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<nettime> What's Left: The Crisis of Philosophy and Thought in the World
Alan Sondheim on Sun, 29 Apr 2012 22:14:36 +0200 (CEST)


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<nettime> What's Left: The Crisis of Philosophy and Thought in the World


What's Left: The Crisis of Philosophy and Thought in the World


(I've been thinking along these lines for quite a while now, skittering
from one article or book of physics/cosmology to another. Now a similar
debate is occurring, from Scientific American to the New York Times and
across the Net. The issue isn't basically the issue of the role of
philosophy - it's one of our own, human, disorganization as the universe
appears increasingly alien and unknowable. Do we release ourselves from
knowledge and its attendant dream of totalization, or do we proceed with
the development of grander, perhaps simpler, models which "fit" more and
more awkwardly with the results coming in from theory and experimentation?
My own work has always tended towards concepts of fundamental or
background material, however weak such material might be; now, it tends
towards a releasing that's somewhat similar to the creation of a bunker or
village.)

It's a wonder we're organized at all, that there are cultural restraints,
that one can function in this world - such a miniscule part of the multi-
verse in the midst of inconceivable catastrophic forces that just happen
to avoid the planet, disrupt the solar system.

Given the multiverse and an eternity of consequences, the one remaining
goal of philosophy is to consider the relationship of this inconceivable
to human consciousness - the relationship of increasingly complex theories
as well, to a comprehension of one's place in the cosmos.

Everything else has been prepared for and the fundamental structures of
logic, equivalence and identity for examples - as well as the fundamental
structures of mathematics in general - point towards a platonism that goes
hand in hand with the physics of the world and its interpretation.

There is no role for doubt in this as well as no room for belief. The
haecceity of the world is its demonstration; it remains mute, obdurate.
What can be said is the entanglement of philosophy with haecceity which
veers from cognitive science to a traditional phenomenology of the senses.
On the other hand, it's impossible to draw first principles from this, and
philosophy remains a mode of description, not explanation, or perhaps
explanation by fiat, by circumlocution in the literal sense.

All of this is also the condition of anxiety; whatever moorings one might
desire disappear in the digital shifting of analysis and culture. In other
words, the appearance of the multiverse is founded on enormous holarchies
of data reaching far beyond our ability to comprehend directly; we rely on
interpretations of inferences that allow us to filter the inconceivably
high input we would require for absorption of the raw. In this sense,
there's an uncanny parallel with looking on the face of a god which
necessarily remains ineffable: Everything that exists, everything that
occurs, does so, for us, only on the basis of interpretation.

I would argue platonically that any logic would unfold the same in any
universe, that this is a characteristic of mathematical ontology that
remains identical from one conceivable unfolding to another. One might
construct, read, and interpret syllogisms variously; the tetherings are
radically different for differing systems, but the tetherings themselves
are dictionaries, acts of interpretation, within which tautologies and
equivalences rule. The Whorfian hypothesis and its descendents doesn't
hold for mathematics, but only for mathematical cultures; someone working
in base twelve will have a different sense of the divisions of the day,
for example, than someone working in base ten. We have to let it go at
that.

Further, mathematical ontology is not dynamic: It is the background of
dynamics, which operates through radical transformations that must be
coherent anywhere on a fundamental level. Chaos and noise are coherent in
this sense, as is randomness. Think of mathematics as the indeterminate
scaffolding of the multiverse; think of physics and cosmology as "that"
scaffolding that fits.

So the crisis of philosophy might be this: That there is nothing to be
considered or done that is not part of the human, part and parcel of human
culture. Fundamental truths are relegated as they always have been, to
physics and cosmology; the rest is narrative and the fear of death and
abjection. The rest is human affairs. What is human and human culture is
founded on unsteady and dynamic principles, as well as cybernetic and
prosthetic ones; it's here that philosophy operates - for example within
the realms of inscription, psychoanalytics, marxisms, deconstructions,
multiculturalisms, etc. So we're talking about philosophy as part and
parcel of the humanities, adjunct to the world, contingent. We're talking
about it as a moral guide, and as guidebook to the phenomenology of our
imaginary of our place in the cosmos.

The manifesto appears in this, for example in Wittgenstein's Tractatus, as
the last gasp of setting the world aright, bridging human and non-human,
mysticism and atomic statements, logic and philosophy of language. At the
end what is unspeakable isn't consigned to silence (think of silence as a
zero-order language with full redundancy), but to the complex equations
of mathematical physics for example (think of equations as a multi-ordered
language with zero redundancy). On a basic level we might even write,
uselessly and philosophically:

[     ] ---> [1 + 1 = 2]

or some such: The fundamental silence of philosophy is superseded by any
non-redundant mathematical equation (which clearly, at least here, may
nonetheless be tautological). (And to get "something out of nothing" in
fact applies metaphorically to the expression as well, in which case
"--->" implies that the former leads to mathesis, quantum field theory,
and the like.)

There is no agreed-upon model of the universe or multiverse, no consensus
for particle physics or the physics of space-time near the Planck-lengths.
And we can agree this is a problem for physics and cosmology. What we are
given, as lay-level consumers, are a confluence of static and dynamic
images, each of which has different implications for our appetition of the
world. Each implies a different worlding, a different grouping of intro-
jections and projections. As consumers on a popular level of high-level
theoretical work, we look after our consciousness, our positioning in the
cosmos. And we find ourselves in a continuous negotiation with the real,
which means a continuous remodeling of our imagining and imaging the
world. This remodeling takes its toll on consciousness as well; we live an
existence of fundamental weakness, chaotic adjustments of a popularized
theoretical "heap" - provided we care about these issues at all. In this
sense, one might say that the universe constructs a state of anxiety for
its inhabitants, as model after model takes center stage and falls by the
wayside. Could we not conceive, after all, of a cosmos without a steady
model, whose physics are constantly undergoing differentiation as far as
analysis goes? Whose physics are always tolerance-based, always incom-
plete, in somewhat the same way that multiverses might be fundamentally
out of contact with each other? Badiou's truth is not mine; it's always
already someone else's, always already radically disappearing into a
chaotic past. This is true for all of us; philosophy attempts a
retardation of the physical world, as if the dynamics of theory stops in
the form of an image for contemplation. And whatever truth is, there is
nothing farther from the truth.

ii

After all the theologies and religious beliefs in the world, is anything
this simple? Is it necessary to go farther than this? Phenomenologically
one might consign cosmological theory to the chaotic domain, which is
capable of interpretation on a graphical level - a level, however, that
says nothing about the world, not even its shape in any conceivable sense.
Religion then provides the coordinates; at one point these included the
Origin, capitalized and under capital. Somewhere Weyl said that the
Cartesian ego was all that remained of the ego; it's also all that's left
of a positioning which of course slides out from under us. I think of
religion in a sense of set theory - beginning with simple principles, sets
turn out to have inordinately complex structures. And theological-theor-
etical constructs are, of course, inherently more complex right from the
beginning - think of Tibetan deities, Christian scholasticism, etc. These
are also weak, in the sense that these edifices dissolve if belief
dissolves. There is always a kernel of willing suspension. Likewise, for
believers the edifices are strong, inviolate, in the sense that edifices
are constructed through belief. (Think of the Pirke Avot's injunction to
"Put a hedge around the Torah.") However beliefs lead anywhere their
content takes them (anywhere they take their content, in paths of logical
and illogical consequences), even though the basic psychological and
molecular mechanisms underlying them might be the same. Beliefs build in a
sense on surplus and psychic necessity. Internally they appear as vision
and necessity; externally they are similar in their neurophysiology. All
of this goes round and round, operates as if cosmology itself is a priori
circumscribed by another set of principles. There is no point to this,
except for the solace it supplies. Again, the cracks of thought itself, of
the philosophical, the religious - to the extent that philosophy and
religion dominate, creating their own internal imaginary of transcendence
- appear with an increased urgency and sense of violence - as if violence
were a guarantee of the truth, or meditation a guarantee, or any other
hardening of and within practice and its austerity. Here, field of
cosmology itself is at its weakness; it is always uncertain, always in
dialog with experimentation, always capable of falsification on a still
finer tolerance level. But that is the nature of the dynamics of the
practice of cosmology - NOT the dynamics of the cosmos, or cosmos to the
infinite degree, something inconceivable to contemplate, without the
intervention of symbolic systems, and a/the philosophy of contemplation.

(The "grand title" of this piece - "What's Left: The Crisis of Philosophy
and Thought in the World" - implies a crisis for our time as belief both
hardens and is cast aside. We live within a jitters of thought, because we
live within and beyond our inheritance of traditional backgrounding and
structuring of discourse. To think this is to begin to think otherwise,
but to do so is also to be stopped in our tracks: What if, for example,
our very notions of existence are challenged by a mathesis far beyond our
comprehension? What if fundamental ontologies are dissolving in the wake
of a theorized holographic universe, whose equations are translated and
retranslated to the metaphor of everyday holography? Beginning to think
otherwise means abandoning the metaphor, which always contains a kernel of
belief; it means absorbing the unknowable without transforming it into
another spiritual or philosophical discourse. I believe (that word!) that
this holds for cosmologists as well; the unknowable is always with us, and
it's not simply an unknowable of the cosmological horizon, but one that
would apply to any description at any time within the cosmos. Hence the
jitters: We can no longer proclaim, and what we say is always "just about"
under erasure. This foregrounds death, and a wall for each of us at the
end of speculation. How to live with death is another story, a local one,
that might be found at the heart of the humanities. Of course we all know
that the grand philosophical narratives - that the Grand Narrative - is
gone; we just haven't realized how deep the erasure goes.)


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