Monthly Archives: December 2009

Holiday Hiatus

I just wanted to say that I have been taking a break from blogging over my winter break and it is unlikely that I will post anything substantial until I return to Baton Rouge and resume my studies for the spring. I hope all my readers are likewise enjoying the holiday season.


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Deflating Consciousness

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heidegger, n. A ponderous device for boring through thick layers of substance. "It's buried so deep we'll have to use a heidegger." Also useful for burying one's own past.

Other favorites from the ever funny Philosophical Lexicon:

assearltion, n. A speech act whose illocutionary force is identical with the speaker. “He assearled himself across the room.”

deleuzion, n. A false, persistent philosophical belief, unsubstantiated by evidence or argument. “He suffered from the deleuzion that Spinoza could be used to clarify Lacanian psychoanalysis.”

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An Essay On Badiou and Generic Subjectivity, pt I

For this series of posts, I thought I would post in several installations  a paper I wrote for a Badiou seminar I took this semester with John Protevi. Reading Being and Event was a real eye-opener for me. The depth and profundity of Badiou’s philosophy stunned me out of a dogmatic slumber. Prior to reading Being and Event, I had no appreciation for any ontology that wasn’t Heideggerian i.e. phenomenological in nature. The power of Badiou’s subtractive ontology is like a virus, infecting your mind.I think the exegetical style of the paper will be conducive for the blog format as I really didn’t attempt to do anything fancy with the text. I hope that people who are unfamiliar with Badiou’s work will give him a chance; I recommend starting with his Manifesto for Philosophy and then working your way up to Being and Event. Moreover, Peter Hallward’s book on Badiou was really helpful this semester; I highly recommend it. Anyway, I hope my readers will get something out of this, even if it is just an appreciation for an exotic style of thinking.


Operation of the Count

Badiou’s project in Being and Event starts with the fundamental decision that math is ontology. Moreover, math is thought in terms of the axiomatic set theory of Zermelo and Frankl. From within such a system, Badiou makes his central claim that the multiple is and the one is not. From this assertion, everything follows. Moreover, presentation – experience as such – is always the presentation of multiples, which are multiples of multiples, and so on ad infinitum. On the basis of this decision we can retroactively conclude that any “oneness” or unity in experience (such as seeing “a” coffee mug on the table) must always be the result of an operation. Badiou names this process the “count-as-one” operation. And because oneness is ruled to be a mere result in virtue of a metaontological decision, multiplicity is retroactively inferred to be that which is counted, the “stuff” structured in accordance with the counting operation. Moreover, what gets counted is inconsistent multiplicity and the result of the count upon this “material” of inconsistency is consistent multiplicity. A general motif for Badiou is order being counted out of the chaos and anonymity of the void. Accordingly, presentation is always structured in terms of this ordered consistency in virtue of the count. For Badiou, a structured presentation is a situation; presented multiplicity, by definition, is a situation.

However, it must be made clear that, strictly speaking, we cannot ontologically claim that what is counted (being itself) really is multiple because “being is neither one (because only presentation itself is pertinent to the count-as-one), nor multiple (because the multiple is solely the regime of the presentation)” (BE 24). It is only upon the logical realization that oneness is the result of an experiential operation that we are able to conclude multiplicity is prior to the count. Indeed, “The multiple is retroactively legible therein as anterior to the one, insofar as the count-as-one is always a result” (ibid.). Thus, we see that for Badiou, presentation (experience) is always structured; we never experience pure inconsistency except ontologically, that is, mathematically. Within the ontological discourse of being qua being, presentation itself is presented, and subsequently, counted-as-one. This count-of-the-count is the state of the situation, or metastructure. Accordingly, since ontology (presentation of presentation) is structured by the count, it itself is a situation. Nothing (literally) escapes the count-as-one operation.

Moreover, Badiou says that the connection between structured presentation (the resulting situation after the count) and the inconsistent multiplicity (“pure being”) is the void. “The void of a situation is the suture to its being [inconsistent multiplicity]” (BE 526). Consequently, the void is that which can be presented of the inconsistent multiplicity, which, it turns out, is literally nothing (since any “thingness” would be the result of the counting operation). The void is subtracted from the count in the sense that it is the “Non-one of any count-as-one” (ibid.). Although the void is not presented within the situation, it can nevertheless be presented (asserted) within ontological discourse as what avoids, or is subtracted from, the count, designated (marked) as “Ø”. Indeed, besides his declaration that the one is not, the Axiom of the Void is the only existential assertion Badiou infers from axiomatic set theory. From this null set, we can build everything. But because ontological discourse only applies to presented multiplicity, and presented multiplicity is always the result of a counting operation, we literally have nothing to say about that-which-is-presented (retroactively designated as pure multiplicity). Pure being (multiplicity) is thus based on nothing (the void) and our only recourse is to present this situation formally through ontological discourse i.e. formally present presentation itself.

Metaontologically speaking, it is important to see the extent to which presentation as experience plays a role in Badiou’s thinking. Indeed, he says “If the word ‘experience’ has any meaning, it is that of designating presentation as such” (BE 391). And because all presentation is presented multiplicity, and presented multiplicity is consistent (i.e. under the regime of the count), we can conclude that all experience as such falls under the counting operation. The pure infinite multiplicity of the world is always counted as multiplicity, that is, in terms of a structure or situation. Moreover, the count-as-one generates one-effects or “oneness” at all levels of human experience. Even within mathematical (ontological) discourse, where presentation itself is analyzed and broken down into its most abstract structure through set theoretic formulation, the structure of the count is continuously operative at multiple levels. Indeed, “given a situation whose structure delivers consistent one-multiples, there is always a metastructure – the state of the situation – which counts as one any composition of these consistent multiplicities” (BE 97). All situations are thus doubly structured according to the count. Moreover, as Badiou reminds us, it can be mathematically proven that the state of the situation is immeasurably larger than the situation. Technically speaking, the cardinality for the infinite set of the continuum of real numbers is immeasurably in excess of the first cardinality for the infinite set of integers (aleph-null). This idea of excess will be important when we introduce the second key term of Being and Event, for in the same way, the difference between being (in a situation) and the event is “errant and unassignable”.
That all situations are structured is especially important given our above discussion of the void. Because the void is the name of inconsistency in a situation and the count-as-one is always operative, we can never “get” at, or present, the void itself, only its mark Ø. That is, if we metaontologically examine the structure of presentation in its most abstract form in search of the foundational void, we will reach the structure itself, that is, the count-as-one operation, not the void. However, “In order for the void to be prohibited from presentation, it is necessary that structure be structured, that the ‘there is Oneness’ be valid for the count-as-one.” In other words, if we were to attempt a subtraction of the structure itself from the count in order to reach the void, by virtue of the count-as-one and the prohibition of the void’s presentation, the structure must in turn be counted-as-one. And if there is “Oneness” for the count-as-one, then we know that our access to the count is merely a result of an operation. Thus, the count itself escapes the count (BE 93). “The consistency of presentation thus requires that all structure be doubled by a metastructure which secures the former against any fixation of the void” (BE 94). Again, we can be assured that nothing escapes the count, otherwise, the void would contradict itself by being presented.

At this stage in our investigation, it would be natural to think that Badiou’s notion of the counting operation presupposes some sort of cognitive scaffolding wherein we understand presentation (experience) in terms of an organization of empirically given sense-data into a structured unity. After all, as we have seen above, Badiou does conceive of presentation in terms of an operation in which pure inconsistent multiplicity is organized, or “counted”, in terms of consistent multiplicity such that a structured situation results. Conceiving the counting operation in terms of classic sense-data theories would bring Badiou in line with a long history of philosophical reasoning wherein the subjectivity of experience is conceptualized in terms of an organization of raw sensory givens into a meaningful structure viewable by the mind’s eye in a theater of consciousness. This idea follows naturally from the Kantian notion of a transcendental function that synthesizes raw empirical input into a phenomenal realm constitutive of subjective experience.

However, if we were to conclude that Badiou falls into this traditional conception of subjectivity, and is subsequently open to the well known weaknesses of such theorization, we would be sorely mistaken. Indeed, Badiou is quite clear that his conception of subject “is not, in any manner, the organization of a sense of experience. It is not a transcendental function” (BE 391). The task of the next section then will be to explore the extent to which we can make sense of the count-as-one as an operation, which, nevertheless does not presuppose a cognitive scaffold of sensory organization or transcendental synthesis. The guiding question will be: how can we conceive of the subject without recourse to traditional conceptions of subjectivity? That is, how can we make sense of Badiou’s notion of subjectivity in terms that do not presuppose an interiority of consciousness wherein the external world is given to a subjective mind?

To be continued…

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On the Origin of Religious Phenomena

1.As the deer pants for streams of water,
so my soul pants for you, O God.
2 My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.
When can I go and meet with God?

3 My tears have been my food
day and night,
while men say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

4 These things I remember
as I pour out my soul:
how I used to go with the multitude,
leading the procession to the house of God,
with shouts of joy and thanksgiving
among the festive throng.

5 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?

Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and 6 my God.
My soul is downcast within me;
therefore I will remember you
from the land of the Jordan,
the heights of Hermon—from Mount Mizar.

7 Deep calls to deep
in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me.

8 By day the LORD directs his love,
at night his song is with me—
a prayer to the God of my life.

9 I say to God my Rock,
Why have you forgotten me?
Why must I go about mourning,
oppressed by the enemy?”

10 My bones suffer mortal agony
as my foes taunt me,
saying to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”

11 Why are you downcast, O my soul?
Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God,
for I will yet praise him,
my Savior and my God.

-Psalm 42

Julian Jaynes offers a beautiful framework in which to think these verses. He says that the entire Bible can be read in terms of the bicameral mind and its breakdown upon the development of large scale civilization. The bicameral mind is a hypothesized mentality of ancient humans that is based on a neural control mechanism initiated in the right hemispherical equivalent to the language centers in the left side of the brain. In this way, a hallucinated personality matrix called a “god” analyzed situations in times of great stress, made a decision for action, and then relayed this command to the left side of the brain in terms of an auditory hallucination, which then interpreted the order and carried it out automatically. In such a schema, it was not the men who controlled their lives, but rather, the gods.

The story of Genesis captures the original relationship between God and man. There were no boundaries between man and his God and the ego could not get in the way of divine command. Adam spoke freely with God and was directly linked through a neural hookup to the patriarchal wisdom of His roaring voice. But as civilization developed, so did consciousness. After eating from the Tree of Knowledge, humans gained self-consciousness. We saw our mortality and nakedness exposed before the harsh light of frontal lobe calculation. After this development in psychological maturity, our direct line to the gods vanished and we come to the situation of the Psalmist above: forsaken by God, yearning for his voice to manifest directly, waiting for His command.

In the early books of the Old Testament, the prophets could still tune into God, hear His voice, and relay commands as if in a hypnotic trance, akin to the early Aiodoi who tapped into the Muses’ inspiration from above. For Amos then, the hallucination of God still thundered in his mind:

“The LORD roars from Zion
and thunders from Jerusalem;
the pastures of the shepherds dry up,
and the top of Carmel withers.”

But over time, these divine experiences lessened in frequency and intensity. We as a species no longer directly heard our commands from the gods. The skys were empty and the gods had retreated into the heavens. Prayers and divination rituals were invented. Oracles such as the one at Delphi became our last contact with the gods until they too were unable to call forth divine hallucinations.

Seen in this light, is not the Bible a wonderful metaphor for humanity’s contact with the divine? In the beginning of history, it were the gods who ruled, who commanded pyramids and temples to be built, who commanded sacrifices and rituals in their honor. But as time went on, as self-consciousness and introspection developed in functional power, the need for divine control lessoned and it was only the religious middlemen who claimed to hear God’s voice. And of course, there are still people today, namely schizophrenics, who are still able to hear His voice. But we do not listen to these people anymore. If you hallucinate God’s voice, you are no longer seen as a special communication tool, but rather, as insane. The lack of historical consciousness in the face of hallucinatory phenomena is disheartening as we label voice hearers as “crazy”. They are not crazy; only born in the wrong century.


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Jan Sleutels and Greek Zombies

Link to part 1/3

Link to part 2/3

Link to part 3/3

Interesting lecture discussing Jaynesian theory and the possibility of “fringe minds”.

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Self-promotion: What Is It Like To Be Unconscious?

Since I’ve been shamelessly posting my latest paper around the internet trying to gather critical commentary, I figured I would make a solicitation on my blog as well. I am really excited about this article. I definitely think it’s my tightest and most analytic paper written to date, but it also encompasses a deeply Heideggerian perspective coupled with Gibsonian ecological theory and Clarksian cognitive scaffolding. The central idea is that Julian Jaynes was the most radically Heideggerian thinker of the 20th century, arguing, with both philosophical and empirical evidence, that Cartesian forms of self-consciousness are not necessary in the everyday coping of pragmatic habitual behavior. As Heidegger says, the constitution of human Dasein’s basic perceptual disclosure always remains “outside”. In other words, the internal representational space of Cartesian theories of mind  is a philosopher’s fiction.

Or is it?Despite his withering critique of Cartesian philosophy of mind, Heidegger admits that there is a sense in which the Cartesian mind-space is real, but not in terms of  being a mental container for the representational bits of sensory qualia as Cartesian psychology would have it. In my favorite section of Being and Time (Care and Selfhood), Heidegger calls Cartesian-Kantian mindedness  the I-structure or Ichheit. While Heidegger admits the phenomenological reality of this executive operation, the difference with Descartes and Kant lies in that Heidegger does not assume the I is constantly present-at-hand and ontologically foundational for perceptual disclosure. Instead, selves and their operations are rare, fleeting, but real. The human Dasein is always oscillating between the unconscious coping habits of the They-self and the self-identical authenticity of Ichheit i.e Cartesian mind-space and Kantian I-hood. By removing I-hood from the ontological foundation however, we can account for organic behavior without recourse to representational internalism, which assumes the constantly present Mind’s Eye (a mere cultural construction) to view the “tunnel” of reality constructed by the sub-personal perceptual routines. Instead, “the Dasein that knows remains outside as Dasein“.

Anyway, here is the introductory paragraph for my paper. Enjoy, and please feel free to leave critical commentary.

In this paper I want to respond to Ned Block’s claim that it is simply “ridiculous” to suppose that consciousness is a cultural construction. In so doing, I will argue that a distinction can be made between what-it’s-like to be a nonhuman animal and the phenomenality of average, adult humans. In accordance with this distinction, I will argue that Block is wrong to dismiss social constructivist theories of consciousness on account of it being simply “ludicrous” that first-person experience is anything but a basic biological feature of our animal heritage, characterized by sensory experience, having slowly evolved over millions of years. By defending social constructivism, I will claim that a distinction can be made between the basic biological experience of nonhuman animals and the consciousness that constitutes the experience of an average human adult. In other words, there is more to phenomenal consciousness than brute, biological perception of the world. Following Julian Jaynes, I will argue that to be in a conscious mental state means more than just to experience the way things look, smell, or feel. To experience the world consciously means to experience it (and yourself) in terms of certain conceptual filters. It will be the task of this paper to work out what these filters amount to and to argue that it is only in light of these filters that human experience should be considered “conscious”. In so doing, I will address the plausibility of unconscious human cultures and conclude, contra Block, that such “cultural zombies” are entirely plausible based on known psychological facts. Essentially, such zombies would have a what-it’s-like while nonetheless lacking consciousness proper. Demonstrating this will amount to answering the question, “What is it like to be unconscious?” By doing so, I will give a Jaynesian answer to the question, “What is it like to be conscious?”

Click here for paper: What Is It Like To Be Unconscious?


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The Strength of Science

hat tip: reddit/r/atheism

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