Archive for October, 2009

Heating up: the transmutations of media-beings: Part 1

October 28, 2009

energy-bulb-615Graham Harman’s fourfold is very different to the tetrad of McLuhan, but there is a firm link between the two: each has fours poles intersected by two dualisms; the poles interrelate and transform each other; each part exists together simultaneously; they could be universal. Thus, Harman’s fourfold, which is largely inspired by Heidegger’s fourfold [das geviert] needs supplementing with McLuhan’s tetrad. As he explains, “All that is lacking is a detailed account of the mechanics of how the four poles [gods, mortals, earth, sky] interact with one another. Such an account is found only in ‘Laws of Media’. I believe that Harman will cross-pollinate these two fourfolds in his upcoming ‘The Quadruple Object’ and which is already hinted at in his articles ‘The McLuhans and Metaphysics’ and ‘The Tetrad and Phenomenology’.

First of all I will review Harman’s fourfold and then look to see how this intersects with McLuhan’s tetrad. Harman’s fourfold consists of these interlinking features: time, space, essence, eidos.

    Essence is that which ontologically withdraws from view (in Heideggerese, the ready-to-hand, RTH). It is the absence at the heart of the object which cannot be reduced to a relation. It is that part of the object which stays the same from one moment to the next (the persistence of a unity of multiple parts). It is the Real object. It cannot be exhausted by any number of ‘notes’ (to use Zibiri’s terms): complete description is impossible.

    The eidos is that which presents itself in ontic relations (the present-a-hand, PAH). It is that which is made manifest to us and other objects. It is the relational usefulness of an object.

    Time and space are not a continuum (i.e. two structuring principles that support all beings in them and beyond), but a by product of the tension between the essence and the eidos of objects. The changes in relations give the impression of movement in time. Objects are not in time, they are through time. Objects are time-space. But it is only because objects have both related and withdrawn sides (one could say light and dark, or chiaroscuro), that time is possible at all. Thus because all objects (semiotic, non-semiotic, material or imaginary) have both relating and non-relating parts, we cannot ontologically prioritize one over they other. Each object is a real event which unfolds as time.

The tetrad of McLuhan relies on a similar dualism of relational/withdrawn objects via his well known maxim of ‘the medium is the message’. This means that the medium not its content is the vehicle for the message of the object. The real object and its essence is the medium which is withdrawn from view. The content of the medium is the relational eidos, the RTH which engages vicariously with other objects. However, the McLuhan’s remain staunch correlationists who insist that their tetrad is only applicable to human related media. To support their anthropocentricism they bring in Fritjof Capra and quote from his ‘The Tao of Physics’, which explains that ‘all things and events we perceive are creations of the mind’ (cited in McLuhans and Metaphysics, p.107). Harman shuns this modest claim seeing the tetrad as having implications beyond the idealism of the internal world of the human mind and a powerful axis within a robust realism. How then does the tetrad account for object-object relations?

I’ll try to experiment here using pollen as my medium:

tetrad pollen

Primitive plants reproduce using flagellated sperm which must swim through water to find and then fertilize ova [obsolese]. This obviously puts great limitations on where a plant might live and still reproduce. The solution is the development of a desiccation-resistant capsule that is capable of transporting sperm through the air [enhance]. This innovation we call pollen. Pollen consists of the male gametophyte and the haploid mitotic product of that gametophyte: sperm nuclei [retrieve]. Mcrospores develop into pollen grains, which mature to become the male gametophytes of seed plants. The pollen grains can be carried away by wind or animals after their release from the microsporangium. In seed plants, the use of resistant, far-traveling, airborne pollen to bring gametes together is a terrestrial adaptation that led to even greater success and diversity of plants on land [reverse] (p. 600, in Biology by Campbell & Reece, 2008).

I’m not sure if this is a correct analysis, but it is the best I can do as of now.

The point, I think, for Harman in the quadruple object is not to merely bring these together but show how change occurs. With Levi Bryant’s onticology, object’s have endo-relations:  the aspect of an object eld in reserve in order to give the object consistency. It’s endo-relations give the conditions for the possibility of ex0-relations, thus endo-relations consist of affects, i.e. the capacity to act and be acted upon.  Exo-realtions are relations between objects. Exo-relations can, however, affect the endo-relations of objects. He calls his brand of speculative realism ‘onticology’ or object-oriented ontology. He wants to focus upon how the withdrawn (or barred, as he calls it, mimicking Lacan) ontological endo-relations of objectile’s form and entropy within networks (exo-relations) and to examine the process of their ‘genesis’. Whereas Harman is focused upon the ontico-ontological dif-ferance. This ontico-ontological moment requires an engine of change, to propel ‘vicarious causation’ into linking and translation between object assemblages. I think we will see Harman use the McLuhan’s concept of ‘heating’ for his own metaphysics.

Heating, for the McLuhan’s allows for change. ‘All change in the world occurs through some transmutation of an existing figure/ground relationship’ (McLuhans and Met, p.116). Media are now defined by a thermodynamic scale between hot and cold. A hot medium does not allows the relating object room for interpretive maneuver, whereas a cold medium does. In the last couple of years the TV has been reinvented. From the small black boxes that were fuzzy and blurry with analogue static, we now how large plasma screen HD TV’s with digital receivers and blu-ray DVD hyper-detailed movies. Thus what was once a cool medium (compared to the cinema which was a hot medium), has heated into the hot medium of the cinema (or ‘home cinema’, as we now call it). Although due to the possibilities opened up by digital broadcasting, there is now more scope for interaction, thus it becomes a cooler medium. The cinema which was previously hot, now gets even hotter with the introduction of hyper-immersion 3D movies and iMax mega-screen cinema complexes. In contrast to this, Ye Olde Shakespearian theatre (such as The Globe) is a cold medium, as it leaves a lot up to the imagiglobe4nation of the relating object: the viewing public (where the antiquated authenticity of the ‘experience’ becomes its main selling point – could this be an aspect of the reversal of both cinema and theatre?).

When a medium thrusts upon another object an over-abundance of information, the relating object cannot decipher all this info and thus abstracts it into a pattern: ‘data overload equals pattern recognition’ (p.117). The figure becomes the ground; the message becomes the medium. The hot hyper-details of ‘figures’ (message) in our day to day lives, over time, are cooled into a narrative ‘ground’ (medium) of phases and moments we remember with fondness or embarrassment. Using the TV and cinema example, the medium overheats when the demands on cinemas to get newer technology, equipment and regulations to keep up with the logic of consumer desire: more detail equals greater immersion and a better ‘experience’, so the advertising tag line exclaims. This ‘detail’ is another word for ‘information’. As the information levels get ramped up, the medium starts to heat up until it exposes the limitations of the medium itself and reverses into a new medium.

For cinema’s, Disney’s ‘Honey, I Shrunk the Audience!’ ride in Disney Land takes this immersion to a farcical level of ‘realism’ (water squirted in your face, air blasted at the back of your legs and giant 3D snakes leaping out from the screen). The heating of any medium takes work. To make and maintain this Disney Land ride takes a lot of work. So much work that very few places and people can replicate its model. It’s selling point is its unique ability to sustain its essence and eidos over time in a very few instances. If we look at this tedradically, then the logic of the cinema should reverse into a new medium which exploits the high definition immersion, but without the crippling limitation of the cost, size and work required to sustain these qualities. There may even be interactive elements.

I will try and expand upon this in the next few weeks with a new post which details further this flowering of ideas between McLhuan and Harman.

Notes from ‘Francis Bacon: The Logic of Sensation’ by Gilles Deleuze

October 19, 2009

DavisDeleuzebook500These are my reading notes from this excellent book. I would recommend reading the book while looking at each picture he expands upon   HERE This book works not only as a piece of art commentary but as a practical and highly readable introduction to Deleuze’s anti-representational philosophy.


Notes from ‘After Finitude’ by Quentin Meillassoux

October 17, 2009

9780826496744_THUMBThis is not a review as there are many reviews all over the net about this book. These are only my notes which constitute a (very) basic overview of the books arguments. If you read philosophy, reading this book gives a clear idea of the task that lies ahead for speculative metaphysics. If you do not have time to read the book then I hope these notes are clear enough to give you a solid enough background to the text as to be useful and thought provoking.

QM starts by reminding us of primary and secondary qualities. Primary are those qualities of an object which exist without me (thing without me). Secondary qualities are an object’s sensible relations (thing with me). Primary qualities are mathematical measurements which equate to the object in-itself. Thus the understanding of primary and secondary qualities was changed by Kant from ‘what is the proper substrate?’ to ‘what is the proper correlation?’. The effect of this we have seen the the 20th century, where the media of correlation has been language (analytic philosophy) and consciousness (phenomenology). The problem, as QM sees it, is that “contemporary philosophers have lost the great outdoors, the absolute outside of pre-critical thinkers” (p. 7). This is evident in such thinkers as Heidegger, where the priority is given to the relation of being to man via Eriegnis.

To challenge this view, QM comes up with a term he hopes to make corelationism squirm: the terms ‘ancestral’, which is any reality anterior to any life on earth, and the ‘archi-fossil’, which is material which indicates any ancestral history (p.8, 10). This creates a challenge to correlationism and science (which is ancestral discourse) to understand the meaning of ancestral statements. This will prove difficult for the scientific principle of the ‘falsifiability thesis’ as advocated by Popper, that states that all scientific theories are falsifiable.

For philosophy, making claims about the nature of the cosmos have changed considerably. QM looks at Descartes claim that mathematical properties exist in themselves, where as Kant claims that mathematical properties exist only for us. What then is the truth of a scientific statement? Truth of ancestral scientific statements comes from its inter-subjective verifiability, not the naïve notion of a world without the givenness of the world via a retrojection of the past on the basis of the present (p.16). The archi-fossil and the correlation are incompatible and disqualify each other. Where does that leave us? Ancestral statements are illusory via a priori demonstration and thus opens up the possibility of ‘Young Earth’ theories. There is a test of faith inherent in both claims: if you acknowledge the correlationist claim, then any ancestral claim has to be taken on faith if it is to be believed. And the religious arguments concerning the creation of the earth are still valid based upon their claim to the truth of the a priori correlation.

In clarification, the archi-fossil is in no way similar to an ancient event. An ancient event indicates an occurrence within a linear history. The archi-fossil designates an event anterior to terrestrial life and hence anterior to givenness itself (p.20). Archi-fossils are anterior to time, not just un-witnessed in time. QM then proceeds to ask the question ‘how to conceive of a time in which the given as such passes from non-being to being?’ (p.21). Time before being to time with being and thus being with thought. The task is to think a time of being without thought.

‘The transcendental subject simply cannot be said to exist, which is to say that the subject is not an entity but rather a set of conditions rendering objective scientific knowledge of entities possible’ (p.23). Speculative idealism posits subject as its bodily individuation not apart from it (like transcendental idealism does). Thus, for the moderns, to be is to be a correlate. Yet science continues to ask us to discover the source of its own absoluteness (p.28). The question of necessity and contingency of the absolute now arises. For Descartes, the proof of the absolute is its necessity for us, not in itself (p.30). For Kant, the thing in-itself is thinkable but unknowable, such that we can think the a priori condition, but not categorical cognition to the thing in-itself: there is a real necessity for the absolute, such is the position of Kant’s dogmatic metaphysics (p.31).

The principle of reason rests on God being necessary in-itself, thus supporting a reasonable deduction built upon this ground. This absolutism legitimates political ideologies as correlate necessities: thus we must not return to the ‘principle of reason’.

QM advocates speculative thinking which has claims to the absolute which doesn’t rely on the principle of reason to necessitate its claims, while metaphysical thinking only claims access to the absolute through metaphysical thinking. Thus with Heidegger and Wittgenstein we have an end to the possibility of the principle of reason legitimating claims to know the absolute. This ‘strong correlationism’ proposes we cannot think let alone know the absolute thing in-itself. There is thus a nihilistic nothingness beyond the human.

Even after successfully critiquing meta-physico religiosity, this does not disprove God but only a type of God which appeals to natural reason to declare the superiority of its own beliefs. To remove proof of the ‘supreme’ supported by reason reverses the process of the destruction of polytheistic religion suffered at the hands of monotheistic religious reason (p.45). What does this produce? Fundamentalist fideism: a defence of religiosity in general which promotes the superiority of piety over thought, thus removing reason from any ground to a belief in God or gods. The result is a religionizing of reason: beliefs are legitimate as nothing but beliefs, not as reasonable beliefs (p.47). Philosophical works such as by Levinas pursue a sceptico-fideist closure of metaphysics dominated by the ‘wholly-other’ (p.48). Fideism is merely another name for strong correlationism. The correlationist cogito can thus be non-representational and institutes a species solipsism (rather than individual solipsism – Heidegger’s being-in-the-world could be a species solipsist claim).

QM wants to challenge modern philosophy’s appropriation of facticty as limit to revealing knowledge of the absolute. Facticity tells us about the nature of the absolute. If all we can know is the contingency of facticty, then there is no reason for things to remain so rather than otherwise. Yet saying ‘everything is equally possible’ is an absolute claim, thus metaphysical. The only claim that can be made is based upon our facticity, not as limit but as absolute: the absolute is the absolute impossibility of a necessary being (p.60). This is the absolute truth of the principle of unreason: this is an anhypothetical principle, which is a proposition that could bot be deduced from another proposition, but could be proved by argument.

QM then looks at the relation of time and fixed universal laws. A time which promotes fixed universal laws is banal. The time QM premises is the time of lawless destruction of every physical law: it is the absolute necessity of everything’s non-necessity (contingency). This is non-banal (p.63). QM points out that we cannot take contingency empirically (as precariousness, of a perishability that is bound to occur). Only absolute contingency as pure possibility should apply here: this is that which may never be realized). However, to say that ‘everything must necessarily perish’ is a metaphysical statement that posits the absolute, where a determinate situation is necessary. This lawless time is not Heraclitian time of becoming, as this is an eternal law. Destructive time is the eternal and lawless possible becoming of every law (p.64). ‘It is a time capable of destroying even becoming itself by bringing forth, perhaps forever, fixity, stasis and death’ (p.64). Philosophies of sensible becoming hide a stabilist structure as their ground, this is an illusion.

‘For even if I cannot think the unthinkable, I can think the possibility of the unthinkable by dint of the unreason of the real’ (p.58). QM then undertakes an imaginary dialogue between correlationist, idealist and speculative philosophers, which recaps each position examined so far and how the each respond to each other claims. QM them states that necessarily, anything is possible except a necessary entity. Thus, we can start to determine the absolute properties of chaos (p.66). ‘It is because the entity cannot be necessary and not because the entity must be logically consistent, that we infer the impossibility of contradiction: the absolute cannot be necessary and contingent (p.68). If the principle of reason is absolutely false (proven by the principle of unreason), then the principle of non-contradiction is absolutely true. This is because strong correlationism de-absolutized the principle of non-contradiction and reason. (p.71).

For Fideist, being is an unreasonable pure gift, which wonders at why there is something rather than nothing, sprung from the miraculous coming of sometime from nothing (p.72). Thus we must take a strong interpretation of the principle of unreason: things must be contingent and there must be contingent things. This is because facticity is not just a fact in the world (it is not a fact that things are factual), it is an absolute necessity that factual things exist. Kant understood the thing in-itself to not be knowable because of facticity (but it is thinkable). The speculative approach says that the thing in-itself is nothing other than the facticity of the transcendental form of representation. Thus there is a logos of contingency, which states that contradiction is logically conceivable providing not every contradiction is true. Thus an inconsistent being is impossible because it would be necessary if it existed (p.78). But even so, there can only ever be contradictions in statements and not with the real world. Contradictions can be ontic but not ontological.

QM then creates the term ‘factiality’ which stands for the speculative essence of facticity such as the facticity of everything cannot be thought as a fact (p.79). The principle of unreason is then changed from a negative statement to a positive one: the principle of factiality. For factiality, contingency alone is necessary (not contingency is necessary, which would be a metaphysical statement, as the necessity of contingency is not derived from contingency alone, but from a whole that is ontologically superior to the later) (p.80).

As stated earlier, Popper promotes the falsifiability principle to scientific laws and facts, but he never advocated that the universal laws themselves could change, only the theories which can become infinitely refined. For Popper there is a necessary stability to absolute laws. For Kant, causal necessity is a necessary condition for the existence of consciousness and the world it experiences. For Hume, there is no causal necessity, only habitual projection of stable phenomena (p.87). For Leibniz, God is unconditionally necessary, his essence alone guarantees the best of all possible worlds. Thus the world must remain the same in its consistency. However, Hume never doubts causal necessity, only our capacity to reason for it (p.90). He says that we cannot know the reason for the ultimate necessity of universal laws but there are universal laws (Hume is a sceptic of human reason, not sceptical of natural laws).

For Kant, ‘there is no consciousness without the possibility of a science of phenomena, because the very idea of consciousness presupposes the idea of representation that is unified in time’ (p.93). The necessity of laws is a incontrovertible fact once one has construed it as the very condition for consciousness’. Stability, rather than the necessity of phenomena can be defended. Thus stability does not generate necessity. The response to this is that if laws of nature were contingent we would have noticed. This is not the case. Whatever is equally thinkable is equally possible. ‘If physical laws were actually contingent it would be contrary to the laws that govern chance. There must be a necessitating reason, albeit hidden’: No. Saying that it is chance through innumerable dice throws that we get what looks like a stable universe pre-supposes the necessity of stable conditions for the dice throws themselves from one to the next. (p.99). Chance is an undeterministic physical law and thus must be eliminated from contingency (Epicurus’ Clinamen are indeterminate within determinate conditions).

The contingency of natural laws remains inaccessible to aleatory reasoning (p.100). Therefore, we must try and articulate a principle of contingency that is district from the concept of chance. The only way to do this is through the use of Cantor’s set theoretical notion of the ‘transfinite’: “the (qualifiable) totality of the thinkable is unthinkable.” (p.104).The totalization of the thinkable can no longer be guaranteed a priori – the conceivable is not necessarily totalizable by the detotalization of number. Badiou reveals the mathematical conceivability of the detotalization of being qua being, thus using mathematics to escape from calculative reason. Thus, aleatory reasoning is only extendible to the objects of experience not to the laws that govern the universe, because a totality must be posited which can govern the conditions of chance, such as a dice. Since Cantor, we cannot claim to any logical or mathematical necessity, thus any a priori necessity (p107). Being and chance foreground a dice’s totality as a calculative enclosure of the number of the possible (p.108).

The contingent, is thus, something that finally happens. Events which are incalculable and unpredictable continue to be mathematical over the artistic, poetic or religious (p.108). Wittgenstein was interested in finding out how it is possible (and how it is still possible that you, the questioner being proof of it) to be perplexed by such ‘pseudo-problems’ of metaphysics. Contemptuous belief in the insolvability of metaphysical questions is merely the consequence of the continuing belief in the principle of reason.

The factical stance abandons the dissolvent approach to metaphysics as a procedure that has itself become obsolete (p.109). It is not that there is no longer a problem, it is that there is no longer a reason. If the absolute is contingent it is because of our facticity that we must note the super immensity of the chaotic virtual that allows the imperceivable stability of the visual world (p.111). Thus statements about the world which are ancestral (dia-chronic), how are these meaningful regardless of their inter-subjective testable correctness? Dia-chronic statements express the very essence of modern science, These can be integrated into knowledge as opposed to myth. Science’s dia-chronic statements assume that the question of the witness has become irrelevant to knowledge of the event (p.116). Thus what is mathematizable cannot be reduced to a correlate of thought (p.117).

Kant’s Copernican revolution was based on his discovery that knowledge doesn’t conform to objects: objects conform to knowledge. Since 1781 (year of Kant’s 1st critique) philosophical Ptolemaism (the earth is the fixed centre of the universe around which the sun and the other planets revolve) harbours the deeper meaning of scientific Copernicanism. Scientific realism is thus ‘naïve’ or ‘natural’, a derivative of the primordial relation to the world that falls to the philosopher to uncover (p.119). For Kant, the man of science becomes the ‘piston of knowledge’ rather than the metaphysician. Science alone gives theoretical knowledge of nature, speculative metaphysics can no longer reason its knowledge of higher reality (cosmos, God, or souls). With this, philosophy lost sight of science’s revolutionary aspect to thought: speculation. Philosophy continues to narrow the correlation to being-in-the-world (facticity) or epochal Being, or a linguistic community: this is so the philosopher can be master of his brand of knowledge (p.121).

The de-absolutizing implications of renouncing the absolute and metaphysics are threefold: Descartes ratifies the idea that nature is devoid of thought (life = thought). Thought can think de-subjectivized nature through mathematics. This destroys a priori knowledge (metaphysics) of physics. Hume demonstrated the fallaciousness of all metaphysical forms of rationality. Which led Kant to turn correlational knowledge into only philosophically legitimate forms of knowledge. After this philosophy’s task consists in re-absolutizing the scope of mathematics – thereby remaining, contrary to correlationism, faithful to thought’s Copernican de-centring – bit without lapsing back into any sort of metaphysical necessity which has indeed become obsolete (p.126). This leads QM to two types of absolutizing: ontical: possible entities can be thought indifferent to thought, and ontological: the Cantorian non-all accounts for the structure of the possible as such (the possible as such is necessarily un-totalizable). QM ends his thesis by stating: ‘If Hume’s problem woke Kant from his dogmatic slumber, we can only hope that the problem of ancestrality succeeds in waking us from our correlationist slumber, by enjoining us to reconcile thought and absolute’ (p.128).

Cars, morality and Latour

October 15, 2009

kill your speedSimple question: What is a human life worth?

Answer: Around 3000 people die every year on UK roads. Therefore, the mortality of 3000 people is worth an expansive road network and unlimited card usage nationwide. This may seem like a vulgar calculation, but it is a principle of the collective. Thus the ‘golden rule’ seems to be forsaken in the name of automobile use.

Bruno Latour discusses this phenomenon in his ‘Politics of Nature’:

Eight thousand people die each year from automobile accidents in France: no way was found to keep them as full-fledged-and thus living!-members of the collective. In the hierarchy that was set up, the speed of automobiles and the flood of alcohol was preferable to high-way-deaths… No moral principle is superior to the procedure of progressive composition of the common world: for the time being, the rapid use of cars is “worth” much more in France than eight thousand innocent lives each year.

Object-oriented Botany

October 12, 2009

Plants can see. They can count and communicate with one another. They are able to react to the slightest touch and to estimate time with extraordinary precision’…’A shoot kept in the dark will creep towards a single chink of light. The plant can see. Hedgerow flowers facing west at sunset, turn during the night to face east to catch the dawn sun and continue to make such movements even when kept under uniform lighting for says on end. They can estimate time. The Venus flytrap closes when its trigger hair is touched not once but twice. It can count. (‘The Private Life of Plants’ by David Attenborough)


‘Awakenings’ and Disinhibitors: Thoughts on the human-animal distiction

October 1, 2009

image127In his book, ‘The Open’, Georgio Agamben unfogged another area of his intellectual terrain which has cross-pollinating implications to his work on biopower, law and humanity. Through a reading of Baron Jacodb Uexkull, a zoologist who aimed to abandon anthropocentric perspectives of life-sciences and understand the life-world of insects and animals, Agamben seeks to follow and go beyond Heidegger in an attempt at uncovering the unthought between the animal and the human. Like Heidegger, Agamben’s focus is on the notion of ‘world’. By defining ‘world’ we define the human. For Uexkull, a life-world (Umwelt) is the environment-world dictated by ‘carriers of significance’, ‘marks’ or as Heidegger puts it ‘disinhibitors’. These disinhibitors are things of interest. More importantly, they are the only things of interest for an animal or insect. Using this observation as a starting point, this article aims to use the film ‘Awakenings’ and Graham Harman’s object-oriented philosophy to tease out a more appropriate definition of world which is big enough for humans and animals.


In one fascinating investigation of the Ixodes ricinus, which is commonly known as a ‘tick’, Uexkull discovers that a tick responds exclusively to three disinhibitors: 1) the odour of the butyric acid contained in the sweat of all mammals; 2) the correct blood/bodily temperature of 37 degrees; 3) the skin’s typology (if it has blood vessels). If these disinhibitors are never encountered, the tick will lie dormant, in a ‘period of waiting’. Once the criteria has been met, the tick acts indiscriminately on any substance or creature defined only by the presentation of these qualities. The animal, Heidegger notes, is fully closed in the circle of its disinhibitors. Beings are not revealed to the animal, but they are not closed off. It is never revealed to itself as being, neither is its environment. How does the animal relate to the world and to being? For Heidegger, the animal never relates to being as being. They are always “suspended.. between itself and its environment” (H in A, 54). “If [animal] behaviour is not a relation to beings, does this mean that it is a relation to the nothing? No!” writes Heidegger, yet “it must be a relation to something, which must itself be?”. By conclusion, animals must be open (offen) but not disconcealled/openable (offenbar). What this means for the animal is that it has something, but does not have a world, it has only disinhibitors.

The problem I see with this is Heidegger’s necessity to keep the human mode of access to being superior via his concept of ‘the open’. It is through ‘the open’ that Heidegger wants to counter the ‘monstrous anthropomorphization of.. the animal and a corresponding animalization of man’ he sees in the work of Nietzsche which is ‘the oblivion of being’ squarely at work (H in A, 58). For Heidegger, it is fundamentally this fleeing from what is uniquely Dasein’s being that equates to nihilism. It is only through ‘the gaze of authentic thought’, Dasein’s being-towards-death whose being is of concern for it, ‘can see the open which names the unconcealdness of being’ (H in A, 58). The whole of Heidegger argument rests on his notion of the open (or the clearing, as it is better known), who has access to the open, who is in the open, which is reserved elusively for Dasein.

It is here that I hear an interjection from Graham Harman: “there is no free transcendent clearing, in human Dasein or elsewhere” (Tool-being, p. 288). The possibilities-to-be that are presented to Dasein by it’s openness to being are not purely futural, as Heidegger states in Being and Time, they are conditions of the actual relations of objects as they unfold as events. But, as Heidegger says, “the animal is excluded from the essential domain of the conflict between unconcealdness and concealedness. The sign of such an exclusion is that no animal or plant “has the word”’ (H in A, p. 58). [For a rejection of this, see my last post HERE] The word does not bring us any closer to being and does not mean Dasein has a world any more or less than an animal. To make his point, Heidegger refers to the experience of profound boredom as something unique to Dasein which proves that Dasein has a entirely different relation to the as-structure of being than animals. Profound boredom is the feeling of being ‘abandoned in emptiness’ to objects that ‘have nothing to offer us’. They have nothing: no-thing; no specific being that seeks to captivate us. There are no disinhibitors which can engage us in a task or project, nothing to be taken with, there is no captivation, yet we are held to it. If I wait in a super market queue I become bored because I am not captivated by anything, my range of disinhibitors doesn’t include the glossy magazine full of useful calorie counting tips that stares at me from the display which includes tooth rotting temptations and a range of insurance products. In this nothingness, I am handed over to a proximity to being equiprimordial to the captivation of animals towards abstract disinhibitors.

In the film ‘Awakenings’ Malcolm Sayer , the doctor played by Robin Williams, brings a set of catatonic patience ‘back to life’ through the administration of a new drug called ‘L-DOPA’. There are many wonderful themes throughout this film that I won’t cover here (I might write a post about it), but for our purposes it is enough to look at how the film (and I’m sure, a lot of actual medical case history to go with it) gives credibility to Harman’s object-oriented philosophy (OOP) against Heidegger using Heidegger’s own notion of disinhibitors. Such is the simplicity and power of the film ‘Awakenings’ it was quite clear how these issues overlap. The patients in the film do not respond by themselves but require a push start or some kind of sensual provocation. Although there are many examples, the clearest example I like the most is when Lucy (played by Alice Drummond) tries to walk over to the water fountain but stops. Dr Sayer believes he understands the problem based upon his ‘borrowing of will’ theory. Lucy stops before she reaches the window because her field of vision is broken. The chequered pattern of black and white squares under her feet come to an end. There is nothing to ‘will’ her onwards. Dr Sayer and nurse Eleanor colour the floor to match the chequered pattern. When they watch Lucy this time, she doesn’t stop at the edge but continues forward but not to the water fountain as Dr Sayer thought, but to a fan. The floor acts as a visual disinhibitor, in the same way my boredom in the supermarket is only broken by my turn at the checkout.



The difference between me and Lucy is that the disinhibitors have been reduced for Lucy. Although I may suffer profound boredom at the supermarket, the number of disinhibitors are still greater than Lucy’s although my orientation towards beings is one of ‘inactive possibilization’, the refusal and indifference towards beings as being something in particular. Scientifically, boredom is said to be related to a lack of dopamine in the brain. Dopamine is formed by the decarboxylation of L-DOPA (according to Wikipedia). The massive doses of L-DOPA administered to the patients in the film were enough to create enough dopamine to expand their range of disinhibitors. I would like to define disinhibitors as ‘paths of abstraction’. For instance, I look at the lamp in front of me. I intend the lamp. Before it was there it was not there. Silent and invisible yet being. I knew it was there but I haven’t thought about it since I last turned it off, about 12 hours ago. What do I think of when looking the lamp: 1) it is something 2) It’s a lamp 3) it’s a pink lamp 4) it head droops down like a wilted flower. I could go on, but I won’t. My first line of abstraction was the ‘isness’ of the lamp, my next line of abstraction was its species identification as a lamp. Next was the abstraction of an identified colour relation. And finally, a metaphorical abstraction. Notice that even the first indicator, ‘isness’, is an abstraction. One way of looking at the difference between human beings and animals is down to the control of disinhibitors. I see human disinhibitors in a spectrum. The activation and deactivation of disinhibitors is caused by any number of environmental stimulae (i.e. a change in object-object relations) which form and break ‘lines of abstraction’ within sets of object assemblages.

As Harman explains, “abstraction is not a feature of the human mind, but of any relation whatsoever, since two events are so utterly concrete that they make contact at all only at the price of abstracting from one another, dealing with a small portion of each other rather than the totality” (Prince of Networks, p. 55). I abstract the world by a different set of disinhibitors than Lucy, just as a tick abstracts the world by a limited number of disinhibitors which given the correct conditions are activated without discrimination. For a tick, these disinhibitors are easily identifiable through testing those conditions to gage a response. I disagree with Heidegger on the ontological implications of my refusal of beings during profound boredom, as he states “the refusal is a calling, it is that which makes authentically possible the Dasein in me” (H in A, p. 67). For Lucy, the refusal of being is the absence of any disinhibitor, the ultimate disinhibitor being dopamine, which brings with it a whole set of new disinhibitors.

The tick examined by Uexkull was kept alive for eighteen years without nourishment, in absolute isolation from its environment. He concludes that ‘without a living subject, time cannot exist’, the world of the tick lies in suspension. For the catatonic patients of the hospital a similar fate has befallen them. When they wake from their catatonia, time has not mentally passed. Their mental disinhibitors that allow for self-reflexivity were not activated. They awoke to a new world which mixed two new sets of disinhibitors: their psychophysical condition and the concrete world of actual relations. The difference between their condition and that of the tick in isolation can now be explained. The tick’s body is not engaged enough in a world of relations to cause tissue degeneration. For the patents, their bodies are still heavily engaged in relations with the environment, hence the effects of ageing are more than apparent. The psychophysical body cannot avoid the environmental abstractions between itself and its world. In profound boredom we find the experience that link the catatonic patients to the isolated tick and to my experience in a supermarket. Thus the difference between human Dasein and animals is not an ontological difference but a difference in the ‘lines of abstraction’ which disinhibits reactions under actual conditions of any object’s thrown facticity.

NB – ‘H in A’ means: Heidegger quotes from Agamben’s ‘The Open’