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Re: <nettime> Technological Construction of Society
Newmedia on Fri, 29 Mar 2013 18:06:09 +0100 (CET)


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Re: <nettime> Technological Construction of Society


Brian:
 
> Mark, the simple answer to your question 
> is that causality is bunk.  Every human event 
> is the singular outcome of a confluence of multiple
>  substances, forces and possibilities.
 
Thanks!  Now we are getting somewhere -- but where?
 
I presume that when you say that "causality is bunk" you mean that the  
typical cause-and-effect "logic" we have all been taught is seriously  
inadequate, if not "simply" wrong.
 
I couldn't *agree* more!
 
So, a "confluence of multiple substances, forces and possibilities" should  
replace the "reduced" appraoch to causality in your view.
 
I couldn't *agree* more!
 
And now we have to decide if this "multiplicity" can be *understood* in  
some sense, right?  (Or, maybe not?)
 
Aristotle thought that it could.  He famously categorized *causes* as  
being FOUR-FOLD -- material, final, efficient and formal.
 
_http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_causes_ 
(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Four_causes) 
 
For something like 2000+ years, this approach to *multiple*  causes -- with 
various interpretations -- was dominant in Western  philosophy.
 
But, as best I can tell, sometime in the "Enlightenment" our notions of  
causality started to be restricted and ultimately only the *efficient* sort of 
 causality remained (at least for public consumption, which is important, 
since  this shift was accompanied by the development of the 
"exoteric/esoteric"  spilt).
 
This restricted approach -- sometimes called "reductionist" or  
"positivist" -- has, of course, also been under attack by a series of efforts,  of 
which Spinoza is a popular example.
 
As you know, a common critique of Spinoza is that he was a "pan-theist,"  
or, in the context of this conversation, perhaps a "pan-causalist."
 
His approach is, among other things, popular with some *psychedelic*  
"post-moderns" -- including one who I first met at a nettime event!  It  appears 
that causality is experienced differently when in an "altered-state."  <g>
 
The most common expression of this "pan-causalist" sensibility today  is 
probably associated with "complexity" and in particular with the notion of  
"emergence."
 
Emergence has become a popular enough notion that it supports an entire  
curriculum known as BIG HISTORY (funded by Bill Gates etc), which purports to  
teach high-schoolers that there is a common "explanation" for everything 
from  the "Big Bang" to riots in Tahrir Square.
 
In Aristotelean terms, *emergence* is understood as a property of matter  
itself, sometimes described as a "loophole" in the 2nd Law of Thermodynamics, 
by  which the constituents of the universe "self-organize."  This is, if 
you  will, a re-appearance of MATERIAL cause.
 
The fact that you began your list with "substances" would imply that you  
are also interested in *material* causality -- if not actually in 
"emergence,"  as it is commonly used.
 
Your "forces" comment tends to imply EFFICIENT cause and "possibilities"  
might imply FINAL or even FORMAL cause.
 
Bravo!  You have (perhaps without knowing it) opened up the  conversation 
about the multiple sources of causality!
 
Mark Stahlman
Brooklyn NY
 
P.S. The sort of "technological" causality that I favor is what is  
sometimes called "ecological" or "environmental" cause.  It is an attempt  to take 
into account "structures" and derives from a renewed attention to FORMAL  
cause.  My sense is the folks who began promoting SCOT in the 1970s were  
thumping for their own particular notion of structure (i.e. "society") against  
other notions of structure "(i.e. "technological environment") and that all 
this  belongs in an account of the developments in 
*structuralism/post-structuralism*  and the peculiarities of academia in that time period.  My guess 
is that  most people have forgotten how/why this happened (such as the 
impact of the  Vietnam War on social science) and that it is now time to 
reconsider our  "religion" on the topic of *multiplicity* of causality.
 
P.P.S.  The only sort of Aristotelean cause that *requires* HUMANS is  
*formal* (or "structural/environmental") cause.  You seem to have  been careful 
to qualify your statement with "human events," which implies  that you are 
distinguishing between the Big Bang and the economy.   Perhaps you are also 
distinguishing between "hard" and "social" science.   Because (don't you love 
that word? Be-Cause! <g>) of the multiplicity of  causes, that would be a 
smart thing to do.  Physics and anthropology don't  deal with the same 
"confluence" of causes.  Perhaps there are some  "dialectical materialists" who 
have read Marx's PhD thesis who would like to  comment on that "matter."


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