I took a break from live-blogging [added later: I had originally written "love-bloggin" LOL. I won't correct other typos, but there're probably many of them here] during the break-out sessions, taking advantage of the time to work a bit more on my own paper, to be given this afternoon. I’m picking things up now with Steven Shaviro’s plenary. Since Steven regularly blogs his work (at The Pinocchio Theory), and since I’m getting a little worn out keeping up with our great speakers, this may be a little less detailed. 

Steven Shaviro, “Consequences of Panpsychism”

Opening caveats: We should resist conflating Speculative Realism with OOO; it’s like conflating animals with cats. Also, use of “human” better as an adjective than as a noun.

This is a completely different essay than the one of the same title presented in NYC.

What is it like to be a rock? Rucker SF story.

Panpsychism is a thesis that even rocks have minds. Quoting David Skrbina, Thomas Nagel. Basic physical constituents of universe have mental properties; mind is universally distributed. Mind is a property of matter; thinking differs in degree, but not in kind, all the way up and down.

Colin McGinn’s dismissal of panpsychism. Galen Strawson admist it sounded crazy, but got convinced there is no alternative. Skrbina demonstrates its long pedigree: from pre-Socratics to Spinoza to James and Whitehead, now returned with a vengeance. Especially interesting in light of NH Turn and SR. Rebukes both idealism and reductionism/eliminativism.

The problem is one of extension: what can it mean to extend mentality to everything? Many philosophers have said we can’t: Descartes, Heidegger, Rorty, Ranciere, Zizek, all insist on centrality of linguistic forms, or action (as opposed to behavior), or something.

Plants, slime molds, bacteria – evidence that they do exhibit will. But a rock, a neutrino? Mentality, however, need not be contingent on the ability to speak. Panpsychism implies autonomy of all entities from our apprehension and perhaps from our concern; they exist pour-soi as well as en-soi, autonomous centers of value.

Whitehead, conatus, autopoiesis: too much emphasis on self-maintenance of identity. Simondon’s individuation; will to change (Whiteheadian poet Charles Olson). Whitehead finds value in existence as its own justification. Existence upholds value-intensity for itself, values and desires are bound up with the very being of an entity. The vaule experience is the essence of the universe (Whitehead).

Standard retort to Whitehead is accusation of anthropomorphism. But it’s the reverse: our own value activities emerged out of what brought us into being. Critique of Meillassoux and Brassier.

Nagel’s “What is it like to be a bat?” There is something that it is like to be that organism. Best we can do is to create aesthetic semblances alluding to other organism’s/entities’ experiences. For Nagel, it’s a question of what being a bat for the bat itself, not just for us. Bogost’s “alien phenomenology.” Nagel moves from epistemology to ontology, but the bat’s thinking is inaccessible to us. [ai: compare with OOO?]

But so is any other person’s experience, and even my own, inaccessible to me. You can feel my tooth but not my toothache. Wittgenstein: first-person experience is not a something, and not a nothing either. Daniel Dennett (mistakenly) thinks he’s a Wittgensteinian by striving to extirpate interiority; eliminativism. But he throws out the baby with the bathwater.

Wittgenstein’s critique is actually directed as much against scientism as against idealism. Not everything in the world is a matter of fact. Knowledge of what I am thinking and feeling is the same sort of thing as knowledge of what others are thinking and feeling.

Nagel. I can know what my cat is thinking, or that she is thinking. Language should not be accorded too privileged a place in our understanding of experience. David Chalmers. With or without language, we observe the behavior of others, and can infer that inner experience exists in them. A bat’s experience, and a human’s, is indubitable, but also spectral.

Whitehead. Most experience is vague and indistinct. The primitive experience is emotional feeling, though feeling may be blind and emotion vague. Descartes et al took clear and distinct experience as their starting point. Dennett’s eliminativism is reductio ad absurdum of the premises he shares with his opponents.

Galen Strawson’s panpsychism argument is most reasonable here: mentality/experience of some kind is what’s most certain. The only way to explain essence of experience in the terms of physics is by explaining it away. Strawson gets rid of Descartes’ dualism; experiential phenomena are real in their own right, but no presuppositions necessary about the “I” or thinking thing. We should reject the assumption that the physical is non-experiential.

Matter not only passive but productive and formative. Strawson, however (unlike Whitehead, Barad, Bennett, Delanda), is anti-emergentist. But he encourages us away from using “quantum indeterminacy,” et al, like magic wands. Novelty, for Whitehead, cannot emerge ex nihilo; it is possible on the basis of and in response to the “stubborn fact which cannot be evaded.” Sentience must already have potentially been present at the very beginning, in matter itself.

Strawson is a scientific reductionist, but insists experience is irreducible and that mentality is inaccessible to scientific explanation. First-person experience cannot be captured in third-person accounts. Panpsychism is the consequence of accepting the self-evidence of experience. Strawson is in this sense not far from Whitehead.

Whitehead. Sam Coleman: radicalizes Nagel’s bat argument, transforming it into a foundational ontological principle. Coleman: physics express extrinsic natures of entities, leaving intrinsic natures aside. Physics has never pretended to tell us what an atom (or anything) is for itself. Physical causality leaves out the real loci of causal power.

Ladyman & Ross’s “Everything Must Go”: no things. Give up the attempt to learn about unobservables. Harman’s critique of Ladyman & Ross. William Seager and Harman both point to intrinsic properties. But in what does their intrinsic nature consist?

Interiority is neither a something nor a nothing. Publicity and privacy co-exist for everything in the universe. The privacy of the neutrino: it is like something to be a neutrino. Harman claims all objects are withdrawn from access. For Shaviro, this withdrawal is nothing more nor nothing less than the privacy of that object. Harman makes too much of it, rendering it into a vacuum. Such an approach risks reducing ontology to epistemology. (?) Harman: when fire burns cotton, it doesn’t come to know the cotton completely. But this dimension is not definitive: publicly objects and entities do interact totally even if they are at the same time withdrawn privately.

Whitehead: The distinction between “public” and “private” is an abstraction. Contemporary events occur in independence from each other. Each actual entity enjoys the freedom of its own experience; but also open to causal influences, to affect and be affected. I’m inwardly free and outwardly in chains; I’m inwardly imprisoned and outwardly free to act. (Both true.)

No proof of the inner life of a neutrino – or of anything else; unavoidable. But I acknowledge and value the inner life of human beings, and can do it with all kinds of others. What’s needed is an extension of sympathy. (Massumi, Bennett connections.)

Panpsychism steps outside correlationist thinking and acknowledges we cannot step into others’ thinking. Harman argues that things think when they interact, but not otherwise. Shaviro doesn’t believe absolute nonrelationality is possible, because he attributes mentality to the private side of entities, not to the public relational side. Need more thinking on this.

The affective turn, versus cognitivism. Sentience is a more basic category than life or vitality. Life is possible because there is sentience. Whitehead is more of a panpsychist; Deleuze is more of a vitalist. Thacker; critiques of vitalism.

Science fiction: Life cycle of software objects.

Q & A:

Q (Ian Bogost) @ real and sensual objects… SS: trying to get beyond the polemics of previous debates. GH is reifying this difference too much, like noumenon and phenomenon; better to talk about dual aspects rather than a rift.

Q (Jane Bennett) @ problems of vitalism… SS: You (JB) deal ell with 19th century vitalism in Vibrant Matter. Saying everything is alive is almost saying too much. I (SS) prefer Whitehead’s expression of different tendencies: e.g. perpetuation by repetition versus by novelty. Talking about life leads to weird issues @ will to power, reproduction, virality/zombieness, et al. Thacker traces the problematic from Aristotle through Medieaval to Deleuze: sentience gets around the problems identified by him, with more modest claims. Haven’t worked it out fully yet.

Q @ David Ray Griffin’s “panexperientialism” vs. panpsychism: is there a difference?  SS: the two aren’t really different, but it’s better to start, as Whitehead did, with the most primordial and works up to consciousness.

Q “from hippie direction”: Frank Zappa: if we heard a rock speak, it would be saying “help, I’m a rock.” Does this mode privilege a being with stuckness over processes of becoming?  SS: That’s why I’m uneasy with “conatus” or “autopoiesis” ascribed to nonliving things. The way entities persist through time is more complicated than by saying “I am a rock.”

Q @ use of reason and threshold of what consciousness or mind are…  SS: We’re not sure what reason is. Philosophy is love of wisdom; doesn’t mean you have it and are stating it. It’s a reaching, and a matter of degree.

Q (R. Grusin) @ things in motion vs. as isolated mental objects… SS: Whitehead (and Levi Bryant also) says that nothing is just there; it’s an activity to keep itself in place. One and the other go together.

Q (me) @ sentience, mentality, mind, et al.: trying to find the right word for what everything shares; what about “interiority”?  SS: I’m drawing more on Whitehead for my choice of terms, but interiority could work just as well.

Q [...]  SS: I like Harman’s aesthetics of allusion; physical interactions. Always a question of where you’re going to draw a line, and we draw different boundaries for different reasons. Pete Wolfendale’s (Deontologistics) justification of meat-eating, but the idea of having a moral justification of it appalls me.


Thanks to Jennifer Slack for the photo.




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