Nature is not natural and can never be naturalized — Graham Harman

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

De Paul Eco Conference: My Response to Rick Elmore

Rick's response to my paper is archived here. My response follows, and I hope I did it some justice:

I'm deeply touched by Rick's intelligence, sensitive and attentive response to the paper. It's what anyone would want. And in general responses today have been of a terrifically high and engaged standard. I'll address his observations roughly in order.

Metaphor of nonlocality, perhaps not as rigorous as the later stuff about metaphor, speaking to the counter-intuitive quality.
But there is a real nonlocality: black holes are here when we talk about them, dinosaurs are here in the footprints.

Quantum theory as a form of realism: it guarantees that there are withdrawn objects because you have to perturb quanta with other quanta to measure them. This has normally resulted in correlationist, even idealist interpretations of it where there is a Pythonesque sequence of measuring the measuring of the measuring, each time creating further entanglements between measured and measurer. Or just flat out “It's all a mind projection” stuff.

If objects are real, then as Graham argues some metaphors are better than others, as unacceptable as that might sound. Now the reasons why might not have to do with some intrinsic goodness or ontotheology. It might have to do just with the recipient of the metaphor and so on, whether in that moment the metaphor translates more or less information about the object and so on.

This might be where I differ from Derrida or a more particularly a certain kind of De Manian deconstruction that sees everything as metaphor; if everything is metaphor everything is equally bad.

Hyperness as sensuality: hyperobjects as relational objects, not only for us but also for snails and bears; hyper is hyper-for, so yes hyperobject is a heuristic device for finding out about other objects.

Question of marking with footprints and omorphizing: everything is omorphizing so the normal eco worry about anthropomorphizing isn't a problem. We can't help doing it, nevertheless it's possible to think about nonhuman things.

I love the idea that global warming smears me out over time and I love the idea that you have to then scale that back down to think about meaning and affect in the present moment, which is a slice of that smear, and how that articulates an ethics.
Does abandoning correlationism open up a total destruction of things, as if when you take your spacesuit off your head explodes? Outside of correlationism we have INTIMACY.

The kind of fun that humans have in their exclusion from the in-itself is now universalized to apply to all entities.

Against common sense: Palin etc, the army of Joe the Plumbers; can use science to beat people up and to end arguments; I hope I haven't done that.
This has to do with the fact not that we're more sophisticated but that we're LESS sophisticated; we can't even be commonsensical, the imperative comes from the burning cigarette's side; it's not a rhetoric of immediacy, it's saying that the more you act the more weird things get; you find yourself having yanked on the emergency brake of history, you wake up with an object already there; birth is precisely this feeling of belatedness, sublime object coexistence.

Common sense implies given, ontic objects that are not withdrawn, they are obvious, they have a bar code of truth inscribed within them. OOO is far from common sense!

Ontologizing history as escape from BS—am I a Nazi?! (I said it—Rick can say cupopomorphize, I can say that!).

This has to do with an anxiety about the idea that I'm smashing thought, that realism means "not your mind, thinking is bad"; based on a fear of "object" as a term, the not-me or not-identical, some kind of prejudice there.

Why are hyperobjects sad?
Melancholy as frozen wisdom; the footprint of another object; melancholy is a sensual trace of a real object; grief as an object-like entity, it has its own rhythm, its own agenda
Inside the guilt is the shame; inside the shame is the sadness, inside the sadness is the openness.

What is dark ecology?
Charnel ground: not scary terrible places but warm places of intimacy.
Like ER rooms, lots of blood.
Problems with holism, problems with reductionism.
The uncanny valley model as a bit racist—it has "healthy person" on the other side of the valley, but the point is that no being escapes the uncanny valley logic. So unlike the valley of the shadow of death and the Slough of Despond (Pilgrim's Progress), the uncanny valley has no exit. In the end everything slips into the "zombie" category because we know too much about lifeforms. Life is a kind of undeath. We are also zombies etc. This is dark ecology.


bill benzon said...

For what it's worth, common sense emerged as one of the major, an unexpected, problems in artificial intelligence between three and four decades ago. AI had early quasi-success in highly abstract and formalized domains like theorem-provoing, medical and scientific knowledge, and even chess -- though really cashing out on the chess stuff took until the late 1990s. But AI stumbled badly in the 60s going into the 70s on simple low-level stuff like visual perception and common sense reasoning (e.g. about the relationships between dark clouds in the sky, thunder, rain, umbrellas, and getting wet when you walk outside -- that sort of thing).

That is to say, it had early, if limited, success at the sorts of thing typically done be highly trained adults, but stumbled badly on things done very well indeed by dogs and young children. I believe that the late Doug Marr was the first one to really focus on this seeming paradox in a book he wrote on visual perception back, well, I forget just when, late 70s to mid-80s I think.

What's got AI snarled is the brute stuff of the physical world, the stuff that's available to the senses without aid of microscopes and sophisticated measuring devices, and so forth. But the thing is, when you track it all down, our abstract knowledge is ultimately built on our experience of the sensory world. We use that world and our experience of moving around in it as the source of metaphors for conceptualizing the abstract stuff. Which is what Lakoff and Johnson began arguing in Metaphors We Live By (1981). I should note for the record that, while I grant them their insight, I don't see that they've really be able to cash it out in a conceptually deep way. They've got a pile of often fascinating examples chasing after a deeper but as yet unwritten theory.

bill benzon said...

Hmm... Do you know the work that Edmund Leach (and Mary Douglas) did on taboo back in the day? It's very akin to your uncanny valley thing. Things that don't fit the category system, that are neither fish nor fowl, are taboo. I use that notion in an analysis of the hunts in Sir Gawain in a paper on the semiotics of . . . guess what? Ontology. In fact, the way we conceptualize ontological issues is a recurring interest of mine.

Which may account for some of my interest in OOO. It's not that I'm trying to analyze how you folks are thinking, that I'm trying to go 'meta' on your discourse. Not at all. I'm more interested in seeing where I can click with the flow. 'Cause you're flowing in waters I've been exploring from a different angle.