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The (unW)Hole of Thought

The fundament is gathered around a hole, just as the firmament is scattered across one.

Philosophy, like science, always thinks it’s hit bottom, and is terrified of being mistaken about this.

But uncertainty, the wobble of the bridge in the howling wind, is the medium and movement of knowledge.


The stars in the anus...

bones crackle and... splinter--with my own ears

vapors seeking/speak volumes to escape

Another small step on the path to (someday) understanding calculus has clarified an aspect of Leibniz.

I basically got this before (as in the statement in an earlier post about "infinite density" replacing the "infinite series"), but it's clearer now. In Leibniz' metaphysics, infinity becomes the infinity of calculus. The series of numbers, by which we could "count" reality (and which would go on forever in space and time), is replaced by the function, the curve whose proximity to a line can never be reduced to a single number, but can only be expressed (like the curve itself), through a relational representation.

Anyone who gets calculus will, I'm sure, see that I have a long way to go.


a few quotes and fragments from Leibniz

(as much for their poetic or humorous potential as anything else. Pagination refers to G.W. Leibniz, Philosophical Texts, Oxford 1998.) (sorry about the font size crap--Blogger has its oddities, which I could probably fix with some time in the HTML region... but won't.)

So in order that our words should be as blameless as their meaning, it will be as well to link certain ways of speech with certain thoughts. (69)

Willebrord Snell, first formulator of the rules of refraction (75)

as if there were only it and God in the world (112)

I am as corpuscularian as could be in the explanation of particular phenomena (114)

It would be unworthy of a philosopher to admit forms with no reason, but without them it is incomprehensible that bodies could be substances (117).

only beings by aggregation (117)

I think that a slab of marble is only like a heap of stones (117)

For imagine there were two stones, for example the diamond of the Grand Duke and that of the Great Mogul (117)

something like what I call myself… Now, the myself that I have just mentioned, or what corresponds to that in every individual substance (118)

if you ask me in particular what I say about the sun (118)

animated machines (118)

a soul or substantial form of the kind which we call myself (120)

If fire took hold of one of those houses where they keep a hundred thousand silkworms (121)

as he considers all the faces of the world in all possible ways (66).

Sleep, which is an image of death, and ecstasies; the enshrouding of a silkworm in its shell, which can be taken for death; the resuscitation of drowned flies brought about by covering them with some dry powder (whereas they remain completely dead if they are left unaided), and that of swallows which make their winter quarters in reeds and which are discovered with no semblance of life; experiments with people killed by cold, drowned or strangled, and who are then brought back to life... all these things confirm my opinion that these different states differ only in degree... (133).

nothing is empty, sterile, undeveloped or without perception... (135)


Leibniz--initial forays

The hidden motive of metaphysics from Leibniz on: the fear of infinite regress, lack of ground.
It persists in many scientistic (and embarrassing) strains of Anglo-American philosophy today, even as physics (the model for scientistic thinking) has long since moved into much more uncertain regions.
Descartes broke off a piece of metaphysics to found modern epistemology, grounding everything in the subject... and did a half-assed job of it.
Of course, philosophy has tried to find the ultimate basis of being since at least Thales ("everything is water"), but it wasn't until Leibniz's time (which was also Newton's) that reason began to open the gap that struck terror into the hearts of European thinkers, revealing vast and hitherto undreamed-of nothingnesses.

When metaphysics was metaphysics, though, the thinking of this flight away from groundlessness had fascinating results of a sort today's pseudoscientist philosophers can't match.

Leibniz tries to solve two problems of groundlessness:

1) The idea that the causal chain could extend forever into the past, without finding an ultimate beginning, necessitated God for Leibniz (and others). God is outside time (time, in fact, begins to lose its objective status in Leibniz and Kant, becoming a form of perception or reception), having set out the whole of being, within which each being's essence contains everything that will ever happen to it, all its relations with all other beings. Especially for an atheist like me, this problem looks dusty and goofy, and the predestinational solution just as ridiculous. But the implications in Leibniz are interesting: Leibniz spatializes time, so that it can have an outside, and he needs a concept (God) to catapult thought out of the dimension of time as we know it. The causal chain becomes a spatial series of systems of relationships.
This doesn't really solve the infinity problem, but changes its direction; now reality is infinitely dense.

2) The dread newer in Leibniz's time: that material being could be subdivided, broken down ad infinitum. Here's where the monad comes in. The ultimate substance, the monad is incorporeal, no longer spatial. Its changes are self-caused, the result of its "perceptions." The monad, in a way, is simply the locus of perspectives, of relations that respond to other relations, with a given density. I'll wait for a later post to get deeply into the question of what the hell the monad is supposed to "be." Here I'll just note that the monad is outside space. As Leibniz's response to the infinite regress of decomposition, the perpetual zoom to a smaller and smaller scale, the monad is outside that scale, or is outside scale entirely. Again, a new dimension is added; space and scale, in fact, are called into question, since ultimate reality is an absolute fullness of monadic perspectives on one another.

In both cases, Leibniz's solution is simply to make a leap--one could even consider this a Kierkegaardian "leap of faith" in a more radical sense than Kierkegaard, with his ethico-religious focus, ever achieved. These leaps are thoroughly absurd, and as such are so easy to pick apart that centuries have been wasted doing it in books, pamphlets and classroom discussions. At the same time, the failure to think along with Leibniz, to trace the movements of his thought in these leaps and the strange propositions he makes, bouncing language off of the perimeter of the void, has meant that his real contemporary offer (I conjecture, in mid-study)--an offer of one way of thinking that at least faces the lack of ground, that tries to retain deductive/scientific reason while pushing it beyond its own limits (and this almost at the inception of modern reason)--has been missed.


The need to defend oneself is thought a sign of weakness.
The baggage in that conception is the fear of vulnerability.

I propose an alternative conception:
Defending oneself is usually a terrible tragedy. The need to defend oneself should be thought of as a flaw not because it signifies a gap in one's defenses, but because it can make one a dangerous animal.
In other words, this may be a fatal flaw--fatal, that is, to others.

Put in one more way: I would locate the flaw not in the need (not in the vulnerability, the hole), but in the defense (the urge to fill the hole).


Only as regulative unity is the conceptual unity what it can and must be as unifying. The unity is not grasped, rather only if we look away from it in its determining of the rule is it then just as substantially the regulation which is determined in the view. This looking-away-from-it does not lose sight of it in general, but rather has in view precisely the unity as regulative.
--Martin Heidegger,
Kant and the Problem of Metaphysics, pp.67-8

I should explicate this passage before going on to my reasons for citing it. Kant's Critique of Pure Reason establishes the "transcendental categories" or "pure concepts of the understanding," concepts that themselves contain nothing empirical, but which determine, in advance, the framework of all possible experience. There are twelve of these categories, which fall under four headings: Quantity (Unity/Plurality/Totality), Quality (Reality/ Negation/ Limitation), Relation (Inherence-Subsistence/ Causality-Dependence/ Community, or reciprocity between agent and patient) and Modality (Possibility-Impossibility/ Existence-NonExistence/ Necessity-Contingency). Any experience we have is structured by the interaction between some combination of these categories with the faculty of Sensibility (by which we receive impressions) and the faculty of Imagination (which produces unities out of sensible materials).
It's important to understand that the Understanding, or faculty of comprehension--though its concepts precede any experience and are thus entirely formal--are essentially directed toward experience. Their function of "translation" into concrete experience is what makes them what they are; a clumsy parallel might be with a doorway: the doorway is essentially something to be passed through. Otherwise it's just a hole of some size in some material (and no-one would ever care what size and what material without that "door-ness" as a motivation for finding out--i.e., the doorway is purely formal in itself). The problem with the metaphor: the essence of the doorway involves the range of things that are to pass through it (people, furniture, etc.); the categories don't essentially determine any particular phenomena, but are oriented toward particular phenomena in general.

The problem for Kant, then, is this: how do these absolutely contentless concepts "get" from the "general particular" (my phrase, one that I think of when writing about dialectics) to an actual, concrete experience of particulars? His solution is the "Schematism of Pure Understanding." The transcendental schemata are like rules that get us from the concept to the image. Every pure (i.e., nonempirical) concept has its transcendental schema, and that schema is produced by the operation of "pure a priori" imagination (as opposed to the empirical imagination, which produces images). To clarify the distinction between image and schema, Kant uses the tried-and-true example of the triangle: the empirical image of the triangle (i.e., any actual triangle) can never attain the perfection of the concept of the triangle. The latter is the schema, which "signifies a rule of the synthesis of the imagination with regard to pure shapes in space" (Critique of Pure Reason, A141/B181). The schemata that correspond to the table of categories are a bit different: "number" (which represents the addition of one thing to another) is the schema for magnitude, "sensation in general"(which represents a being in time) for "reality," and so on. They all involve "translating" the pure concepts into something, conditioned by a time-relation, that's closer to particular experience, more "ready for it."
So we have a structure, it seems, of Pure Concept (atemporal)--Pure Schema (formally temporal)--Image (in experienced time). This is probably enough explanation for the moment. If it seems obscure, that's due not only to my quick attempt at summary, but to the fact that Kant himself doesn't follow through in his discussion of the Schematism. The production of schema is a mysterious potential hidden deep in the human soul, he says. It's this ambiguity, as part of a greater ambiguity in the first Critique regarding the meaning and status of "imagination," that Heidegger is investigating in his 1929 book.

What interests me about the Heidegger paragraph is already hidden in that mess I just made. Here Heidi treats the schema as part of the essence of the concept (whereas, in Kant, it seems to be added on as part of the analytic setting-out of elements that characterizes his method). "Conceptualization" is not a relation to a concept as a thinglike abstraction, to be employed by recombining it with other concepts and subsuming particulars under them. Concepts are ways of being directed in relation to things. "Rules" is a very Lutheran, Kantian term, too rigid to characterize conceptual experience. A concept is the "motor" for a way of encountering something, a set of ways of moving towards it, looking at it, relating to it, a range of speed--the concept isn't a frame, but a way of framing--always in the "verb" sense rather than the "noun." I haven't found a way to put this that's unmetaphorical yet, and Heidi hasn't either, but his point, that the concept (as "regulation," which I read as a process-word rather than a thing-word) comes into view only in the gesture of looking away from it, captures this distinction rather well. To use another Heideggerean example: if you see a sign with an arrow pointing to the right, and you just stare at the sign, you're not having an experience of sign-ificance. In order to see the sign for what it is, you look in the direction the arrow points, or turn right, or determine that that's exactly where you don't want to go, and pick a contrary direction. The concept only comes into "view" while you're "conceptualizing," moving in that concept's particular dance, in its field of possible steps and relations.

(Note also Heidegger's use of "as"--one of the most important terms in his philosophy--I think laughing at that fact is necessary in the process of finding it interesting. "Unity" (thing) "can and must be as unifying" (process). Again, the sense that essence isn't stable, thinglike, but rather in motion.)

More on all this later.


Since leaving UC San Diego a few years back, my work in and on philosophy has been scattered and infrequent (strange, since my seven-year break from college before returning as a philosophy major was packed with Adorno, Kant, Foucault, Marx, Hegel, Heidegger, the Presocratics and others). It’s only in the last handful of months that I’ve finally started to turn my attention there seriously again. This blog is mostly meant to help me keep track of things—a place to take notes that aren’t scattered across a dozen different notebooks, dispersed throughout the margins of whatever I’m reading.

A lot of what goes here is unlikely to be interesting to most people who aren’t me: outlines of parts of books, contextless quotations, disconnected thoughts. Some of it might, though, especially where thoughts get developed into full aphorisms, or even essayistic blocks.

I’m trying to keep my reading down to two books of philosophy, three books of poetry, and two novels at one time. It’s a trick. For a while I’ve been reading Leibniz (the Oxford edition of his Philosophical Writings), and just a couple of weeks ago I finally bought Slavoj Zizek’s The Parallax View, a fantastic book (the fact that I also find Zizek irritating actually helps me to keep my distance a little, which is good for me when encountering philosophy that so often immediately seems right on the money to me). So some of what gets posted here will be ongoing thoughts & notes on those two writers.

Other topics may or may not include:

1) Dialectics—an ongoing project. Seen historically as reaching an apex and crossing a qualitative horizon in Brecht and Adorno, and by no means stopping there. Many definitions, most of which have less to do with one another than it might seem. My own thinking about and through dialectics, treating topics to include art, non-human consciousness, economic relations, the flaws in Anglo-American philosophy, ontology, you name it.

2) Quotations and thoughts for an endless project of writing a poetic series that traces the entire history of philosophy (only the Thales section is actually done so far, so you can see how focused I’ve been on that).

3) A continuing fascination with Heidegger. This will also include some mockery.

4) A philosophy of thought as activity, characterized by “ways of moving,” “kinds of behavior” or “comportments.” This as radically opposed to thought as producer of thought- or knowledge-objects. A philosopher’s way of “moving” as what’s of the greatest interest in their work, what distinguishes them much more profoundly than their claims and arguments.

And on and on…