a talk delivered for the Philosophy, Cosmology, and Consciousness program at CIIS.edu on Friday, January 29th, 2021.
MICHAEL S. HOGUE, American Immanence: Democracy for An Uncertain World. New York: Columbia University Press, 2018: 238 pages. [Reviewed by: MATTHEW D. SEGALL, Philosophy and Religion Department, California Institute of Integral Studies, 1453 Mission Street, San Francisco, California, 94103, USA. <email@example.com>.]
Michael Hogue has written a timely theopolitical intervention drawing from (and contributing to) the American stream of philosophy in service of democratic and spiritual renewal. By the time American Immanence was published in 2018, humanity’s longest running national experiment in democracy was already embroiled in what Hogue (following Robert Bellah) calls “its fourth major trial” (2). Each of the last four centuries has seen the United States thrown into an epochal crisis of identity and destiny that tests and transforms our bonds as a people. The great trial of the eighteenth century was formative: the Revolutionary War. The nineteenth century crisis, the Civil War, was seeded by the moral contradictions implicit in the first: American colonists won political freedom from the British Crown on the basis of Enlightenment values only to turn around and build a society that not only tolerated native genocide and African enslavement but actively engaged in them as a matter of official state policy. The twentieth century brought the rise of America’s nuclear powered global military empire in the wake of the world wars as well as the civil rights crisis of the 1960s, which finally gave legal and political substance to the nominal freedom won in the prior century. As America stumbles into the second decade of the twenty-first century, its citizens continue struggling to responsibly inherit the unresolved collective traumas of their history. The fourth national trial is also challenging us to develop a new consciousness of our shared future vulnerabilities. All the old moral contradictions are still making the news. But something wickedly novel has emerged that recontextualizes everything.
Hogue’s book takes a step beyond current partisan divides by reminding us of the emergent planetary context of our shared political life. Whether first marked by the appearance of symbolic consciousness, agriculture and cities, colonization, industrialization, nuclear energy, or the microchip, there can be no doubt that we now live in the Anthropocene, a geological epoch dominated by human modes of production and their unintended climatic blowback. The wave of reactionary nationalism that carried Trump into office is but the latest symptom of a more all-encompassing spiritual and ecological emergency.
For Hogue, the Anthropocene brings an end to the era of human exceptionalism, as all who had been externalized (poor and marginalized people, as well as the climate, the soil, the rainforests, etc.) are now rushing back to reclaim their agency. Gaia (or the Earth System, if you prefer) is not passive before the industrial projects of global capital. The reasons and desires shaping our political and economic lives are inescapably entangled with and thus limited by the flow of energy around the Earth, such that there are thermodynamic conditions of human freedom. Humans are evolved and evolving mammals who make useful tools that remake us in turn. Our moral ideals and social order did not arise ex nihilo from Zeus’ forehead. The history of human cultural evolution cannot be told in abstraction from its energy extraction regimes (foraging, farming, fossil fuels, etc.) (70). Concomitant with the increased awareness of the material and biotic conditions making human consciousness possible, fissures in the ideological matrix of modern liberal secularism are widening. While some may feel suffocated by the deluge of dire factors weighing upon the human future[i], Hogue seeks to fill the postliberal, postsecular gaps in the social imaginary with new theopolitical possibilities (10).
Drawing upon what he calls the American immanental tradition (particularly William James, John Dewey, Alfred North Whitehead, and their more recent interpreters), Hogue reimagines the social and political role of theology in more pragmatic and world-loyal terms, shifting away from traditionally religious obsessions with the afterlife and more recent “death of God” theologies to focus instead on “natal concern for the complex creativity immanent within the world and emergent through nature” (14). Defining the political as the domain of ongoing, open-ended negotiations of power and value in the context of common life (15), Hogue sets to work in chapter 1 demystifying the “redeemer symbolic” that has functioned throughout American history to legitimize certain theopolitical conceptions of power and value rooted in a dual logic of exception and extraction. This moral logic is typified by the elevation of a savior (human, divine, or both) to a special ontological status exempt from the normal conditions, contingencies, and constraints of creaturely coexistence and authorized to extract value and externalize cost in service of the redemption of a chosen people (29). Hogue traces the destructive effects of this symbolic constellation through its colonial, national, imperial, and neoliberal phases. While historians may prefer thicker descriptions of the events described, Hogue’s sketch suits his insurrectionist purposes. He begins by using the political theory of Nazi jurist Carl Schmitt to elucidate the anti-democratic decision-making and environmental racism of former Michigan governor Rick Synder, which precipitated a still ongoing humanitarian crisis in the impoverished, mostly Black city of Flint. The tragedy in Flint provides a synecdoche for the longer historical arc of American exceptionalism, from America’s Biblically coded ex nihilo creation story (31) to Trump’s election as the “apotheosis of [neoliberalism],” such that “capitalism has become a sacred crusade, [with] the market as the model of all other social relations” (50).
Chapter 2 unpacks the wicked entanglements characterizing the Anthropocene, detailing the intimate but until recently unacknowledged bonds between humans and the Earth. Among the most striking entanglements is that European colonization of the Americas may have left a mark on the atmospheric record: after disease ravaged and displaced indigenous populations were no longer able to manage the forests, a precipitous reforestation of the Western hemisphere concentrated enough CO2 to at least contribute to the emergence of a mini-ice age in Europe (57). Hogue favors interpretations of the Anthropocene that identify it as primarily a colonial phenomenon driven by industrial growth capitalism. Hogue amplifies scholars like Eileen Crist (61), Jason W. Moore (62), and Dipesh Chakrabarty (64) who challenge the name chosen by geologists to mark this epochal transformation. Moore’s proposal of “Capitalocene” better captures the historical reality (and is no more infelicitous than the current misnomer) (63).
Chapters 3 and 4 are the theoretical heart of the book. Hogue brilliantly reconstructs viable concepts of power and value in the context of Dewey’s pragmatic naturalism, James’ radical empiricism, and Whitehead’s process-relational philosophy. These chapters warrant deep engagement from process-oriented thinkers. I only have space to critically address one issue: Hogue’s treatment of God as both concept and symbol. While he champions Whitehead’s aesthetic and “grassroots” (97) approach to metaphysics as “a blueprint for deep social change” (99), Hogue questions whether Whitehead’s process theology obeys its stated embargo on ontological exceptionalism. While Whitehead demotes God to the status of a creature of Creativity like all others, God’s creatureliness retains a special status in the universe as the most ultimate (in its primordial role as valuer of eternal possibilities) and most intimate (in its consequent role as fellow sufferer and tragic poet). For Hogue, Whitehead’s insistence upon a God who is “constantly concrescing, never satisfied, and nonperishing” (111) raises the suspicion that he may be smuggling ontotheological contraband. But rather than offering a sustained rebuttal of the “metaphysical necessity” of Whitehead’s God concept or divine function, Hogue focuses instead on the “pragmatic religious sufficiency” of such a God symbol (112), determining that contemporary political theologians are better off inheriting “Whitehead without God” in service of “a fuller, more vital, religiously world-loyal appreciation for the creative process of reality” (113).
While pragmatic considerations of the individual and social function of religious symbolism are essential, I do not think we can so neatly divide metaphysics from social praxis. There is some risk in overapplying Deweyan instrumentalism in search of a “useful” image of God that we end up reinstituting the very anthropocentrism Hogue means to overcome. Hogue nowhere mentions the essential role of Whitehead’s divine function in granting relevant novelty to finite occasions of experience, which might otherwise be overwhelmed by the onrush of unfiltered infinite Creativity. It is not clear that Whitehead’s scheme of prehending and concrescing actual entities remains coherent if “the primordial created fact”[ii]has been excised (or misunderstood as a “metaphysical necessity”). While the contingency of cosmic and earthly evolution cannot be denied, it is just as evident that the course of nature’s creative unfurling displays a tendency toward organized complexity. Where does this tendency to self-organization originate? Surely not in human symbol systems, which are rather an expression of it. Hogue suggests the creative advance can be sustained merely by the combinatory effects of finite occasions of experience, without any need for God or eternal objects. He goes on to argue that “the potential for novelty [would then be] ontologically distributed through the cosmos rather than concentrated within God’s primordial aspect” (111); but on my reading, Whitehead’s divine function is already radically distributed in the form of an “initial Eros” providing “the mirror which discloses to every creature its own greatness.”[iii] It is also not clear how reference can still be made to “potential” (and in particular, relevant potentials) in a universe composed only of actual entities and sealed off from the ingression of eternal objects and divine lures.
Nor am I convinced that Hogue’s pragmatic emphasis on natality in the face of death adequately addresses the practical and existential concerns of the growing masses of people suffering through the current multiform planetary catastrophe. While it is true that some sects of Christianity verge on the status of death cults for their overemphasis on crucifixion, sin, and the need for otherworldly redemption, our religious imaginaries would be equally diminished by an exclusive focus on natality without regard for the moral import of death and the afterlife (or our images of it). Our religions must integrally address the miraculous facts of birth and death in their symbolic formations lest the encompassing divine mystery of human life be obscured. It is not clear to me that, on pragmatic grounds, belief in some kind of afterlife necessarily diminishes world-loyalty. A belief in reincarnation, for instance, can be construed as superlatively loyal.
In the closing chapter, Hogue turns to Grace Lee Boggs in an effort to inspire a theopolitics of lasting annunciatory revolution in place of more short-lived denunciatory rebellions (153). Hogue’s book makes an important contribution to the task of disrupting and demystifying the dominant symbolic complexes that have shaped our collective emotions and habits for centuries. Whitehead warned almost a century ago that “societies which cannot combine reverence to their symbols with freedom of revision must ultimately decay either from anarchy, or from the slow atrophy of a life stifled by useless shadows”[iv] (quoted by Hogue, 98). Hogue has deftly heeded this warning by showing how reverence and revisioning can coexist.
[i] A team of Israeli scientists recently calculated that the total “anthropogenic mass” (overall material output of human activities) has now reached or exceeded the total living biomass of Earth at approximately 1.1 teratonnes. See Elhacham, E., Ben-Uri, L., Grozovski, J. et al. Global human-made mass exceeds all living biomass. Nature (2020). https://doi.org/10.1038/s41586-020-3010-5
[ii] Whitehead, Process and Reality, 31.
[iii] Whitehead, Religion in the Making, 139.
[iv] Whitehead, Symbolism: Its Meaning and Effect, 88.
I’m teaching for Schumacher College again, this time online. This course focuses on two towering exemplars of the organic approach to science, the German poet and naturalist Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) and the British mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead (1861-1947).
The course will run via live video conference on Saturday mornings (PST) for six weeks beginning in late January. Visit the Schumacher College website to register (before Jan 10, 2021). Here’s a short interview I did to introduce the foci of the course:
The course begins in the late eighteenth century by setting out the revolutionary cultural, philosophical, and scientific context within which Goethe developed his participatory understanding of Nature. Goethe is still primarily known as a poet, but students will come to see how the rise of Newton’s clockwork vision of the cosmos and the development of Kant’s nascent theory of living organization led Goethe (with help from the German Idealist Friedrich Schelling) to imagine a more organic and relational way of doing science. The course then turns to explore Goethe’s novel approach to the study of light and colour, geology, plant metamorphosis, and animal morphology.
During the nineteenth century, Goethe’s participatory way of doing natural science was largely forgotten, especially in the English-speaking world. Modern physics and biology followed Descartes and Newton’s lead by becoming increasingly mechanistic, while organic ways of thinking were dismissed as childish pre-modern holdovers. But at the turn of the twentieth century, physics underwent a series of revolutions that upset the mechanistic world-picture. It was the relativistic and quantum paradigm shifts that brought Whitehead out of mathematics and into metaphysics and cosmology. The course examines the reasons for the breakdown of the mechanistic view of Nature and unpacks Whitehead’s organic alternative, placing him alongside Goethe and Schelling as part of a legacy of participatory thinkers.
The course culminates in an exploration of organic science in our own day, looking at the enduring influence of participatory thinking in physics, biology, and spirituality. Students will be invited to reimagine the scientific world view in the context of an ensouled universe.
This course is designed for students of intellectual history who are fascinated by subversive streams of thought that have not yet been given their due. Some background in the history of European philosophy and science will be helpful, but the lecturer will attempt to make the ideas accessible to everyone.
Recommended reading prior to course start date:
1) The Theory of Knowledge Implicit in Goethe’s World View By Rudolf Steiner (77 pages, available free online)
2) Physics of the World-Soul: Whitehead’s Adventure in Cosmology By Matthew Segall (130 pages, available free online)
Unsurprisingly we steamed for 4 hours and still know nothing about the election results.
If you prefer to listen to me read this blog post:
Most moderns have accepted as a matter of course that the best people to speak on behalf of Nature are the scientists. Scientists are the people most ideally positioned to study the special ways matter behaves under the experimental conditions of their theoretical gaze. But what happens when the object of scientific inquiry is not just another thing in Nature, not just another organ of the animal body, whether brain or eyes, but the thinking subject herself, the one who sees through those eyes and supposedly comes to know Nature scientifically, that is, consciously?
When the object of study is the conscious subject, science cannot do without philosophy. This is also true when the object of inquiry is Nature as such, or as a whole, that is, as the cosmogenetic process of Natura naturans. Cosmology will never be a purely positive science. There will always be ample room and need for speculative philosophizing beyond what at present can be measured or mathematized. Thus we can say that science becomes philosophical whenever it asks about its own subjective conditions of possibility (“What is consciousness?”) or about the nature of the cosmic process out of which it has emerged (“What is the cosmos?”).
I’ll borrow a tired Kantian trope because it’s late and why not: Philosophy without science is blind, and science without philosophy is empty. If we allow them to remain divorced and at odds, our human capacity to know the actually existing universe will continue to suffer and degrade.
Card-carrying panpsychist philosopher Philip Goff weighed in earlier today on this theme. Rather than invoking the antipodes of consciousness and cosmos as naturally philosophical arenas off limits to scientific reductionism, Goff emphasizes ethics as being forever beyond natural science’s explanatory prowess. When it comes to consciousness, he grants neuroscience at least part of the solution to the puzzle by way of their pursuit of the famed “neural correlates of consciousness”:
It is commonly assumed that the task of explaining consciousness is scientific rather than philosophical. I think that’s half right. It’s the job of neuroscience (among other things) to establish the neural correlates of consciousness (NCCs), that is, to work out which physical states of the brain are correlated with which subjective experiences. We have a robust and well-developed experimental approach for answering these questions.Philip Goff
I have absolutely no doubt that the careful study of electrochemical activity in the human brain has a lot to teach us about the nature of consciousness. But I do not share Goff’s enthusiasm for this particular methodological approach known as “NCC.” There are other neuroscientific and neurophenomenological research programs that I think warrant our philosophical attention. For example the enactive approach to consciousness as articulated by Alva Nöe and Evan Thompson. They co-authored this paper showing how the search for neural correlates is not well-founded epistemologically or phenomenologically. It assumes certain things about experience as representational “content” and brain “states” that turn out to be philosophically incoherent.
Goff goes on to carve out a place for philosophy in the study of consciousness by reminding scientists that theory is underdetermined by data. In other words, there are multiple rational explanations for the available empirical evidence. In the case of consciousness’ place in Nature, Goff offers three possible accounts:
Naturalistic dualism – A subjective experience is a very different kind of thing from a physical brain state, but the two are bound together by natural law. In addition to the laws of physics, there are fundamental psycho-physical laws of nature which ensure that, in certain physical circumstances, certain experiences emerge.
Materialism – Each subjective experience has a purely physical nature. Having subjective experiences – feeling pain, seeing red – wholly consists in having certain complex patterns of neuronal firing.
Panpsychism – Each physical state has a purely experiential nature. Physical science tells us what matter does whilst leaving us in the dark about what it is. Having physical states – being negatively charged, being a certain pattern of neural firing – wholly consists in having certain kinds of subjective experience.Philip Goff
I don’t think it is fair for Goff to leave idealism off his map of reasonable philosophical positions. Idealism matters. That said, he is correct that we cannot perform an empirical test to determine which of these four ontologies is true. They are “empirically equivalent” (like Whitehead’s family of alternative bimetric gravitational theories are to Einstein’s Relativity Theory).
Goff goes on to ground his empiricism on a public experiment/private experience bifurcation that I find phenomenologically inaccurate and conceptually confused. If panpsychism is ontologically valid then this Cartesian public/private or res extensa/res cogitans division must be an illusion, no? The need to dissolve the Cartesian split is a consequence not only of panpsychism, but of post-Cartesian phenomenology (especially Merleau-Ponty). Consciousness is not anyone’s private property; rather, consciousness publicly pervades the world. I agree with Nöe: we’ll never understand consciousness until we get out of our heads. Like fish in water, we are swimming in it.
Experience pervades and reverberates through Nature, “inside” and “outside” the mind, and is not bundled up into tiny private particles. The world isn’t that cold. It’s warm and alive, leaving every drop of experience open to be grown into by its internal relations with others. Reality is not fundamentally made of externally related mind dust, each particle watching its own private qualia screen, trapped in its own solipsistic egg shell universe. Rather, reality is made of experiential relations, or prehensions. Whiteheadian prehensions are not just passive feelings: they grow together into subjects who express aims.
Is there aim or value being realized in the non-human cosmos in Goff’s panpsychist vision? The reality of aim is relevant to his defense of ethics from scientific explanation. If there is such a thing as ethics in the universe, it’s because at least some animals have the ability to behave on purpose, that is, to act by launching an intention beyond the immediate moment in the hopes of effecting some ideal change upon the future. If conscious humans are ethical creatures (and ethics is not reducible to Sam Harris’ laboratory experiments), then the universe includes aims, at least in the form of our human actions. Where do these aims come from? I think we are left having to make the same move when it comes to explaining the place of aim in Nature that Goff accepts we had to make to explain consciousness. Aims also go all the way down. They evolve and accrue enhancements upon the way. Humans are just an especially intense expression of something Nature has been doing from the get go.
In Whitehead’s process ontology, we can think of the experiential ground of reality as an eternal pulse whereby what is objectively public in one moment becomes subjectively prehended in the next, and whereby the subject that emerges from its feelings then perishes into public expression as an object (or “superject”) aiming for novelty. There is a rhythm of Being between object and subject, not an ontological division. This rhythm powers the creative growth of the universe from one occasion of experience to the next. This is the Whiteheadian mantra: “The many become one and are increased by one.”
Had a great time with Gordon on Rune Soup a few days ago:
The following is an essay originally submitted for publication in a book on philosophy and psychedelics. After some feedback from the editors, I realized it is too long and includes too many (I hope interesting!) digressions. I’ll be thoroughly revising my submission for the book, so I figured I’d share this earlier version here. Feedback welcome!
Abstract: The study of consciousness is today’s most exciting philosophical frontier. Such an inquiry provides an obvious example of the relevance of psychedelic experience: what better way could there be for coming to terms with the intimate mystery our own consciousness than through the ingestion of psychedelic—literally, “mind-manifesting”—chemicals? In the chapter to follow, I offer a creative reading of Rene Descartes’ Meditations on First Philosophy, reinterpreting his famous Gedankenerfahrung (“thought-experiment”) as a sort of psychedelic trip through hell and heaven and back again. I next turn to Whitehead’s process-relational reimagining of modern Cartesian philosophy, detailing how his approach more adequately incorporates the psychedelic ground of consciousness. I argue that Whitehead’s philosophy of organism opens up the possibility of a psychedelic realism that would allow us to take the ontologically revelatory nature of these experiences seriously. My hope is that this comparative reading of Descartes and Whitehead opens up a road not taken by modern natural science and philosophy, one leading away from the self-alienation and cosmic disenchantment that have so plagued contemporary science and society. Self-integration and world re-enchantment are possible. Ingested responsibly and in service of philosophical inquiry, psychedelics may act as alchemical catalysts providing an especially powerful medicinal aid in service of this Great Work.
I interviewed Rupert Sheldrake as part of a new series for the Cobb Institute. I’ll be speaking with a number of scientists who have been influenced by Whitehead.
Christopher Satoor and I discussed Schelling, his German Idealist context, and Whitehead’s inheritance of Schellingian ideas about mind and nature.
Thanks to Bruce Alderman at The Integral Stage for moderating.
Thanks to Layman and Bruce Alderman at The Integral Stage for hosting these dialogues.
Partially edited Transcript (if you feel inspired please do feel free to finish the editing of this transcript and post it as a comment below!):
Matt Segall: Well, good to see you.
Corey Anton: Great to see you
Matt Segall: So how’s it going
Corey Anton: It’s going really great and thank you so much for making this time I’m really happy to talk with you, you really, You know you’re you’ve always been one of my favorite YouTubers going all the way back in some way. You were the inspiration for me, opening the channel. I mean, I really enjoyed your channel. Way back you know over 10 years ago now. Uh, you know what I wanted to do today. And, well, it started with the politics of death video that you had posted a while back. Maybe about a week or so ago. Yeah. And I was going to post a response. And then Spirit Science had posted up a video on near death experiences. You’ve done a couple of video responses to David Long on this issue of emergentism versus panpsychism. I would like to go back to this original issue that you raised in the politics of death and see if we can talk a little bit about some of what’s going on there and then see sort of where it takes us.
Matt Segall: That’s great. Yeah, I’d love to try to tie all those things together, they are intimately connected, and to be able to that draw out
Corey Anton: Yeah, that
Matt Segall: Would be a lot of fun. So
Corey Anton: I am offering this up as I think, you know, in the spirit of, you know, of open inquiry and honesty about what I seem to think what seems to be the case. And what you know. I guess we really don’t know. I mean, there’s all kinds of different ways that we could come at some of these, you know, these different questions and concerns. But it would be, I mean, one way that I would want to come into it is in response to your politics of death, I would say, yes, there is a great concern over the meaning of death as it gets caught within an overly circumscribed individualism as once people have they’ve misunderstood organismal integrity with something like radical independence of the organism like as if the organism is independent of an environment, just because it maintains something like an organismal integrity. And I think for me the question would be, you know, to maximize one’s, we’ll call it spiritual potency or one’s recognition of the sacredness of existence. It has to do with this discovery of who one really is and that one is as a place and moment of everything that’s ever existed. And so as I think as soon as one sheds the false ego, the false sense of self that comes from a visual bias of trusting that the eyes are the true register of what boundaries are. As soon as you start to realize that the word, the spoken word, opens one up to historical dimensions, to dimensions of depth that are unseen. Words are not really material in the same way that we think about something that is visual that can be put on a scale that can be subject to compositional analysis and it’s materiality is basically subject to, again, this kind of reductivism. And let me say one last thing about this and I’ll sort of see what you want to say to any of that. But it’s that I think you know one of the simple ways to come at it, even from like a rudimentary biological orientation is to say to someone, okay, what will you do with the fact of genitalia? Because now you can look at your body and ask how does your genitalia relate to the rest of the body. And how are the hormones related and all of the organs relate to one another, which you’re never going to understand genitalia by just looking at the isolated individual separated at the skin. I mean, that kind of empiricism is going to wholly miss the kind of deep, profound sociality that’s etched in our body, not only with the fact that we have navels but the fact that we’ve come into the world by coming out of another person, like literally come into the world by coming out of another person. And we call these “private parts,” but they are really the ultimately social parts of our being. And it’s sort of, you know, it’s a statement that we call them our private parts, because we were older sociality. Because we try to define ourselves as these kind of atomistic individuals located, you know, again, inside the boundaries of the skin or something like that.
Matt Segall: Yeah, that’s a wonderful sort of preamble to enter into this conversation and I really appreciate everything that you’re saying, and would want to echo it, you know, there’s deep agreement here. And so I think what you’re describing how I would maybe rephrase it would be to say that in the modern period where individualism became basically the religion for modern societies, liberal society I guess, since communism was an alternative which had more of a sense of collective identity. But even there, there was a sense of the individual life as ceasing at death and that whatever we are is somehow limited to the individual body. I think in the whole history of human culture, the changing relationship to death and understanding of what happens when you die is one of, it seems to be at the core, you know, as Ernest Becker and other anthropologists have said our relationship to death seems to be at the base of our cultural, of our culture’s and our of our own sense of what is meaningful. Ultimately, and so how we respond to the fact of death is what gives us our sense of meaning and purpose and death is the end of human life in many senses of “end,” as in, it is only through death and engaging with the mystery of death that we can find purpose, and in the modern individualist context, it becomes difficult to find meaning in the face of death that isn’t just based in greed. And so what what you’re pointing to is the deeper social ground that, for example, if we even just look at our bodies, our sex organs. So they’re not our private parts. I love that they’re actually the most transpersonal of our organs. And actually there’s an interesting symmetry here that I think, you know, it may make modern Protestant but also all patriarchal culture blush and feel shame, but there’s a profound symmetry in the body developmentally between the the genitalia and the face, and like the sensory organs of the face and the sexual organs. The way that the bottom half of the body is structured, these are sprung from the same growth forms that shape the human body.
Corey Anton: You’re right. Okay, now that I think that’s exactly right. So let’s chase that down. Okay, that’s a good way to come out and this is where when people try to reduce it all down to the brain, it gets all confusing. And not only is the brain multi-modular, but the body has an array of different sensory-motor capacities and it includes the different senses traditionally defined like sight and hearing and touch but it includes the kind of space and time dynamics of the possibilities of reproduction. Or the fact that we need to sleep, or that we always have to have food chains at a certain distance from ourselves and we metabolize things at a certain rate. I mean, like the boundaries of the skin are illusory, but the eye is so easily fooled. This is how you get people thinking they’re going to galavant around the stars. You know they’re they’re missing all the ways in which you need the atmospheric pressure. The gravitational constants that are here. Relative to this massive, this planet like when you jump up and down, you’re actually affecting the gravity of the earth. We do the equation. I mean, it’s actually in there, you know, We’re more cosmic, then I think we we recognize and there isn’t integrity to the body, but what we need to go to is this kind of world-openness that comes from the different sense modalities. So this would be a different way to sort of echo what you were saying. But I would try to further it out this way so you know, Archimedes’ great discovery of how you can measure the volume of a complex object, like the crown right he sets it in the water and then it displaces a certain amount of water. He says, look, this is the volume that this thing occupies. But if I asked about a living body. See, this is where the panpsychism starts: When I talk about the the crown, I can understand that object that is subject to a kind of reductive compositional analysis and I can say I comprehend the whole of the crown by submerging it and then showing the amount of water displaced and saying, that’s how it’s occupying space. But me, my body, all of us, not only did we grow out of another person through nutritive commerce and metabolism and really very complicated processes, unlike that crown. I say that I occupy space. I don’t occupy space in a way that a thing does like I could take this pen and I can put it in a drawer, but it doesn’t feel the confinement of the space whereas a living organism, through its sensory capacities, its motor capacities… And it’s not just representational. This is absolutely crucial. I think is one of the biggest failures is for people to imagine that everything is just representational, you know, once you move to the difference between seeing, hearing, and touch you realize that okay like my eyes right now are registering and they’re representing the distances I am from the wall, but my legs do a lot more than represent that distance. They’re the source of those distances that I can take myself closer to or further away from that and to that extent, motility, the fact that my body has a directionality that my hands have things within certain reach and there’s a sort of spatial temporal dynamics of that and then hearing has a dynamic that intersects with that and then vision has an intersect and then once you get language that comes back in and then communication technologies start looping back and double backing over…You get this massive intersecting dynamic of modes of space and time, and we ask this question about consciousness and where does it start. How did it begin, that part of us, which is asking that question is a highly mediated social historical accomplishment it already depends upon calendars, all sorts of media technologies…
Matt Segall: So let me, I want to get to the panpsychism issue. Because I certainly don’t think that a crown or any artifact is conscious or has a soul or anything like that. But what you’re saying about space-time and the way that living organisms sort of bring forth their own space-time envelopes and that the organism and the environment are actually part of, they’re one system. Life is the system of relationship between organism and environment. And organisms and one another. But so the sex organs, right!? There’s something about the sex organs that connect us to a transpersonal past and future. And there’s something about the sense organs that connect us more to a personal sense of here and now. And then language allows us then to reconnect consciously to the way that our sex organs connect us to a deeper past and a future. Language, then, I think in a way is, again, if these, if you think of the top and the bottom half of the body as just grown from the same root and in a way fractally repeating one another, language takes on a profound fucundity as the Logos. Logos has this erotic and sexual dimension to it that is connecting us through time in a way that I think is closer to the way that our genitalia are connecting us through time than it is to the way that our sense organs are connecting us to the here and now. Language takes us out of the here and now of the sensory present and puts us in touch with, I think, that deeper dimension of reality that are our sex organs connect us to, that our genes connect us to, but unconsciously.
Corey Anton: Speech and sperm. They come from common roots. Oh for sure there’s, you screw with people’s heads when you talk with them, literally, there’s a fecundity that comes from the sowing of seeds, meaning dissemination, you know, these are all skills that are, you know this, there’s some way to talk about communication in these terms.
Matt Segall: Doesn’t it feel like culture in general, but like, especially modern individualist cultures have reacted against this in sort of like shame or the sense of like an unwillingness to to recognize the way in which we are not just ourselves? Yeah, and that we are constantly involved in these acts of generation with one another?
Corey Anton: Yeah, let’s get at it. So, I mean, I think I’m going to go back to the touch stuff and the sight versus hearing, and then language. I do have a new book that’s coming out hopefully in December and I’m trying to bring the cost down right now haggling with the publisher, at any rate, I’m really excited about it, but it’s about how non-being. Let me give some examples: These things that I’m talking about are from the book, you know, like this genitalia stuff, but I mean, one of the ways to get at it is to show that there are differences between actualities and possibilities and the different senses have different domains and ranges of possibilities, and language opens up even, you know, a wider range of kinds of temporal possibilities, rather than just like organisms’ possibilities in space. The way that like, in the ear, as the predator and prey sense allow for hunting down of prey and or eluding a predator. But you know when you try to think about something like touch, you know it sounds crazy to say it, but think about it. Touch has no possibilities. Touch is absolutely actual at all points. It’s that part of you which is wholly fully actual and you’re always standing somewhere, you’re always sitting somewhere, you’re always in contact. Now, you could see like right now I can see this pen in my hand. But see possibilities of where I can move it with my hand, but my hand moves wherever it moves! Somone might to to force this and will say that sight is just nothing more than a field of actualities as much as the field of action is. And I say blah! Those ideas are not good phenomenology, these are people overly obsessed with neuromania. They’ve way reduced the complexity of human experience down to the way it comes out in the brain scan and not really registered the phenomenological differences between those spatial-temporal horizons of sight, those of hearing, and those are touch. So, as I say, you know, I think sight offers this vast expanse of possibilities. It’s why it makes athletic competition so fun to watch. You can see all the possibilities that people are managing, you know, when you throw a dart, you are the dart! In the world of touch, this leaves your hand and it lands wherever does, but you can see all the places where you wanted it to land or where it didn’t land… You know, so I think once once you deal with the issue of possibilities, now you have a non-materialist, non-reductive move. And I think this is one of the real accomplishments of Deacon’s Incomplete Nature is that he does deal with possibilities, being part of what makes things up and that is, you know, a possible state a goal or an intended state, even if it’s never actualized can be part of what made the thing do it, as we say. One last thing on this. I think one of the ways to bring it to a head is the difference, I go out in the sun and I close my eyes. Now the sun overcomes the actual photons are overcoming great lengths to tan my skin and that is they’re touching my skin. The skin tan is one of actuality it’s because I’m they’re exposing my zone, the zone, but soon as I opened my eyes. Now there’s a field of possibilities. I mean, even though they’re both amount to chemicals and different photons, you know, in one sense, interacting with my eyes and once they’ve interacted with my skin, and both can be reduced to chemical analysis. But the phenomenological difference between seeing this, if I open my eyes, my eyes are going to be one of the few senses, they’re going to give me a quick place of where I can locate shade and not die from the sun. So, I mean, my eyes clearly afford a realm of possibilities. And if there’s possibilities that means it’s not a concatenate chain of just everything unfolding. There has to be something like, at the very least, organismal complexity looping in upon itself, the more organisms have, more and more. So this is sort of a Strange Loop stuff of Douglas Hofstadter. As soon as you start to get to touch and then smell and then taste and then hearing and then sight and then forms of language and then communication technologies. It’s this multifolded very, very complex horizonal field of different possibilities. So, I mean, I think that’s where you’d have to get out a lot of the non-reductionism.