“Was not their mistake once more bred of the life of slavery that they had been living?—a life which was always looking upon everything, except mankind, animate and inanimate—‘nature,’ as people used to call it—as one thing, and mankind as another, it was natural to people thinking in this way, that they should try to make ‘nature’ their slave, since they thought ‘nature’ was something outside them” — William Morris

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Inertia, Chreode, Field

Levi Bryant has a good post or two up on the causal properties of inertia. Nonhuman objects can exert causal pressure on human systems just by virtue of being in them. Consider the notoriously fractal coastline of Norway. Who knows how much Norwegian culture has been shaped by the relative slowness of these objects to change over the last two thousand years?

Entering a fjord is a strange, wonderful, terrifying thing. By ship, out in the moving Rodin sculpture that is the North Sea, you start to see small black lumps in the water. These lumps become larger and more frequent until you realize, with a slight horror, that they were the tips of mountains reaching into the ocean. Then the fjord opens up before you as you come into port.

You realize you are already in a fjord, before you see it. This uncanny anteriority of a massive object (Levi talks about this term in a very recent post) defeats your wish to have a nice aesthetic picturesque distance from which to take a snapshot. The above photo captures this quite well. Picture postcard photos of fjords screw up by shooting them from the air and from some oblique outside angle.

An epigentic chreode is a biological version of a fjord. Organisms travel down them as they develop. A chreode is a certain kind of inertia in a lifeform's configuration space. Morphogenetic changes in the organism (sprouting a new limb or spores) are guided by channels demarcated in the configuration space. The little ball in the illustration at the top travels down the slope in a somewhat random fashion, guided by the channels on the surface that represent the chreode.

Like spacetime, the configuration space for an organism isn't flat. In other words, not just any old thing can happen. Distinguish carefully between the lack of flatness and teleology, which the configuration space doesn't necessarily have.

It's possible that the configuration space is a real object, a hyperobject in my terminology. This is Sheldrake's morphogenetic field, though I should add that you don't have to accept morphogenetic fields to accept hyperobjects.

We should expect these fields to be massively distributed in time and space, nonlocal, curvy and “viscous”—paradoxical for observers in various ways. We should also expect them to be physically real, not simply mathematical abstractions.

Again, I'm not asserting that we should give credence to them. But a view of hyperobjects maps out a way of looking at them.

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