Friday, January 30, 2015

"Why the modern world is bad for your brain" (Guardian article)

Highlights then link.

"[Facebook, Twitter, Google] creates a dopamine-addiction feedback loop, effectively rewarding the brain for losing focus and for constantly searching for external stimulation. To make matters worse, the prefrontal cortex has a novelty bias, meaning that its attention can be easily hijacked by something new – the proverbial shiny objects we use to entice infants, puppies, and kittens. The irony here for those of us who are trying to focus amid competing activities is clear: the very brain region we need to rely on for staying on task is easily distracted. We answer the phone, look up something on the internet, check our email, send an SMS, and each of these things tweaks the novelty- seeking, reward-seeking centres of the brain, causing a burst of endogenous opioids (no wonder it feels so good!), all to the detriment of our staying on task. It is the ultimate empty-caloried brain candy."

‘Because it is limited in characters, texting discourages thoughtful discussion or any level of detail, and its addictive problems are compounded by its hyper-immediacy.’ Photograph: Alamy

"Each time we check a Twitter feed or Facebook update, we encounter something novel and feel more connected socially (in a kind of weird, impersonal cyber way) and get another dollop of reward hormones. But remember, it is the dumb, novelty-seeking portion of the brain driving the limbic system that induces this feeling of pleasure, not the planning, scheduling, higher-level thought centres in the prefrontal cortex. Make no mistake: email-, Facebook- and Twitter-checking constitute a neural addiction."

"Neurolivestock" seems to best describe all of this.  LINK.

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The End of Religion? Conference March 13th-14th, 2015 - Villanova University

Thanks to Jack Caputo for letting me know about this.

The End of Religion?
March 13 - March 14
Villanova University

Villanova University, 800 E Lancaster Ave, Villanova, PA, US

Villanova University's Theology Institute presents an opportunity to hear and interact with four distinguished scholars. Speakers John Caputo, Merold Westphal, Jeff Robbins, and Aaron Simmons will give lectures and answer live Q&A during panel discussions. Food and drink will be provided! Come eat, drink, and think with some of the leading scholars in postmodern philosophy of religion. This event is free and open to the public.

The Villanova University Theology Institute and Homebrewed Christianity will be live streaming the event!

Primer on the New Materialism apropos speakers of the event, click HERE.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Workshop in Noncorrelationist Phenomenology

"Noncorrelationist Phenomenology"

Leon Niemoczynski
Immaculata University

Workshop Proposal for Pragmatism and Phenomenology: A Two Day Workshop at the Kings University College at Western University, Ontario, Canada

A traditional link between pragmatism and phenomenology is each position's appeal to the immediate and qualitative stream of subjective personal experience in effort to discern either a.) intersubjective features of that experience which are common to other subjective streams of experience or b.) simply to discern aesthetic qualities that are present for the subject experiencing them and to report those experiences for what they are while bracketing further levels of meta-reflection.  In the first case Husserlian phenomenology seems to be a prime example, and in the second case I think the phenomenological pragmatism of William James could be an example.

This workshop seeks to understand yet another and quite different relationship between pragmatism and phenomenology, one that is necessarily non-correlational; that is, one that does not claim that the nature of being or reality and thought always must come as a pair – hence limiting phenomenological inquiry to the realm of a mere descriptive reportage had by the observing subject.  In the pragmatism (and phenomenology) of C.S. Peirce for example, the categories of experience (presumably revealed in Husserl's phenomenological approach and more organically revealed in James' phenomenological approach) are said to be isomorphic to reality itself and thus are claimed not only to transcendentally constitute human experience but any experience whatsoever, for the categories "are" reality's modes of self-constitution.  Thus any categorial description, or better, for Peirce, any categorial exhibition, is not bound to the stream of personal subjective experience for it is in fact reality's self-presentation of its objective modes, whether phenomenological or cosmological.  Thus there is a self-exhibitive display of the real whether there is a human observer or not.  This point is further clarified in Charles Hartshorne's own version of Peirce's non-correlational phenomenology where Hartshorne acknowledges how his own approach to phenomenology is non-Husserlian and thus "eclectic," while he does draw on logic and mathematics (like the early Husserl) in order to make observer-independent claims (something Husserl never acceded to).

In short, then, Peirce's and Hartshorne's ontological categories (there are only three) seem to be able to reach cosmological conclusions.  And because Peirce and Hartshorne both saw phenomenology to be a branch of mathematics - as they thought any branch of philosophy, if it is to reach the real, must draw upon in some way mathematics - it becomes apparent that a mathematical and logical understanding of the phenomenological categories seems to be required.

In order to elucidate these themes we shall explore how Peirce's pragmatism ("pragmaticism" in order to distinguish it from James' version of the outlook) is phenomenologically mathematical and logical in its orientation.  To that end we will read Ketner's "Hartshorne and the Basis of Peirce's Categories."  In order to more concretely draw out the difference of Peirce's outlook from both Husserl's and James' outlooks we consider Hartshorne's extension and revision of Peirce's phenomenology in his "A Revision of Peirce's Categories."  In looking at both of these readings the basis of a "non-correlationist" phenomenology, one that uses ontological (logical and mathematical) categories in order to reach cosmological (metaphysically realist and observer-independent) conclusions should become visible.  As it turns out, the continuity of the personally immediate subjective stream of experience (present in Husserl, James, and also Bergson, for example) yields to a mathematical-logical temporal triad that is the "moding" of reality itself.  I believe that this has important consequences for how we see pragmatism generally.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Naught Thought blog on the Wolfendale kerfuffle

With an interesting post title, Ben Woodard of Naught Thought blog provides some neutral analysis HERE.  Terry of Agent Swarm blog replied in comments but Ben somehow missed it, but see Terry's thoughts HERE.  On Ben's behalf he usually posts and then disappears, so I don't think he intentionally chose not to include Terry in comments.  I've emailed Ben before and it took him weeks to respond: he just seems busy and is a graduate student who is (I believe) working on dissertation, so blogging and monitoring that probably just comes second.  But I am just guessing here.

Naught Thought blog links a book review of Wolfendale's massive tome, but the review is, well, weird.  Its conclusion is that two philosophers are missing each other - two philosophers are just going over each other's heads.

The review states that one version of the philosophy in question looks to arguments, or inferences drawn together to make a metaphysical point.  In other words, "one ought to build up a conceptual infrastructure around their positive assertions, making explicit the scaffolding of inference that supports them."

The other philosophy states that philosophy is fundamentally aesthetic (or rhetorical and thus not philosophy proper, if philosophy has anything to do with argument) due to the "allure" of the world. So, "Philosophy should be concerned not with the organisation of reference, but with the enlargement of our capacity for absorption, our ability to be ‘taken in’."

The reviewer does note that Wolfendale critiques the view that philosophy cannot proceed to make positive metaphysical claims beyond the aesthetic, and that such a move is not much more than an enlargement of the correlationist circle - it equals not much more than rhetorical device to remain at the level of the aesthetic.  To me, remaining at the level of the aesthetic even seems "relativist" or without grounds for systematicity (again, noted in the review).  Nietzsche comes to mind.

The review then points to the whiff of a notion surrounding all of this: that the object of Wolfendale's critique is a successfully staged charade of philosophical sincerity.

You can read the review for yourself HERE.

Ah, to go back to Terry from Agent Swarm blog, his view is that these two philosophers are not going over each other's heads but instead reside on the same plane of reductionism.  "I see two rival philosophical positions on the same plane: idealist reductionism (Harman) and physico-mathematical reductionism (Wolfendale)."  I tend to side with the Wolfendalian/Brassierian appeal to reason, rationality, systematicity, naturalism, and a mathematized ontology that is capable of attaining metaphysical truth beyond the level of the aesthetic or level of mere human ken and attraction or allure; and also (as a very minor point) I also tend to accept the pragmatic-German idealist influenced figures such as Brandom or Sellars, or in my case Nicholas Rescher whose three volume System of Pragmatic Idealism is second to none. The attainment of positive metaphysical truth is possible - so "enlightenment" is possible - although enlightenment is a disconcerting, dark or cold truth which is utterly indifferent to humans, besides having been involved in creating humans.  But alas, other cosmic epochs are indeed possible and life goes on without us.  Take that as you will.  In the end, Reality Rules.

The fact that Blake attacks the relativistic forms of philosophers in the mix of discussions about science (for example Bruno Latour, and see Brassier's complete decimation of Latourian approaches to scientific philosophy HERE) puts him in the "axis" that we are all so often included in.

That's just my two cents in passing, though.

Monday, January 12, 2015

misanthropology and bleak theology

An interesting post titled "misanthropology." Like usual highlights then a link. First, though, a thought or two.

I do not find it to be antithetical to the theistic view - or at the very least the panentheistic view - that opting for the misanthropic over the anthropic necessarily means nihilism and cold "scientific" rationality, or simply that one should just ditch God once the reality of dire straights has set in.  Afterall, Schelling and many of the German idealists (see Krell's The Tragic Absolute: German Idealism and the Languishing of God or Feld's Melancholy and the Otherness of God) knew of a suffering and lamenting God, one that is never complete in its continual evolutionary development and frustration, suffers like humans in order to know their suffering - as well as their extinction - and knows as well that within its creative domain other "cosmic epochs" are indeed possible.  Indeed Gnon creates but also suffers. This is the "bleak" theological view, and it's one that I do not find unconducive to my own metaphysical stance.

The thing is, despite the current fad of reveling in our own decay humans must still realize that extinction is imminent and nature goes on without us.  Either way, in terms of philosophical naturalism and evolutionary cosmology (thank you pragmatism) we either adapt or perish.

I refuse to sugar-coat the great face of nature, like many process philosophers of today do.  Taking a more Landian sober perspective one must ruthlessly face facts.  Looking out into the cosmos it seems that rationality is not just human, afterall.  "Nature or God is a decision of equivalence" as the first sacred law is: Reality Rules. I've written about this before a few times, for example:

And speaking of bleakness and melancholy: Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and their connections to a bleak perspective make appearances rather timely for me in this recent 3:AM interview HERE.

These anthropocentric worries over human continuity make for a strange tension in the theoretical moment: they are appearing just as a range of disanthropic moves have attempted to decenter and displace the human as subject, agent, or figure: Actor-Network Theory, Post-Humanism, multi- and interspecies analytics, Object Oriented and other “ontological” turns, speculative realism and new materialism, to name a few. Despite this turn away from the human, however, the final disappearance of the species seems to mark a limit for most disanthropic theorists; few welcome the possibility of human extinction. Disanthropy yes, misanthropy no.

[M]isanthropy needs rethinking: perhaps it is time for a serious misanthropology. In their now famous book What is Life?, the biologist Lynn Margulis and her co-author and son Dorion Sagan revel in the productivity of the biosphere, where, with or without us, Gaia will exuberantly continue to spawn multiple life-forms. They propose not only a more expansive notion of forms of life, which would include biospheric processes, but ask us also to consider a more expansive notion of consciousness, one recognizing that “at even the most primordial level living seems to entail sensation, choosing, mind” (1995, 220). For them the biosphere as a whole is conscious; the planet is a “vast sentience.” Admittedly, humans play a crucial role in this mind, as “our technology-extended intelligence becomes part of planetary life as a whole,” forming the “brain or neural tissue of a global being.” This “global being,” however, will persist even after good old anthropos is done with. Margulis and Sagan make it clear that they are not afraid of climate change.

This is not unlike the transhumanist position of celebrating the self-evolution of humans into a non-carbon-based, superintelligent being. There, too, matter is understood as having been intelligent all along, with the human as merely a temporary instantiation. For transhumanists, the supreme unit of this evolution is information. They argue that soon this intelligence, in the form of information processing or computation, will become so vast and complex that the world itself will no longer be recognizable or predictable by us – the threshold that they call the Singularity. Ray Kurzweil is the most famous champion of this path to human obsolescence, and much has been written about his views (including by me). In his vision, if the end of humanity is a portal to greater consciousness, then we ought to celebrate that end as good in itself, without parochial anthropocentric anxieties. The goal of developing computational power, then, is not to avoid our extinction but to accelerate our obsolescence: the ultimate technofix.

In some ways, this fascination with a world without us is not new. What’s interesting about the current misanthropic end-time views – from the low-tech VHEMT to the super high-tech singularity, from simple extinction to heat death or cold death of the universe – is that they emerge out of science, rather than being religious left-overs. They are the outgrowth of a long discursive line in secular science that begins at least in the mid-19th century, when Rudolf Clausius, presenting his formulation of the second law of thermodynamics, declared that the universe tends inexorably towards entropy. I think that we could go back further, though, to the original disanthropic turn: the Galilean-Copernican revolution, which knocked the earth off center at the same time as it materially (through the use of lenses and new forms of visibility) and mathematically (with new equations and understandings of planetary motion) expanded the universe, producing a radical sense of human finitude. This was picked up and articulated by Pascal, who passed it on to Schopenhauer, who turned it into anxiety, and ultimately Weber, who turned it into disenchantment. They did so as men of science, ruminating not on the eschaton but on the meaning of finitude and progress.

Today, science toggles between entropy and creativity as dominant narratives for understanding the future of the cosmos. The probability of life and consciousness in the universe, as well as its demise on our planet, is now subject to scientific rationality: given the conditions of the universe, the development of complexity into life and consciousness was inevitable, in which case of course there likely are others like us and our rock out there. Or perhaps it is the complete converse: it was ridiculously impossible, and this weird Rare Earth is doomed to disappear as meaninglessly and singularly as it appeared. Everything is fine-tuned for our type, or everything is hostile to our type. In the scientific imaginary, the universe is either anthropic or misanthropic.

Link to the full post HERE.

Ted Toadvine on "Ecological Aesthetics"


Friday, January 9, 2015

Worlds Without End: The Many Lives of the Multiverse

An interesting new book that reads very well for undergraduates, graduate students, or just those interested in the metaphysical implications of the multiverse for science, philosophy, ethics, religion, and politics.

Worlds Without End focuses on the history of philosophies purporting a "multiverse," from the ancient Greek atomists, to the Stoics, to the Moderns, to William James, to contemporary theorists.  The book also addresses the question of how God as creator of the uni-verse fairs with respect to the on-going creation of uni-verses or in total-process the "multiverse."  Those interested in ontological pluralism will certainly appreciate this book.

A great review HERE from the LA Review of Books tells more.  I liked this part in particular from the review, as it connects theories of the multiverse to perspectives on eternity:

[T]he clearest representation of the “modern” scientific multiverse in contemporary culture comes not from science fiction or space opera, but from HBO’s genre-bending crime drama, True Detective. As nihilist savant Rustin Cohle, a mustachioed Matthew McConaughey ponders the emptiness of existence in a Louisiana interrogation room. “You ever heard of something called the M-Brane theory?” asks the disheveled Cohle, sipping beer through his unkempt mustache. Gazing past his inquisitors with a thousand-yard stare, Cohle explains the branch of string theory that posits 11 dimensions of space-time: “It’s like in this universe, we process time linearly forward, but outside of our space-time, from what would be a fourth-dimensional perspective, time wouldn’t exist, and from that vantage, could we attain it, we’d see our space-time would look flattened, like a single sculpture with matter in a superposition of every place it ever occupied, our sentience just cycling through our lives like carts on a track. See, everything outside our dimension that’s eternity, eternity looking down on us. Now, to us, it’s a sphere, but to them it’s a circle.” Cohle’s famed claim that “time is a flat circle” captures our scientific moment, but in it we’re hearing the Stoics whispering from millennia in the past.

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Schelling and Kant: philosophical cosmology and metaphysics

Naught Thought blog has a thought provoking post up covering Schelling and Kant.  I'll post highlights and then the link.
From Schelling’s writings it is clear he has immense respect for Kant, calling him the Aristotle of Germany (as he puts it in The Grounding of Positive Philosophy) and that he nearly perfected negative philosophy through the Critiques. By negative philosophy Schelling means a pure rationalism that addresses the conceptual specifically or, in other words, the negative philosophy determines what is real but not reality (GPP, 131). By no means does Schelling assert or infer that the negative philosophy is unnecessary only that, by its own definition, it can have have no content other then what is determined according to its own ground such that as soon as reason determines something as real the reality of that conceptual content dissipates.
The difficulty that Schelling identifies and that stays with him from his earliest writings to his last, is that the ancient model of philosophy stands strong given the fact that the identity of subject and object through the thirdness of mediation shows that we begin from the synthetic. Since we are immersed in an ill-defined system, every competing philosophical system must recognize that every other system is attempting, first and foremost, to stabilize the world or bring the infinite under the yoke of a kind of finitude. The arduous work is explaining how determinations as such occur in the first place (or why is there something rather than something else or, given there is something which is activity, why are there individuals?). It is here where it is all too easy to fall into the claim that Schelling either simply breaks metaphysics in the name of something like a proto-existentialism or that he is simply harkening back to dogmatic metaphysics. Instead what Schelling is doing is arguing that practical or pragmatic philosophy requires a postulate that seems metaphysical in order to ground adequately the pursuit of a philosophy that is simultaneously consistent yet open ended. It is Schelling’s strength on these last points in particular that made him popular with Peirce. Peirce appreciated that Schelling’s systems were used till they failed (his systems are ablative rather than self-standing) and that Schelling was one of the few modern philosophers who did not, in Peirce’s opinion, fall under the banner of nominalism. 
The positive philosophy speaks to the fact that, for Schelling, the fact of the world pre-exists the construction of a system which occurs in the environment of that world. But world is not a singular entity (a big physical object) nor is it a collection or closed set of all things but only a world as a horizon. The world is a totality in progress...

Link HERE.

Animal Theology

Animals and theology seems to be an odd combination.  However with Pope Francis' recent comments relating to Pope Paul VI's declaration that "Heaven is open to all creatures," THIS review of The Problem of Animal Pain: A Theodicy for All Creatures Great and Small seems all the more relevant.

There is a paucity of literature on animals and theology, although Creaturely Theology: God, Humans and Other Animals (on amazon HERE)and Christian Theology and the Status of Animals: The Dominant Tradition and Its Alternatives (on amazon HERE) seem to be breaking new ground, as both were published fairly recently.

Of course Andrew Lindzey's Animal Theology from 1995 is a hallmark (on amazon HERE).

My highest recommendation however is for Divinanimality: Animal Theory, Creaturely Theology published recently in 2014.  Link HERE.  Because of my theological commitments and interest in animal ethics it was only natural that I would run into the above literature.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Meillassoux Dictionary has been quietly released

I didn't even know that this was now available in the U.S.  I wrote several entries for it on Meillassoux and his philosophy of religion and philosophical theology, including "Divine Inexistence," "Irreligion," "Resurrection," "Spectral Dilemma," and "The Child."

I say "quietly" because the usual blog kingpins haven't been shilling it like they normally do for other titles - including those that are even only remotely linked to speculative realism - so many people just don't know that this is out. The silence, like usual, is more than likely intentional, probably because Pete Wolfendale and myself are featured prominently within this book's pages.  This is what we call cutting off your nose despite your face.

Anyway, the amazon link is HERE. From what I can tell it is worth picking up and the paperback price seems reasonable.

John Caputo, Catherine Keller, John Cobb from the Homebrewed Christianity blog's AAR session on Radical Theology

From the Homebrewed Christianity blog's American Academy of Religion 2014 session featuring a panel consisting of radical theologians and philosophers of religion John Caputo, Catherine Keller, and John Cobb. Thanks to Tripp Fuller for helping to bring this event together - it was absolutely remarkable.

Listen to Part One HERE.

Listen to Part Two HERE.