Alexander Bard on Network Metaphysics

I really dig Alexander Bard’s “network-dynamic persepective.” Geometrogenesis is also extremely relevant to my research on Whitehead’s and Rudolf Steiner’s ether theories (the former articulated an alternative to Einstein’s theory of relativity based on an “ether of events”; the later spoke of an etheric dimension of nature mediating between the material and spiritual dimensions). The idea is that space-time is not ultimate, but an emergent product of quantum events (what Whitehead called “actual occasions”). Thanks to Prof. Corey Anton for pointing me to Bard’s lecture.

After a little searching, I’ve turned up this blog post by Bard wherein he makes reference to Whitehead as one of the few philosophers who can survive Nietzsche’s deconstructive hammer. But he seems to distance himself from Whitehead’s process metaphysics because he feels it lacks a proper phenomenological account of the real. Conrta Bard, Whitehead does in fact situate his cosmology in the context of America’s own breed of phenomenology coming out of William James’ radical empiricism.

Bard also discusses Burning Man, syntheism, Silk RoadSimon Critchley’s “faithless faith,” and the “chemical liberation” set off in the 60s by the California counterculture’s use of psychedelics. He finishes with the provocative question: “What if the internet is God?” (the title of his recent Ted Talk).

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9 thoughts on “Alexander Bard on Network Metaphysics

  1. Ten points: 1. Bard starts off in minute 4 saying that philosophers can sit in armchairs but scientists must be empirical, but he then eliminates theoretical physicists who do sit and think about potentialities in science, from which experimental work begins. 2. it is not easy to separate his thought from his self-promotion, which as we know stems from insecurity. 3. Not believing in utopia does not mean not being focused on making constructive efforts to solve problems. Maybe we’re growing up.. 4. See syntheism.org for a current and perhaps more thoughtful definition of the term. 5. Rather than accept Critchley’s idea of faithless faith, Bard prefers instead to redefine the concept of God — ie going about the problem from the opposite direction. Therefore, once we ‘agree” that Man creates God, we are free to redefine God in any way we like — such as God is the Internet. 6, Bard admires Hegel because he claimed to have successfully (and arrogantly) ended the philosophical enterprise. 7. God in Genesis said, I am that I am. Hegel said there isn’t any I at all. So, philosophy may be permitted to continue. 8. Bard, on the other hand, decides that God isn’t, therefore a-theos, the absence of God, therefore we are free to become gods ourselves and to decide what BIG idea we can latch onto. Any BIG idea will do. 9.Finally, Bard gets to Bohr, who formulated the notion of field theory related to observation, thus consciouness which allows particles to exist. !0. As a result, we have to give consciousness its rightful place in creation and thus also its reflected existence within the framework of living things. Whatever Bard invents from Bohr onward is just that: invention. Clever though, as we hear in the final hour.

    1. Hi Richard, Thanks for stopping by!

      1. Bard does seem to contradict himself at points in the lecture, especially on this point about philosophy v. science. He implies that philosophers have nothing to learn from scientists, but goes on to say neuroscience has proven that there is no self. 2. Yes the self-promotion was a bit much! 3. I don’t think he meant to imply that a healthy society needs to believe in the realizability of utopia, but just in the idea of utopia (as a sort of regulative principle). The real world is too messy and unpredictable for perfect social order, but without at least an ideal to aspire toward, we’ve ended up settling on something far, far less than ideal (techno-industrial capitalism). 4. Syntheism need not be as anthropocentric as Bard makes it out to be, at least as I understand it (I tried to get into this toward the end of my video response). 5. I prefer Critchley’s take on the community forming role of religious practice in Faith of the Faithless. I think the internet may indeed deserve to be thought of as a sort of divinity, at least as god-like if not the real mccoy (an egregore, perhaps?). 6. Bard and Hegel would seem to have arrogance in common. 7. Not sure I follow… Philosophy can continue because, after Hegel (despite his claim to have attained the Idea/wisdom and ended history, at least abstractly), God is dead? 8. Ah, yes. This does seem to be what Bard is up to. Sounds a lot like what Descartes made possible (God replaced by Cogito). 9.& 10. Bohr’s indications are fascinating in this respect; I think Whitehead offered more than indications but a full-fledged process-relational ontology that accounts not only for quantum and relativistic phenomena, but for consciousness, as well.

      1. Matt;
        I think Bard is a deflection from your real work, and by that I mean Whitehead and where his work is helping your own vision. I see in Bard a reaction to rejection, his sense that he is not respected where he wants to be accepted. You know that when you’ve been praised for your work, humility is the right reaction because you’re not quite sure you’ve deserved it. In the quantum field, I’ve always admired Schrodinger for that quality and devotion to the Presocratics. Bohm too. Keep up the good work.

  2. hey matt while i always enjoy seeing where your own research takes you i must say that your reviews of materialists/atheists (like Bakker, Bryant, and now this) are falling into the unfortunate form of a book negative review that is against an author not for the book that he/she wrote but for not writing the book that the reviewer wanted written, might be better to keep mining your own vein of interest and write the book that you desire, just a thought, dirk

  3. “But he seems to distance himself from Whitehead’s process metaphysics because he feels it lacks a proper phenomenological account of the real. Conrta Bard, Whitehead does in fact situate his cosmology in the context of America’s own breed of phenomenology coming out of William James’ radical empiricism.”

    If one wishes to look for a solid connection between Whitehead and phenomenology, one needs look no farther than Maurice Merleau-Ponty and his embodied phenomenology. Maurice Merleau-Ponty “discovered” Whitehead fairly late in his career and there is evidence indicating that Merleau-Ponty was powerfully influenced by Whitehead’s speculative philosophy of organism in the development of his late “fundamental thought”. Tragically, Merleau-Ponty did not survive to fully develop these ideas due to his untimely death at the age of 53 from a stroke ( Simon Critchley reports in his “Book of Dead Philosophers” that Merleau-Ponty was found in his office with his face down on his desk planted in a book by Descartes. Merleau-Ponty was also due to sit on the thesis committee for Emmanuel Levinas along with Jean Wahl and others but did not survive to participate in the panel review of ‘Totality and Infinity’). This is all very nicely documented and further developed in the book titled “Nature and Logos. A Whiteheadian Key to Merleau-Ponty’s Fundamental Thought” by Hamrick and van der Beken. Merleau-Ponty’s work, influeneced and connected to some of the clinical work on soldiers with brain injury published by Kurt Goldstein, strongly informs the concepts of an embodied enactivism that forms the core of the embodied neurophenomenology of Varela and Thompson (and others), which, in turn, when generalized to a social interpersonal context, informs the embodied intersubjectivity being investigated and studied in the context of developmental cognitive neuroscience by Colwyn Trevarthen (and others).
    So Whitehead is very strongly connected, at least via the Fundamental Thought of Merleau-Ponty, to the phenomenological and the neurophenomenological schools.

  4. Also, a comment on “geometrogenesis”. One can readily argue, using the microgenetic theory of Jason Brown, developed to link brain-mind states in the context of cognitive function, that geometrogenesis is directly a consequence of microgenesis which postulates that the brain actively constructs reality, including phenomenological time (more accurately, Bergsonian ‘duration’) and space, as it is experienced by us, moment to moment. Jason Brown has been writing prolifically about microgenesis and developing and elaborating his microgenetic theory of cognition for at least the past 30 years in a series of books and papers. Shouild this be of interest, would particularly recommend his recent paper in the journal Process Studies entitled “What is Consciousness?”:
    Brown, J. W. (2012) What is consciousness? Process Studies, 41.1 (2012):21-41

    as well as a recent set of interviews of Jason about microgenesis by David Bradford published in the journal Mind and Matter:that can be downloaded from the journal website at:

    http://www.ingentaconnect.com/search/article;jsessionid=1272irihocwpb.alice?option1=tka&value1=Jason+Brown&pageSize=10&index=1

    The inescapable issue is that Mind and Nature co-evolved and therefore contain each other. But that is a statement that can be unpacked on another occasion!

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