession of himself as he is, and places the entire responsibility for his existence squarely upon his own shoulders. And, when we say that man is responsible for himself, we do not mean that he is responsible only for his own individuality, but that he is responsible for all men. The word “subjectivism” is to be understood in two senses, and our adversaries play upon only one of them. Subjectivism means, on the one hand, the freedom of the individual subject and, on the other, that man cannot pass beyond human subjectivity. It is the latter which is the deeper meaning of existentialism.”

Looking into the origins of Ayn Rand’s Objectivism, I can see that in all likelihood she lifted the name for her ideology from reversing Sarte’s assertion that man is responsible for all men. In 1962, she writes that the Ethics of Objectivism are Self-interest:

3. “Man—every man—is an end in himself, not the means to the ends of others. He must exist for his own sake, neither sacrificing himself to others nor sacrificing others to himself. The pursuit of his own rational self-interest and of his own happiness is the highest moral purpose of his life.”

Of course, Rand had her own personal reasons for despising those meddling Marxist do-gooders. Had she been more down with the whole ‘compassion for fellow human beings’ thing, her views would seem strikingly similar to Sartre’s existentialism, especially with his assertion that “Not only is man what he conceives himself to be, he is also only what he wills himself to be”. His use of ‘existence precedes essence’ is to say that human nature is predicated on the freedom to actualize itself intentionally. Human essence is a wildcard to be used as we see fit. Thus, his existentialism is an action oriented ethos, He says “there is no doctrine more optimistic, since man’s destiny is within himself; . . . . It tells him that action is the only thing that enables man to live”

I would not disagree with that, as far as it goes. Although it is not quietism as he felt the Marxists contended, it could be appropriated (as Rand did) for the justification of selfish motives since it seems to de-emphasize the role that the circumstances of one’s birth play in limiting the effect that one’s will can have on self-actualization. I do think that the Christian criticism is more misguided, since existentialism explicitly exalts humanist values. While existentialism does run counter to Christian doctrine, I think that it is not incompatible with concepts of divinity which honor liberation. Bob Marley’s Stand Up For Your Rights expresses this:

“Most people think,
Great god will come from the skies,
Take away everything
And make everybody feel high.
But if you know what life is worth,
You will look for yours on earth:
And now you see the light,
You stand up for your rights. Jah!”

Where it gets muddled for me is on the metaphysical level. When Sartre talks about essence, he is talking about purpose – human purpose. When he is talking about existence is is talking about the existence of the experience of living a human life. This is very different from talking about existence in general, of matter, of forms, etc. When I think about ex-istence in the absolute sense, I am thinking about that which is ex-terior to the subject. That which is independent from our personal thoughts and feelings. Subjectivity is, by contrast, that which literally ‘ins-ists’ and is in-terior by the subject. It could be said informally that our feelings and thoughts exist, that they ‘are’ phenomena which is part of our being, which is a phenomena in the universe, and that is true too. It could further be said that everything that exists in that way, which simply ‘is’ can only appear to be through some insistence of essential forces or energies.

I think that existence and essence in the general, non-human sense are a dialectic rather than a procession through time. They are relativistic terms. To say that one precedes the other can be locally true in either case, but it obscures the deeper truth. It invites us to mistake two levels of human experience – the innate and the intentional, for structural antagonists of the universe as a whole. What I see as more relevant is the juxtaposition between the capacity to discern aesthetic differences like essence and existence and the indifference to such distinctions. That I would say is the true essence: The sense of difference with the logic of unity (i.e. metaphor, presentation and representation). The true essence of existence is the opposite: The sense of indifference with the logic of differentiation (i.e. mechanism, mathematics).

What this does is to slide the dichotomy out from the world of anthropocentric philosophy and into the realm of scientific conjecture. We are no longer talking about only the human condition and human psychology, but talking about the common sense of all phenomena. This is the solution to the Mind Body problem…both Mind and Body are figments of subjective experience, only the body is locally misrepresented as an object (when it is actually trillions of discrete histories dating back to the beginning of the universe) and the mind is misrepresented as a subject of the body or of God (when it is actually eternity focused into a single, human gauged, perceptual inertial frame of ‘now’).

*L’existentialisme est un humanisme, Nagel, 1946, translation by Frechtman published as Existentialism (also see below), Philosophical Library, 1947, translation by Mairet published asExistentialism and Humanism, Methuen, 1948.

Updated Statement on Sense

May 28, 2013 Leave a comment

It is my conjecture that ‘Nature’ can be defined as ordinary sense. Sense as in sensation, in cognitive orientation, in intuition, and in categorization (in which sense?). The word sense is just a word, so it is not exactly what I mean, but the ‘sense’ which is conveyed through all of those ‘senses’ gives a good hint of what is behind it. The capacity to feel and to do and to discern the difference between them. That fundamental physical capacity is beneath all form, all function – it is being itself; perception and participation. Without perception (sense, detection), there can be no possibility of participation, and therefore no matter, energy, or time.

Right now, largely because of the success of computers, it is popular to believe that information (‘data’) is the underlying reality behind physics. In my view, this is almost true, but in this case, being almost true means being exactly false. Data is not sense, it is not presentation, not aesthetic nor participatory. To the contrary, information without the presence of a sensory-motor experience is anesthetic, theoretical, and re-presentational. Information is a conceptual entity which we derive by projecting our own experience of being informed onto disembodied functions. It is not real. No byte of data has ever done anything, felt anything, known anything, or been anything on its own.

Math requires a host, as it is the orthogonal reflection of all of sense. Where sense is proprietary and signifying, math is universal and generic. Sense takes place ‘here’ and ‘now’, while math can only be used by sense to address ‘then’ and ‘there, there, and there’. Math is position without disposition – a skeletal inference abstracted from logical vectors. It is this anesthetic universality which makes it so powerful for science – it is the essence of mechanism, of impersonality – pure extension with no intention. It is nature’s perfect imposter.

Continues on The Competition page.

Blue Roses, Blue Pills, and the Significance of the Imposter

May 27, 2013 11 comments

blue roses photos and wallpaper

What makes that which is authentic more significant than that which is fake or ‘false’? Why do proprietary qualities carry more significance than generic qualities? Commonality vs uniqueness is a theme which I come back to again and again. Even in this dichotomy of common vs unique, there is a mathematical meaning which portrays uniqueness as simply a common property of counting one out of many, and there is a qualitative sense of ‘unique’ being novel and unprecedented.

The notion of authenticity seems to carry a certain intensity all by itself. Like consciousness, authenticity can be understood on the one hand to be almost painfully self-evident. What does it really mean though, for someone or something to be original? To be absolutely novel in some sense?

The Western mindset tends toward extremism when considering issues of propriety. The significance of ownership is exaggerated, but ownership as an abstraction – generic ownership. Under Western commercialism, rights to own and control others are protected vigilantly, as long as that ownership and control is free from personal qualities.

The thing which makes a State more powerful than a Chiefdom is the same thing which makes the Western approach so invested in property rather than people. In a Chiefdom, every time the chief dies, the civilization is thrown into turmoil. In a State, no one person or group of people personifies the society, they are instead public officials holding public office for a limited time. Political parties and ideologies can linger indefinitely, policies can become permanent, but individual people flow through it as materially important, yet ultimately disposable resources.

The metaphysical and social implications of this shift from the personal to the impersonal are profound. The metaphysical implications can be modeled mathematically as a shift from the cardinal to the ordinal. In a Chiefdom, rule is carried out by specific individuals, so cardinality is the underlying character. In a State, ordinality is emphasized, because government has become more of a super-human function. It’s an ongoing sequential process, and the members within it (temporarily) are motivated by their own ambitions as they would be as part of a Chiefdom, but they are also motivated to defend the collective investment in the permanence of the hierarchy.

At the same time, cardinality can apply to the State, and ordinality would apply to a Chiefdom (or gang). The state imposes cardinality – mass producing and mass controlling through counting systems. Identification numbers are produced and recorded. Individuals under a State are no longer addressed as persons individually but as members of a demographic class within their databases. Lawbreaker, head of household, homeowner, student, etc. This information is never explicitly woven into a personal portrait of the living, laughing, loving person themselves, but rather is retained as skeletal evidence of activities. Addresses, family names, employment history, driver’s license, dental records. It is essential for control that identity be validated – but only in form, not in content. The personality of the consumer-citizen (consumiten?) is irrelevant, to an almost impossible degree – yet some ghost of conscience compels an appearance of sentiment to the contrary.

World War II, which really should be understood as the second half of the single war for control of human civilization on a global level for the first time, was a narrative about embodied mechanization and depersonalization. The narrative we got in the West was that Fascism, Communism, and Nazism were totalitarian ideologies of depersonalization. The threat was of authentic personhood eclipsed permanently by a ruthlessly impersonal agenda. Different forms of distilled Statehood, three diffracted shadow projections of the same underlying social order transitioning into cold automatism The mania for refining and isolating active ingredients in the 20th century, from DNA to LSD to quantum, ran into unexpected trouble when it was applied to humanity. Racist theories and eugenics, Social Darwinism, massive ethnic cleanses and purges. Were we unconsciously looking for our absent personhood, our authenticity which was sold to the collective, or rather, to the immortal un-collective? Did we project some kind of phantom limb of our evacuated self into the public world, hiding in matter, bodies, blood, and heredity?

So what is authenticity? What is an imposter? Does a blue rose become less important if it is dyed blue rather than if it grew that way? Why should it make a difference? (we tell ourselves, with our Westernized intellect, that it shouldn’t). If you never found out that the rose was ‘only’ dyed blue, would  you be wrong for enjoying it as if it were genuine? Why would you feel fooled if you found out that you were wrong about it being genuine but feel good if you found out that you were wrong about it being ‘fake’.

Who is fake? Who is phoney? Who is sold out? (does anyone still call anyone a ‘sell out’ anymore, or are we now pretty comfortable with the idea that there is nobody left who would not happily sell out if they only had the chance?) These are terms of accusation, of righteous judgment against those who have become enemies of authenticity – who have forsaken humanity itself for some ‘mere’ social-political advantage.

There is a dialectic between pride and shame which connects the fake and the genuine, with that good feeling of finding the latter and the disgust and loss of discovering the former. The irony is that the fake is always perpetrated without shame, or with shame concealed, but the genuine is often filled with shame and vulnerability…that’s somehow part of what makes it genuine. It’s authority comes from within our own personal participation, not from indirect knowledge, not from the impersonal un-collective of the Market-state.

Where do we go now that both the personal and impersonal approaches have been found fatally flawed? Can we regain what has been lost, or is it too late? Does it even matter anymore? If mass media is any indication, we have begun not only to accept the imposter, but we have elevated its significance to the highest. What is an actor or a model if not a kind of template, a vessel for ideal personal qualities made impersonal? It is to be celebrated for acting like yourself, or being a character – a proprietary character, made generic by mass distribution of  their likeness. Branded celebrity. A currency of deferred personalization – vanity as commodity. Perhaps in the long run, this was the killer app that the Nazis and the Russians and the Japanese didn’t have. The promiscuous use of mass media to reflect back super-saturated simulations of personhood to the depersonalized subjects of the Market-state.

More than nuclear weapons, it was Hollywood, and Mickey Mouse, and Levi’s and Coca Cola which won the world. Nuclear memes. Elvis and Marilyn Monroe. This process too has now become ultra-automated. The problem with the celebrity machine was that it depended on individual persons. Even though they could be disposed of and recycled, it was not until reality TV and the new generation of talent shows that the power to make fame was openly elevated above celebrity itself. Fame is seen to be increasingly elected democratically, but at the same time, understood to be a fully commercial enterprise, controlled by an elite. The solution to the problem of overcoming our rejection of the imposter has been a combination of (1) suppressing the authentic; (2) conditioning the acceptance of the inauthentic, and most importantly, (3) obscuring the difference between the two.

I’m not blaming anyone for this, as much as I might like to. I’m not a Marxist or Libertarian, and I’m not advocating a return to an idealized pre-State Anarchy (though all of those are tempting in their own ways). I’m not anti-Capitalist per-se, but Capitalism is one of the names we use to refer to some of the most pervasive effects of this post-Enlightenment pendulum swing towards quantitative supremacy. I see this arc of human history, lurching back from the collapse of the West’s version of qualitative supremacy in the wake of the Dark Ages, as a natural, if not inevitable oscillation. I can’t completely accept it, since the extremes are so awful for so long, but then again, maybe it has always been awful. Objectively, it would seem that our contemporary First World ennui is a walk in the park compared to any other large group in history – or is that part of the mythology of modernism?

It seems to me that the darkness of the contemporary world is more total, more asphyxiating than any which could be conceived of in history, but it also seems like it’s probably not that bad for most people, most of the time. Utopia or Oblivion – that’s what Buckminster Fuller said. Is it true though anymore, or is that a utopian dream as well? Is the singularity just one more co-opted meme of super-signification? Is it a false light at the end of the sold-out tunnel? An imposter for the resurrection? Is technology the Blue Pill? I guess if that’s true, having an Occidental spirituality which safely elevates the disowned authentic self into a science fiction is a big improvement over having it spill out as a compulsion for racial purity. A utopia driven by technology at least doesn’t require an impossible alignment of human values forever. Maybe this Blue Pill is as Red as it gets?

Deleuze’s The Logic of Sense, Part I

August 27, 2012 3 comments

Deleuze, The Logic of Sense

Some quotes from the book and comments.

“It is only by breaking open the circle, as in the case of the Möbius strip, by unfolding and untwisting it, that the dimension of sense appears for itself, in its irreducibility, and also in its genetic power as it animates an a priori internal model of the proposition.”

Some important themes here: The irreducibility of sense, the connection with closure and involution, topology and animation. There is a sense of the meta-juxtaposition of self-similarity that is at the heart of the universality and specificity of sense.

“It is surprising to find that Carroll’s entire logical work* is directly about signification, implications, and conclusions, and only indirectly about sense – precisely, through the paradoxes which signification does not resolve, or indeed which it creates. On the contrary, the fantastic work is immediately concerned with sense and attaches the power of the paradox to it. This corresponds to the two states of sense, de facto and de jure, a posteriori and a priori, one by which the circle of the proposition is indirectly inferred, the other by which it is made to appear for itself, by unfolding the circle along the length of the border between propositions and things.”

*Lewis Carroll was the pseudonym of Charles Dodgson, who also published mathematical literature under that name.

The multisense model has been to try to simplify this cleaving and reconciling. By identifying private time as the direct form of sensemaking and public space as the indirect form, the orthogonality between the two is also their union. I appreciate his pointing out of the two sides of Lewis Carroll, and how they speak to direct and indirect sense.

Quoting from Carroll:

He thought he saw an Elephant
That practiced on a fife:
He looked again, and found it was
A letter from his wife.
“At length I realize,” he said,
“The bitterness of Life!”

He thought he saw a Buffalo
Upon the chimney-piece:
He looked again, and found it was
His Sister’s Husband’s Niece.
“Unless you leave this house,” he said,
“I’ll send for the Police!”

He thought he saw a Kangaroo
That worked a coffee-mill:
He looked again, and found it was
A Vegetable-Pill.
“Were I to swallow this,” he said,
“I should be very ill!”

He thought he saw a Coach-and-Four
That stood beside his bed:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bear without a Head.
“Poor thing,” he said, “poor silly thing!
It’s waiting to be fed!”

He thought he saw a Garden-Door
That opened with a key:
He looked again, and found it was
A Double Rule of Three:
“And all its mystery,” he said,
“Is clear as day to me!”

He thought he saw an Argument
That proved he was the Pope:
He looked again, and found it was
A Bar of Mottled Soap.
“A fact so dread,” he faintly said,
“Extinguishes all hope!”

– Lewis Carroll, The Mad Gardener’s Song

The poem is discussed early on, with its rhythmic juxtaposition of buoyant fantasy and grim realism, or perhaps mania and depression.  The analysis offered brings out deeper duality between concrete entities in the world and spoken words…how the abstraction of words contains and deflates the broad absurdity of imagination. Words silence the child’s inner world with the adulteration of logic. Direct sense is overpowered by circumspection of logical, indirect sense through time and experience.

“The duality in the proposition is not between two sorts of names, names of stasis and names of becoming, names of substances or qualities and names of events; rather, it is between two dimensions of the proposition, that is, between denotation and expression, or between the denotation of things and the expression of sense. It is like the two sides of a mirror, only what is on one side has no resemblance to what is on the other.”

That last line is perhaps the most critical point of the multisense realism approach. I have referred to it as anomalous symmetry. A dual aspect monism where the sense of public space is a reflection of the sense of private time, but in a completely different – really orthogonal way.

“The philosopher Avicenna distinguished three states of essence: universal in relation to the intellect which thinks it in general; and singular in relation to the particular things in which it is embodied. But neither of these two states is essence itself. An animal is nothing other than an animal (“animal non est nisi animal tantum”) being indifferent to the universal and to the singular, to the particular and to the general. The first state of essence is essence signified by the proposition, in the order of the concept and of conceptual implications. The second state of essence is essence as designated by the proposition in the particular things in which it is involved. But the third state of essence is essence as sense, essence as expressed – always in this dryness (animal tantum) and this splendid neutrality. It is indifferent to the universal and to the singular, to the general and to the particular, to the personal and the collective; it is also indifferent to affirmation and negation, etc. In short, it is indifferent to all opposites. This is so because all of these opposites are but modes of the proposition considered in its relations of denotation and signification, and not the traits of the sense which it expresses. Is it, then, the status of the pure event, or of the fatum which accompanies it, to surmount all the oppositions in this way? Neither private nor public, neither collective nor individual…, it is more terrible and powerful in this neutrality, to the extent that is all of these things at once.”

Many of the diagrams employed here (supreme ultimate diagrams) feature sense ‘surmounting’ essence and existence. This echoes Deleuze noting here the supremacy of sense in its detachment from the oppositions which are generated within it.

p. 35  “…he writes about the addition of impossible propositions to the possible (signification) and the real (denotation). I conceive of absurdity and the far East end of a continuum of sense rather than a category. An absurd proposition makes sense on some levels or parts but presents an abstract disjunction or mutually exclusive juxtaposition. It is a type of nonsense that refers to itself, and therefore makes a kind of negative sense, as opposed to nonsense as noise lacking signal.”

In my view, propositions can be more or less absurd, more plausible, and even more or less concretely real. The so called primary and secondary attributes of Locke suggest a hierarchy of realism which is intuitive. Qualities that can be measured reliably using inanimate objects as instruments are seen to be primary aspects of realism. Secondary are colors, flavors, etc which vary from person to person and culture to culture. They are subjective but still object-facing. It is interesting that he too refers to sense as a continuum with an Eastern end.

p. 53 The distinction is not between two sorts of events, it is between the event, which is ideal by nature, and its spatio-temporal realization in a state of affairs. The distinction is between event and accident. Events are ideational singularities which communicate in one and the same Event. They have therefore an eternal truth, and their time is never the present which realizes them and makes them exist. Rather it is the unlimited Aion, the Infinitive in which they subsist and insist. Events are the only idealities. To reverse Platonism is first and foremost to remove essences and to substitute events in their place, as jets of singularities.

p.60 For only thought finds it possible to affirm all chance and to make chance into an object of affirmation.

Interesting commentary which can be seen to relate directly to the multisense diagram depicting Sense on the top edge opposing chance or “?” on the bottom. In a way, it is the role of thought to assign the degree of chance affirmation – it is the eye of mandatory intentionality in the hurricane of semi-intentional potentiality. Thought is the capacity to interpret chance, ie to consciously foreground pattern as significant.

p.61 …what is this time which need not be infinite but only “infinitely subdivisible”? We have seen that past, present, and future were not at all three parts of a single temporality, but that they rather formed two readings of time, each one of which is complete and excludes the other: on one hand, the always limited present, which measures the action of bodies as causes and the state of their mixtures in depth (Chronos); on the other, the essentially unlimited past and future, which gather incorporeal events, at the surface, as effects (Aion).

Great stuff. If I understand the terminology correctly, Chronos can be identified with spacetime and Aion as timespace or dreamtime. Aion is the native, direct modality of experience which is interior and metaphorical. Chronos is the involution of Aion, the orthogonal cross-section of the totality as public literal exterior. Chronos is the perpetually fleeting snapshot that cuts through the mechanical interactions of bodies within bodies (inertial frames within frames) as a generic ‘now’. By contrast, the Aion is the uncut flow of multiplexed influences seeking manifestation. The two interact as coherence-decoherence in Chronos spacetime and decoherence-recoherence through Aion dreamtime.

P. 64. Carroll would say that they are the multiplication table and the dinner table. The Aion is precisely the border of the two, the straight line which separates them; but it is also the plain surface which connects them, an impenetrable window or glass.

This gets very esoteric, but my model differs here from Deleuze in that I see two opposite kinds of borders on opposite ends of Aion – one, is the pedestrian fold between, as he says, the multiplication table and the dinner table (figurative vs literal sense of table) and the other I call the profound edge, where the twist between literal and figurative vanishes ‘behind our backs’ as unconscious or trance-like numinous states of unity. This is the eidetic transformation, where hypnotic re-orientation can take place. Here we find the simulacra nature of consciousness, the unrealism of reality is exposed nakedly while we are otherwise occupied. Aion and Chronos are the profound edge and the pedestrian fold, the back door and front door to narrative (temporal) realism.

In Chronos, ambiguity is shunted off into errors of perception and measurement, so that infinite regress is drowned in decoherence. In Aion, paradox is reconciled through unconsciousness – the level upon which paradox is encountered is ultimately evanescent into greater and lesser levels. The dreamer falls asleep or wakes up, ending the dream. The scientist or philosopher cannot end the dream, and must distract the inquiry with argumentation and formalism.

p. 72  It is thus pleasing that there resounds today that sense is never a principle or an origin, but that it is produced. It is not something to discover, to restore, and to re-employ; it is something to produce by a new machinery. It belongs to no height or depth, but rather to a surface effect, being inseparable from the surface which is its proper dimension. It is not that sense lacks depth or height, but rather that height and depths lack surface, that they lack sense, or have it only by virtue of an “effect” which presupposes sense.

Here I disagree. I think that sense here is considered in too narrow of a ‘sense’ in this passage, limited as sensation or cognition at the point of contact. While sensation does indeed transpire at the surface, it is the translucence of sense which lends the significance of the depths beneath it. I can agree that sense is something to produce by a new machinery, but that every part of the machinery is also a sense experience on another layer/scope/frame. It is not the machinery level which produces sense, it is the level from which the machine’s use is initiated which which recovers new sense for itself, not only as a product but as an extension or revelation of the self through the objects of the machinery. New experience opens a window into new worlds of potential experience, and new doors of actual experience by the self. Surface and depth define each other. It is the sense of their contrast which acts as an originating principle. How could it be otherwise? What is sense other than the capacity to appreciate the contrast fully?

What Deleuze may have overlooked is that depth is nothing but an accumulation of surface effects. Indeed, there is nothing else besides sense that could be said to be responsible for the manifestation of the unsensed. The connection that he has not yet made is that what is surface to us is depth to another frame of reference, and vice versa. Marine organisms make sense in liquid, but it is the lighter fluid of air which poses a boundary for their world. Cells within bodies presumably exist in a universe of haptic (tactile perception of shapes) phenomenology. Surface, under multisense realism, is in the eye of the beholder, a naive realism apportioned out by scale ratios and perceptual entropy summation. Sense does not occur at the surface, sense juxtaposes itself as a surface/depth, as space manifold/unfolding time.

p. 81 Sense is always an effect produced in the series by the instance which traverses them. This is why sense, such as it is gathered over the line of the Aion, has two sides which correspond to the dissymmetrical sides of the paradoxical element: one tending toward the series determined as signifying, the other tending toward the series determined as signified.

Nice assimilation between sensation and semiosis. The idea of sense being activated or defining itself through the consequence of a breaching event. Negative mechanism. Dark current. The implicate order becomes explicit under conditions of interruption. The category does not exist until something insists upon defining itself against the schema. Sense as immunomorphic system.

P.87 Body-sieve, fragmented body, and dissociated body – these are the three primary dimensions of the schizophrenic body…In this collapse of the surface, the entire world loses its meaning.

I don’t entirely agree. While in a sense the surface of realism fails, I would not say that the world loses its meaning. Rather the world is transparent to any and every possible meaning. I suspect that here Deleuze is taking the often noted word-salad quality of schizophrenic communication too literally. In my opinion, such expression is as much a compulsive syntactic self-stimulation – in rhyme and repetition, as it is revealing of genuine attempts to make coherent sense. It is the depth which collapses into the surface, nakedly exposed without regard to the competing depths represented by social convention.

This commentary on schizophrenic sense strikes me also as stereotyped and idealized. I would imagine that actual diagnosed cases of schizophrenia vary in their linguistic manifestations to some degree. This chapter seems to isolate schizophrenia itself as a single author whose work stands in a particular contradistinction to common sense uses of language.

There may be something that Deleuze is pointing out by idealizing schizophrenic sense which is important. The dichotomy between Carroll’s use of satire to play with sense and the schizophrenic transgressions against sense. He frequently notes the malicious, even violent themes in schizophrenic expression in contrast to the carefully crafted ‘nonsense’ of the Alice stories.

The entire section “Fourteenth Series of Double Causality” seems especially opaque to me. He seems to be voicing vague dissatisfaction with Husserl and Kant but not really offering much in the way of a coherent view of causality. He seems to be struggling with a desire to appease physics while retaining an ambivalent substance dualism “The events of a liquid surface refer to the inter-molecular modifications as their real cause, but also to the variations of a surface tension on which they depend as their (ideational or “fictive” quasi-cause”. He talks about a “double causality, referring on one hand to mixtures of bodies which are its cause and, on the other, to other events which are its quasi-cause”, while maintaining that the corporeal cause is linked through surface dynamics to the incorporeal quasi-cause.

My impression is that Deleuze has a shortsighted view of sense here, eloquently (if obliquely) tuned into many nuances of sense, but still viewing human sense essentially as a monolith. In light of so much recent evidence of sensemaking in other species and in microorganisms, it would seem that there is no reason to presume that what seems like quasi-cause on one level would not be experienced as corporeal cause on another. Not double causality, but multiple intercausality.

Once the incorporeal/ideational is freed from the expectation of pseudosubstantiation, it can be understood as the temporal-private basis from which spatial-public extension is propagated (through sense). The ideational is not incorporeal, rather the corporeal is the orthogonal condensation of subjectivity. Both are physically and concretely real, each being the anomalous reflection of the other. The idea of in incorporeality arises from the reliance of objectification as the primary basis for modeling mistakenly turned on the act of modeling itself, failing to meet its own contrived expectations and subordinating its own efficacy as ‘quasi’ or fictive. When we have the idea to stomp on an anthill, the consequences for thousands of ants are not ‘quasi’ or fictive.

In his Fifteenth Series of Singularities, Deleuze makes a case for phenomenology as a function of surfaces. “the surface is the locus of sense“. He quotes Gilbert Simondon, “To belong to interiority does not mean only to ‘be inside,’ but to be on the ‘in-side’ of the limit…”

I agree that the surface defines the active region of sense, as the functional sense of sense can be described as input/output, the point of contact between sensory singularities (monads/selves/nuclei/bodies) would necessarily be on the periphery or skin. From a more objective point of view, we might say that it is not sense that happens on the surface, but rather surfaceness though which sense presents its most self-reflective presentations.

There is no reason to imagine that the depths of bodies are any less sensitive on their own inertial frame, and it is perfectly reasonable to expect that our aggregate sense of ourselves as human beings would include mainly a skin-deep precipitate of the totality of the experience of our sub-selves. Without any eruptive emergencies from within, the backgrounding of bodily depths in our waking consciousness as complex organisms is unsurprising. There is nothing else other than sense which could theoretically define the depths or connect them sensibly to the peripheries. It is all sense, but not all our sense. The distinction here is not between sense and nonsense but realism and unrealism. The sense which is most real to us is that which has the greatest proximity to our personal, collective, and morphological inertial frame. That which is most distal to our perceptual inertial frame is presented to us as unreal.

In Sixteenth Series of the Static Ontological Genesis, he sketches out a rather convoluted seeming schema of the interrelation of monads, persons, and worlds which I think lacks clarity. The multisense view of selves as temporal privacies casting a spatial public shadow on many levels seems to me a simpler and readily verifiable model.
That’s almost halfway. Time for a break but I plan to come back to this soon.

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