Category: Spinoza

Consciousness and Ecology

A persistent set of themes in my research has been the concept of subject/object relations, relativism, and the impossibility of the absolute. These abstract themes are realised again and again in philosophy (cogito ergo sum – I think therefore I am – therefore, what are you?), politics (native vs foreigner), theology (God versus man), technology (nature versus human) and metaphysics (Deluze’s philosopher as ontologist). In dialectics, as recently discussed, enlightenment versus romanticism. In the first instance, if we take Descartes’ cogito, the impossible ‘I’ is the flaw in the argument. Who, or what, is I? It is me, surely, my consciousness, my context within which the thought is occurring. And yet the actual cogito, the thought, can only be realised in relation to the world. Therefore, the only possibility for consciousness is that it must be conscious of something other than itself. Setting aside whether there would be any point in a self-referential consciousness, one that is only conscious of itself, one has to question what the mode of consciousness would be? Descartes’ fundamental concept of consciousness is intended as a metaphor to that which you and I define as consciousness, invariably considered as a kind of awareness of itself, of its existence. When Descartes says ‘consciousness’, I immediately relate that to my consciousness. It is not consciousness of my self; the self is constructed by and beyond consciousness. It is consciousness in and of itself, the base fact of consciousness. Set aside too the mechanisms that allow us as human beings to conceive of the idea of consciousness, which in and of themselves compromise such a pure concept, like the observer effect in quantum mechanics.

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On Trains and Transcendence

Bruno Latour, 1947-2022

The world, then, has lost one of its lights. Bruno Latour has gone. We don’t exactly know where he has gone, though his ideas remain with us. On my journey this weekend to Asia, I had with me, by chance, his We Have Always Been Modern, along with Steven Nadler’s excellent commentary on Spinoza’s Tractatus, each in its own way considering the ethereal soup within which we find ourselves, churning and spinning and scrambling around to try and make sense of it all. In truth I am only at the beginning of Latour’s work, which I was pleased to begin given he had been still alive and working. Perhaps I could write to him. I couldn’t write to Spinoza, or Deleuze – but maybe Latour would answer my questions. Now I just have to find the answers in his work, like with all the others.

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Magic, Miracles and Policy

Ronnie Hawkins, aka the Hawk. A strong believer in miracles, and booster of popular miracle worker Adam Dreamhealer (not his real name).

In an otherwise erudite essay on the deterioration of knowledge due to atrophying web links, Jonathan Zittrain unfortunately chooses to introduce the subject with a reference to Arthur C Clarke’s quote on sufficiently advanced technologies being indistinguishable from magic. The point of course is that magic isn’t real, that it’s just science that we don’t know yet. Clichéd and overused perhaps, but it did trigger the thought about what magic really is, what we mean by it when we say ‘magic’. It’s a contentious thing: do you believe in magic? The cosmopolitan contemporary answer should be ‘why of course not! that’s just a childish diversion!’ Magic tricks are just that: tricks, entertainment, distraction. Yet the question of what it is that we believe has never seemed so pertinent, so immediate as it appears today. The US Government recently released their UFO files, and a good deal of Americans believe in aliens – 29% according to a USA Today poll in 2013, one third in 2019 according to Gallup. What is as interesting is what people do not believe – namely, that the government is telling the truth. 68% of those surveyed in 2019 believed that the Government was hiding what it really knew about the aliens – a fair achievement given those same people didn’t believe the Government was particularly competent. But belief in things like aliens has little to do with statistics, numbers and science.

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The Philosophy of Technology

Where does the human end, and the technology begin?

What do we think about when we think about technology? What are we really talking about? The philosophical consideration of technology begins with the relationship between technology and the human subject. From there, it extends to the relationship between the human subject and her environment. The very word between directly implies separation – two distinct entities – and therein lies our first dangerous assumption: is technology an extension of the human subject, as we in practice assume it to be? Is it somehow separate from her?

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The Philosophical Influences of F. A. Hayek

Friedrich Hayek receives the Nobel Prize in Economics, in 1974

Friedrich Hayek is perhaps best known as the father of neoliberalism, a quasi-messianic belief in markets as the prime source of a concept of value (and deliverance from totalitarianism), and the idea of spontaneous order, that things – all things – are not controlled, but ordered, spontaneously. His Nobel prize in 1974 was awarded in part for his ‘penetrating analysis of the interdependence of economic, social and institutional phenomena.’ In other words, he was no mere ‘financial’ economist, whatever that might mean. His was a big project, one that encompassed the ultimate political objective of protecting individual liberty, in a career that spanned over sixty years, and major works including The Road to Serfdom and The Constitution of Liberty.

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