All 91 entries tagged Philosophy Research

Research notes in philosophy, from my current PhD work.

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March 27, 2006

Research Notes: Akaba is real and not a phantasm

Follow-up to Research Notes: Arabia and the geography of asceticism from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Desire seems to be a paradox. In obtaining that which is desired, the object of desire is fundamentally altered, and consequently unobtainable. Is desire doomed to lack from the outset and in its finality? Is such lack a cruel conditioning sublimated by a deeper originary dialectic? An originary psychic act, a fixation, an unconscious product of a series of acts to be regressively analysed retreating in time to the big fixation: oedipus? In his geophilosophical campaign, T.E.Lawrence discovered an answer to the paradox of desire, one without lack or originary schism. But at the same time one founded on schisms, differences. Seven Pillars of Wisdom, I argue, is a work of schizoanalysis fundamentally uanavailable to psychoanalysis.

1. Desire is the production of the different in kind by the different in degree. That which is different in kind is said to be changed in nature by any act of division or analysis. An un-bounding perception or possession of that which is different in kind, an attempt to become materiality continuous with it, serves only to differentiate itself from itself as a qualitative not a quantative difference. It is thus experienced as a discontinuous multiplicity rather than a continuous multiplicity.

A long march through the desert, much negotiation with uncertain tribes, skirmishes with the Turks, and the Arab army entered their goal victorious:

Through the whirling dust we percieved that Akaba was all a ruin. Repeated bombardment by French and English warships had degraded the place to its original rubbish. The poor houses stood about in a litter, dirty and contemptible, lacking entirely that dignity which the durability of their time-challenging bones conferred on ancient remains. Chapter LV page 314
For months Akaba had been the horizon of our minds, the goal: we had had no thought, we had reduced thought, on anything beside, Now, in achievement, we were a litle despising the entities which had spent their extremest effort on an object whose attainment changed nothing radical either in mind or body.

The virtuality or "mind's horizon" that was Akaba as imagined from the desert to the East, was in becoming actual in fact ruined. Consequently, there had been no transcendent unity of the imagination of the army and the body of the city. There were only cold brute facts to be despised.

In the blank light of victory we could scarcely identify ourselves. We spoke with surprise, sat emptily, fingered upon our white skirts; doubtful if we could understand or learn whom we were. Others' noise was a dreamlike unreality, a singing in ears drowned deep in water. Against the astonishment of this unmasked-for continued life we did not know how to turn our gift to account.

The gift then seemed value less, unable to be turned to account. Life continued as it was, a material extension of the desert force down to the sea. No difference in kind, Lawrence's phantasm unveiled:

Especially for me it was hard, because though my sight was sharp, I never saw men's features: always I peered beyond, imagining for myself a spirit-reality of this or that: and to-day each man owned his desire so utterly that he was fulfilled in it, and became meaningless.

The fall in intensity from the heights of the Idea of the revolt follows a multiplicity continuous with the desert geography, camels and the hungered bodies of the warriors. "Hunger called us out of our trance." For the Englishman, it is diverted into patterns ill-atuned to the nomad life:

The asiduous food-habit of a lifetime had trained the English body to the pitch of producing a punctual nervous excitation in the upper belly at the fixed hour of each meal.

Seven Pillars of Wisdom is a book of hunger. But is it therefore a book of lack? Much later (Chapter CIII) Lawrence reflected upon desire:

When a thing was in my reach, I no longer wanted it; my delight lay in the desire. Everything which my mind could consistently wish for was attainable, as with all the ambitions of all sane men, and when a desire gained head, I used to strive until I had just to open my hand and take it. Then I would turn away, content that it had been within my strength. I sought only to assure myself, and cared not a jot to make the others know it.

The defeat of Akaba is one of the few true thresholds in the book. The slaughter at Tafas is another. Deraa is a third. At these times, differences in kind become naked facts. Akaba is ripped apart by the entrance of the Arab army. Akaba becomes something different again in kind upon the material extension of the nomads through its walls. This is an event or threshold. The virtual is actualised violently. Lawrence states clearly that he is a seeker of limits and not of thresholds. His aim is to reach the edge of the event, assess its force, and then let the intensity fall away. Not a destruction of the different in kind, not a badly analysed composite in which material extension annihilates difference in kind, but rather a careful appreciation of it (he is foremost a writer and creator of concepts). Lawrence seeks to escape the fate of the Idea, forever in lack. His defence is the lightness of the concept. He feels the hunger of the Englishman, the conditioning of the Idea of the meal (breakfast, lunchtime, tea, dinner). But he strives to achieve a more immanent and liminal mode of desiring:

Arab hunger was the cry of a long-empty labouring body fainting with weakness. They lived on a fraction of our bulk-food, and their systems made exhaustive use of what they got.

Concepts are like this "Arab hunger". A concept borders many limits (components), setting them at ease with each other. Whereas the Idea disrupts all components, plunging them across the threshold into catastrophe . In this way the virtual can become repeatedly actualized, nomdadically carried across terrains:

There was a special attraction in beginnings, which drove me into everlasting endeavour to free my personality from accretions and project it on a fresh medium, that my curiosity to see its naked shadow might be fed. The invisible self appeared to be reflected clearest in the still water of another man's yet incurious mind. Considered judgements, which had in them of the past and the future, were worthless compared with the revealing first sight, the instinctive opening or closing of a man as he met the stranger. CHAPTER CIII, Book 9

This is the desire of the nomad (or travelling writer). A desire that extends materially, a continuous multiplicity, whilst at the same time actualizing and refreshing discontinuous multiplicities.

March 06, 2006

Research Notes: The aim of art according to Deleuze and Guattari

Writing about The artwork as monument, active memory, time of the artist from Art

Why artistic creativity? A new perspective on the world? A recording of events. Or a new world? The creation of events.

Painters and sculptors go to extraordinary lengths in order to create the "monuments" to their struggles, their works. In creating, capturing and preserving the "time of the artist" they carve out a slice of their chaosmos, cut from their plane of immanance, relative to a virtuality. This may all cease to exist at any time, and may even be destroyed by the artistic act itself – a painful surgery or self-mutilation (Van Gogh). The surgical method is this: reduce the world and its vast circuits to a small repetitive loop. In the case of Cezanne, the loop circulates and re-circulates between Mont Saint Victoire, the palette and its oils (themselves reduced to a few greens and blues), the hand, the brush or knife, and the canvas. In this way the artwork is built up over time through a kind of mangrove effect not disimilar to that described by Andy Clark.

Everything is invested – "the artist is already in the canvas" (Deleuze, Logic of Sensation). Then make each run of the circuit entirely dependent upon the last, each time applying a filter modulated by the results of the previous passage (Cezanne, Van Gogh, Bacon and others replace an optical filter with a haptic filter). The circuit carves out an escape route within the imprisonment of actuality. The loops are repetitions, movements between points, but across different virtualities or the infinite and irreducible but necessary slices of reality. This opening up of new degrees of movement is the experiment of the diagram. It is a high risk operation. With so much vested in a small and critical set of functions, catastrophe is always near at hand. In his treatment of Francis Bacon, Deleuze quite rightly argues that painting is the artform that takes this risk to its most extreme. This is true. The consequences of architecture, for example, are too great. Few architects are prepared to go there (Libeskind?). Perhaps only in improvisational jazz does music reduce everything to catastrophe or the sublime. Otherwise there are too many chances of a second take. Bacon happily destroyed botched canvases, but it was almost too much for him both artistically and financially.

What then drives artists to the edge of disaster or beyond?

1) There is the attraction of the unknown and unknowable, the promise of a critical passage across some absolute threshold. Beyond this pure event, the world would be transformed. Something impossible would come to pass (surrealism). Behind this drive is the knowledge that this passage must have already happened at least once: the artist and the world as it is having come alive. But also the belief that it can happen again. The creation of substance, the irreducibly different, sharing no attributes. The impossible as possible. The artist thus seeks to create something new and substantial for themselves and the world. Joan Miro, for example, explored a rarifying seriality in order to create art as new substance: As Andre Breton commented on Miro's Constellations:

"They belong together and differ from one another like the aromatic or cyclic series of elements in chemistry. If one considers them both in their development and as a whole, each of them assumes necessity and value like a constituent in a mathematical series. And finally, they give the word 'series' that special meaning by their uninterupted and exemplary sequence." Miro by Janis Mink, Taschen 2000.

Felix Guattari described this creation of artistic discovery, and the mutant subjectivities that it makes possible, as akin to the rarifying seriality of chemistry, creating something substantial and necessary:

"In this conception of analysis, time is not something to be endured; it is activated, oriented, the object of qualitative change… A singualrity, a rupture of sense, a cut, a fragmentation, the detachment of a semiotic content – in a dadaist or surrealist manner – can originate mutant nuclei of subjectivation. Just as chemistry has to purify complex mixtures to extract atomic and homogeneous molecular matter, thus creating an infinite scale of chemical entities that have no prior existence, the same is true in the 'extraction' and 'seperation' of aesthetic subjectivities or partial objects…that make an immense complexification of subjectivity possibile – harmonies, polyphonies, counterpoints, rhythms and existential orchestrations, until know unheard and unknown." Chaosmosis (page 19)

Seriality and rarefaction is similarly employed by other painters, inlcuding Cezanne and Bacon. Also common to these artists is the prevailing terror of plunging into one of these cycles only to find no way out, that the filter or diagram no longer applies to the product of the cycle: the catastrophe.

2) And more commonly, there is an incremental investigation of objects partially apprehended at the limit. An often shy and nervous peering into things. But sometimes a full-on and clinical dissection of orders and lineages (abstraction). This investigation is often undertaken with a degree of altruism. Whether the aim is to reveal more clearly some necessary aspect of Being, or simply to help us to see objects with greater clarity, the artist may act in the interests of our perceptual powers and faculty of judgement.

Kant gives us these two modes of art in the Critique of Judgement. The artistic event as trans-liminal, as a virtuality (the sublime) eventualizing actuality (the time of the transcendental subject or artist). And the event as a series of dispatches, taken from a view of the edge, passing freely over infinite modulations of intensity, but always staying firmly this side of reason – communication, a sense in comunis, a beautiful passage.

Questions for Deleuze and Guattari's aesthetics:

  • is it underpinned by this distinction?
  • do they consider the creation of new substance to be the role of art? – if so, what does this mean, is it feasible, how does it work?

Also, see the essay by Isobelle Stengers for Deleuze's discussion of the difference between the limit and the threshold.


This paper can be discussed on the What Is Philosophy web site.

March 01, 2006

Research Notes: The artwork as monument, active memory, time of the artist

In their What is Philosophy?, Deleuze and Guattari claim that the artwork is a "monument". What does this mean? What is "monumental"? Why do all artworks have to be monumental? How can a painting be a monument? For this aesthetic theory to be meaningful, these questions must be addressed. But as will be demonstrated, an effective answer requires that we reconsider the relationship between artist, artwork and "viewer", adopting a position that sees them as much more intimately connected across space and time. This result in an approach to aesthetics that, unlike many, is concerned with the process of creation rather than consumption. The "viewer" is not excluded, but rather enters into that ongoing process which itself exists permanently in the artwork.

Firstly, put aside preconceptions about the nature of monumental art and monuments. We are not saying that the artwork has to be a massive stone edifice. It can be small or large, occupying any form shaped from any substance. Or more precisely, the monument is insubstantial in that its monumentalism acts as an open deterritorializing force, capable of forming a plane of consistency with all-comers. This is what Francis Bacon called the "matter of factness" of the painting, its materiality. Substances are materials locked into a determination that rejects connections and deterritorializations. The monument overflows substance in a hyper-connectivity with matter. The distinction is made more clearly in A Thousand Plateaus. I suggest that we read "abstract machine" as synonymous with "monument" (or perhaps the monument is a genus of abstract machine):

An abstract machine in itself is not physical or corporeal ( Guattari - it is an incorporeal complexity enabling possibility or freedom of movement ), any more than it is semiotic; it is diagramatic (it knows nothing of the distinction between the artificial and natural either). It operates by matter, not by substance; by function, not by form. The abstract machine is pure Matter-Function – a diagram independent of the forms and substances, expressions and contents it will distribute. A Thousand Plateaus, On Several Regimes of Signs p.141

What does it mean for the abstract machine or monument to "function"? A function is an operation of conversion or transformation. As they say in the opening of Anti-Oedipus: "the machine only functions when it breaks down" – that is, the machine functions by breaking down matter locked into substances, de-substantializing, deterritorializing. The monument or abstract machine is therefore a deterritorializing agent.

Returning to the common understanding of "what is a monument?" – it's not size or form that matters, but rather it is the active memory contained in the monument. Monuments are intended to remind, to recall an event, or more usually a life. Monument-momento. An effective monument goes further, re-awakening some distant aspect of that which is remembered. It may well be some actual detail of the commemorated life that the monument is intended to stir, but in order for that actuality to have sense, we must accept and share in the virtuality (the real but inactual extension to potential infinity of the plane of immanence, "a slice of chaos that acts like a sieve") of the commemorated life that is a condition for the possibility of that life.

The monument is threfore a portal, allowing us to move into a different world, and for that world to move into ours. To view an artwork then is an active process of being deterritorialized. Deleuze (in Logic of Sense, and with Guattari in A Thousand Plateaus) seeks to show how the abstract machine may be inscribed with a diagram illustrating or coding the route through the portal, the lines of deterritorialization, of matter cossing transversally out of substance. They say that the diagram makes a suggestion pulling us out of a determination towards something otherwise impossible. So it is more than just a edifice, a block of percepts and affects. It is crafted so as to deterritorialize, to attract matter into it and carry it away to another plane. One enters an artwork through the path suggested by the diagram. The monument calls upon us to add to the active memory present in the artwork, we step into the artwork, rather than percieving it analytically from afar.

Could the momument then be some kind of time machine? This is a serious claim, or at least a claim made by serious philosophers. Perhaps its re-presentation of the past offers a logic of resolution to make sense of the present? Recall Hegel's monument, which forms the centrepoint to his Aesthetics – the Tower of Babel, universal translator of forms. The architect Daniel Libeskind is familiar with the consequences of this monumentalism. In his Chamberworks, Architectural Meditations on the Themes from Heraclitus, he talks of his work to overcome this error:

When time itself is rendered meaningless by reversing its irreversible presence, then the practice of architecture becomes the case of the false pleading the cause of reconcilliation. The Space of Encounter, p.49

This leads to the Jewish Museum in Berlin, which is certainly not a false reconcilliation. It is deliberately not a monument in which a single sense is made of a re-presented history. Rather, it draws in and abstracts further a vast collection of histories (matters of facts, names etc), it acts as a convertor between the planes, and becomes immanent to them, that is to say, is of the same material plane, adding further to the complexity of those virtualities. It remains a monument in the sense described above, a portal between disconnected planes.

What emerges in differentiated experience is architecture as an index of the relationship between what was and what will be. p50

…index :- diagram, graph, portal?

The Museum is a success in that it reaches out beyond its site, connecting two vast virtualities (Jewish Berlin, modern Germany and Europe).

Architecture as a practice of control has projected over itself an immanent frame sufficient to reveal something without. p.49

We have then discounted the notion of the monument as some kind of dialectical tardis. Lets not be sentimental about it. But we still need to understand its diagram, how it works to deterritorialize and connect differentiated substances, pulling us out of one virtuality and into another. Again Libeskind has a suggestion drawn from his practice:

If one thinks of music, what could be more immaterial, what could leave less of a trace in actual experience than music? On the other hand, of course, architecture has always been associated with weight, with matter, with public activity. p.51

The suggestion is that the monument encapsulates a rhythm of deterritorialization and reterritorialization, of pleats of matter rising and falling relative to each other, forming tonalities, a whole music of matter that penetrates substance and carries it away into the plane. The monument is then not a static edifice, it is a continual circulation of matter, captured at some point in history, relative to a virtuality which otherwise disappears. It captures a slice of reality, holds it, and then releases it again in the future, in our aesthetic encounter. Libeskind seeks the musical within architecture, within his monuments. This seems to be a paradox, but is merely the task of a great artist.

(Note, a building is an abstract machine for living – a monument rich with music and incorporeal complexity.)

Deleuze and Guattari go further: artworks are monuments. All artworks? What does, for example, Cezanne's painting of Mont Saint Victoire commemorate? In paint it captures a circulation of matter ever connected with the mountain. The rhythm of brush strokes is, as Cezanne claimed, the rhythm of the mountain, of nature as he lived it. His method always struggled to capture the tension, the pattern of connections of those rhythms, to make them permanent in a monument ( more on Cezanne ):

This is what one must achieve. If I reach too high or too low, everything is a mess. There must not be a single loose strand, a single gap through which the tension, the light, the truth can escape. I have all the parts of my canvas under control simultaneously. If things are tending to diverge, I use my instincts and beliefs to bring them back together again. Everything that we see disperses, fades away. Nature is always the same, even though its visible manifestations eventually cease to exist. Our art must shock nature into permanence, together with all the components and manifestations of change. Art must make nature eternal in our imagination. What lies behind nature? Nothing perhaps. Perhaps everything. Everything, you understand. So I close the errant hand. I take the tones of colour I see to my right and my left, here, there, everywhere, and I fix these gradations, I bring them together. They form lines, and become objects, rocks, trees, without my thinking about it. They acquire volume, they have an effect. When these masses and weights on my canvas correspond to the planes and spots which I see in my mind and which we see with our eyes, then my canvas closes its fingers. It does not waver. It does not reach too high or too low. It is true, it is full. cited in Cezanne by Ulrike Becks-Malorny, Taschen 2001

The painting captures what the artist David Burrows has called "the time of the artist". It is a monument to that time. It draws us into that time and the rhythms and tones that constitute it's plane.


This paper can be discussed on the What Is Philosophy web site.

February 28, 2006

Research Notes: Arabia and the geography of asceticism

Follow-up to Research Notes: T.E. Lawrence and Abu Ghraib – the necessary consequences of war from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

One hundred and fifty pages into Seven Pillars of Wisdom by T.E. Lawrence, with the Arabian campaign fully open, a wider and still relevant geophilosophical perspective is ever present.

In the opening chapters of Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence foretells the geo-ideational forces arising when the Arab army is released from its territorial and tribal divisions, into the delirial existence of nomadic desert fighters. Contrary to the myth and the movie, many of the constituent parties of the army, accounted for meticulously in the text, were not Bedouin desert dwellers, rather having come down from the hills of the Hejaz or from the more comfortable coastal plains. This was then a new movement, breaking out of the timeless circulation of peoples and their livestock into and across the desert – a sudden and unprecedented mass carrying with it bodies from the diverse geophysical and social distributions of people into places.

As the great Arab army of Feisal embarks upon its first significant campaign, across inhospitable desert terrain, Lawrence again revisits the geo-ideational effects of the desert upon those who adapt to it. The momentum towards battle is stayed briefly with a consideration of asceticism, as exhibited by one of the many tribes within the march.

The Wahabis, followers of a fanatical Moslem heresy, had imposed their strict rules on easy and civilized Kasim. In Kasim their was but little coffee-hospitality, much prayer and fasting, no tobacco, no artistic dalliance with women, no silk clothes, no gold and silver head-ropes. Everything was forcibly pious or forcibly puritanical. p.148

A significant point in understanding Lawrence is here, in that this rejection of the will to pleasure, by a fundamentalist sect, is not posed as anti-nature. Rather, Lawrence conceives it as being immanent to the geographical, meteorological and cosmological plane in which it grows. Lawrence the map maker seeks to draw a cartography of ideation.

It was a natural phenomenon, this periodic rise of intervals of little more than a century, of ascetic creeds in Central Arabia. Always the votaries found their neighbours' beliefs cluttered with inessential things, which became impious in the hot imagination of their preachers. Again and again they had arisen, had taken possession, soul and body, of the tribes, and had dashed themselves to pieces on the urban Semites, merchants and concupiscent men of the world. About their comfortable possessions the new creeds ebbed and flowed like the tides or the changing seasons, each movement with the seeds of early death in its excess of rightness. p.148

There is, in this natural phenomenon, a desert aesthetic. The asceticism of the desert is a kind of unchecked delirium of the senses, that is to say, a movement so light and without relation that the only remaining sense is that of the movement itself, without distraction. And at the same time the movement becomes almost imperceptible, thus bearing the mind down more anxiously upon its continuation and progress. Distances are far, out on the gravel plains and in the dune fields. Looking into these horizons, the eye covers innumerable grains of reality in an instant, whilst the body traverses the distances so slowly as to become absorbed to the point of almost being part of the desert itself – just another grain of sand, but with a will to overcome casual drifting. A will all the more powerful in response to the enveloping power of emptiness and geological flow.

Seemingly it was a plain, with an illimitable view downhill to the east, where one gentle level after another slowly modulated into a distance only to be called a distance because it was a softer blue, and more hazy. p.245 Chapter XLII
The Fejr Bedouin, whose property it was, called our plain El Houl because it was desolate; and to-day we rode in it without seeing signs of life; no tracks of gazelle, no lizards, no burrowing of rats, not even any birds. We, ourselves, felt tiny in it, and our urgent progress across its immensity was a stillness or immobility of futile effort. p.246 – Chapter XLII

The nomad must, by necessity, travel with few social connections and possessions. But at the same time must enter into this plain with a single strong possession – a belief in the journey, a righteousness of the path. At the extreme, the body and its immediate functional extensions (camel, cloak, water container, dagger) becomes one of five reference points, along with the sun, the earth, the day and the night. At its most extreme, travel by day becomes impossible due to the extreme heat, and so darkness removes even the earth as a point of reference. The passage into the desert may then work to transpose the traveller from the un-fathomable chaos of urban life (a virtuality of which he will never be master), into the immense but conceivable chaos of desert (a virtuality over which skill can be obtained).

Doubtless they must recur so long as the causes – sun, moon, wind, acting in the emptiness of open spaces, weigh without check on the unhurried and uncumbered minds of the desert dwellers. p.148

A plane of immanence is found, acting as a powerful generator of distances, reducing all within it to simple principles of survival, whilst necessitating a determinism and determination the repetition of which suggests a transcendent mastery. And this suggestion of transcendence is the germ of its own death identified by Lawrence. When the tide of asceticism reaches the rocks of the urban, it becomes dissipated into a virtuality entirely different to that which made its life possible.

Earlier in Seven Pillars of Wisdom, Lawrence indicates that the great wave of Arab nationalism that he helped to release would be followed by further, possibly greater, waves. Perhaps he could see that in becoming the massed nomadic war machine of Feisal's army, the force would be effected by the desert, washing back into the urban with more impact than any of the smaller recurrent tides? Perhaps even a tide that might succeed in converting the urban into a kind of desert?

A link to consider:

  • The page in Logic of Sensation in which Deleuze talks of the diagram, a great zero from which intensity "descends".
  • Francis Bacon's painting of a face with, as Deleuze says, "the distances of the Sahara" within it.

Later in Seven Pillars, Auda explains how the desert forces a kind of group interdependence:

…Auda was glad to rub into a townsman the paradox of tribe and city; the collective responsibility and group-brotherhood of the desert. contrasted with the isolation and competetive living of the crowded districts. p.256 XLIV - After retrieving Gasim from the desolate plain of El Houl

February 16, 2006

Research Notes: T.E. Lawrence and Abu Ghraib – the necessary consequences of war

I have just read the first few chapters of The Seven Pillars of Wisdom, quite a stunning and vital work. The consequences of a political delusion are becoming clear in Iraq (Abu Ghraib and elsewhere). The war machine is incompatible with civil society, even if it is a necessary condition for its possibility. The logic behind these mistakes was explicitly the subject of Lawrence's book. The revolting images aired today could have come from the torture chambers of the Ottoman Empire, as easily as from the orgiastic simulation of liberated desire that is now America (as Baudrillard described just after Gulf War I). Lawrence must be studied.

A note on the myth

A failure to understand T.E. Lawrence is commonly symptomatic of a failure to understand the nature of the war machine and its incompatibility with the beaurocratic machine of civil society. He was not a leader, but rather an advisor who recognised that, given favourable conditions and a few appropriately selected techniques, a powerful idea could sweep across fronts far out of proportion to its physical force.

It was in fact the idea that was the hero of the story. And the idea was no ordinary one, but rather a special type of idea capable of taking on a life of its own. What we might today call an "abstract machine" following the terminology of Deleuze and Guattari. To see Lawrence's work as successful leadership, as the imposition of a chain of command and control, is to misunderstand both Lawrence and the war machine. Both were sucessful when they attained a velocity and immediacy requiring no such beaurocracy. Indeed they were successful only when they broke free from beaurocracy. As soon as they become sedimented, they become bored and subject to delusions and perversions. Any reading of Seven Pillars of Wisdom would render this misinterpretation impossible. Perhaps the author of this should actually read Lawrence.

The Seven Pillars of Wisdom

T.E. Lawrence placed himself within a nomadic war machine of the kind exclusively possessing the power to destroy regimes and constitue a new earth (nations, religions, whatever). He demonstrated just how far these forces must separate themselves from civil society in order to attain the required freedom of movement (physical, cultural and moral), and how that separation may result in extraordinary horrors and pleasures.

The relationship between the Arabs and the Turks is of critical importance. Lawrence analyses it early on in the book. The Turks represent a decaying empire. But more importantly, they stand for a machine that has no self-motivating (self-positing) idea. No one within the empire knew of a reason for the empire, other than it just seemed to always have been there. Occassionaly someone would discover a new way of making a short term gain (the New Turks for example), but that would quickly be lost in the corrupting mass. In comparison, the Arabs were capable of attaining ideas that could whip them into a frenzy. They were, Lawrence claimed, people of the idea, always making a fresh start, always looking to move into a new desert.

This is how Lawrence defines the difference between a nomadic war machine and an empire decaying into its own beaurocracy and inertia.

Is there a moral distinction? That's the big question to pose to Lawrence, who would normally be taken to favour the nomad. As a literary writer he has ambiguities. As a historian, the conclusion is simple: the empire is doomed. But the villain (whether desired subliminally or despised) is most usually the urban. In the second chapter he talks of its diseases and overcrowding. In the desert he remains inviolate. In the town he is raped. The urban sedimentation is the place in which filthy dark forces accumulate, and convoluted perversions grow: Abu Ghraib. In the desert there is no time or space for such development. Everything is essential and laid bare.

Blood was always on our hands: we were licensed to it. Wounding and killing seemed ephemeral pains, so very brief and sore was life with us. With the sorrow of living so great, the sorrow of punishment had to be pitiless. We lived for the day and died for it. p.31

The nomadic force thus became a register upon which intensities of sorrow and pleasure could rise and fall, while all the time being absorbed and dissipated internally by the unit, with no lasting effect or principle. There was simply no time for the intensities to be assigned a greater principle or meaning, other than their subservience to the idea. And the idea was itself to attain a speed of movement capable of escaping principles. As in Kant's Anticipations of Perception, judgement is at the mercy of and a product of speed.

The nomads were thus capable of becoming an abstract machine, self-motivated, self-positing, independent but at the same time forming a genuinely connected response to every and any possible experience. The nomad, for example, finds the continuation of the journey as a way of life itself. The journey is the purpose of the journey. The narrower objective being to merely keep circulating within a space that encourages the continuation of the journey, making sedimentation impossible.

Each individual nomad had his revealed religion, not oral or traditional or expressed, but instinctive in himself…The desert dweller could not take credit for his belief. He had never been either evangelist or proselyte. He arrived at this intense condensation of himself in God by shutting his eyes to the world, and all the complex possibilities latent in him which only contact with wealth and temptations could bring forth. p.41

In the interior deserts of Arabia, according to Lawrence, the Arab nomads had found a space that would keep them necessarily circulating – self-perpetuating circulation. Few customs and conditions were accumulated. There was a simple rule of hospitality, which itself shifted as required.


A war machine cannot be a police force: it is far too fast and indiscriminate. When a war machine becomes sedimented, boredom and indifference sets in, opening up room for all kinds of dark horrors to be manifested. The power of the war machine, the sophisticated and brutal weapons necessary for its speed, take those perversions to frightening degrees.

But at the same time, only a liberating force is capable of constituting the break, the new earth, from which a nation can be built. And so a war machine of some kind is necessary. This is the politicians dilemma, as it was also that of Lawrence.

We should consider, as perhaps Lawrence later did, whether the nomadic war machine (or revolutionary force) is equipped with such brutal weapons out of necessity, or as a means to develop and test tools for the decaying empire? – the revolutionary force as a threat to be held perpetually against civil society.

January 11, 2006

Research Notes: Self positing concepts

Writing about What is Philosophy? from Philosophy

Concepts are said, by Deleuze and Guattari, to be "self-positing". This is an extraordinary and uncommon realisation.

So that which emerges, that which is realized, from a free and creative act, is also, they suggest, that which necessarily posits itself. (Darren Ambrose)

How do we understand the "freedom" of the concept? Another forumulation gives a clue: concepts are not solutions to problems, but rather constitute a problematization only made sensible through the concept – that is to say, the concept both disrupts experience, diverts it into unexpected and intense differentiations, and at the same time provides the conditions through which it may be reintegrated. For example, if a concept of "personal narrative" were to act to integrate my experiences, if it were to be a dominant force in my life, then experiences would be concieved as more or less consistent with such an organising schema. Consider the extreme in which all other possible concepts are themselves reduced to the status of problematic events to be integrated into the personal narrative. As such they become components of the concept of personal narrative, more or less well integrated.

But surely if the concept were to be genuinely self-positing or "free" then it must break its dependency upon the contingencies of the experience that feeds the discretion of its self-positing identity? The concept then becomes a condition for the possiblity of all experience. Would it be right to say that this is concept used in a properly Kantian sense? A transcendental imagination that anticipates or problematizes all possible experience?

Deleuze and Guattari seek an alternative: a double articulation in which the two dimensions are simultaneously connected with each other (although contingent) and yet freely autonomous (niether determining the other):

  1. concepts that are mobile, abstract, and independent of any specific time or space – capable of posing their problem wherever and whenever;
  2. experiences (chaosmic incarnation, virtual enunciative nuclei) that exist despite of and in the absence of any specific concept.

The engagement and disengagement of the two articulations, their slippage, gives rise to history. On the one hand the virtual (as in real but unspecifiable) becoming (constant differentiation of difference) provides constant novelty. And on the other, the inescapable actuality (specification/speciation) of the concept, against which all stands as problematic, gives an independent constant (memory). When the concepts achieve a high degree of autonomy, and at the same time are able to connect with a wide range of experiences, then we have the concept of philosophy (and its history) described by Deleuze and Guattari in What Is Philosophy?

And finally, the inevitable question is: how do some concepts achieve a high degree of autonomy from the experiences that they problematize, whilst still being able to easily connect with a diverse range of experiences? D&G's conjecture is that they must establish some kind of plane of immanence in which the occurrence of events that can be connected to the concept are encouraged, though not determined. The ontological status of a concept is then more like that of life in general: not an over-determined causal necessity, but rather a likelihood, the definition (better: focus) of which is constantly oscillating around an equilibrium (the fuzziness with which they oppose logic). This field, out of which events are actualised for the concept with uncanny pre-sentiment or intuition, is again a virtuality (it seems real without being actual), but a virtuality of another degree.

This entry is also posted on the Centre for Research in Philosophy and Literature What Is Philosophy? project blog.

November 16, 2005

Research Notes: what would an anti–humanist conception of science be like?

Follow-up to Research Notes: Merleau–Ponty, humanist and anti–humanist science from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

To reiterate, a humanist conception of science argues that there is some ineliminably human aspect to scientific activity. An anti-humanist conception must show that all aspects of scientific activity could occur independently from human activity, for example as the result of the behaviour of an assemblage of non-human processors and networks.

Key features of scientific activity that are commonly thought of as being essentially human are:

  • Attending to certain phenomena to be observed, quantified, classified, manipulated;
  • Collecting and isolating phenomena into experimental arrangements;
  • Postulating connections between phenomena as models of reality;
  • Hypothesing and seeking the existence of objects not represented by presented phenomena;
  • Prioritising and valuing certain instances of the above over other instances;
  • Planning the execution of all of the above.

I don't think it is implausible that these activities could occur without human involvement. Note that an anti-humanist does not need to demonstrate that a single clearly individuated intelligence, a robot scientist, need be responsible for all of these activities. It is just as valid, and perhaps more realistic, to argue that some of them are carried out by widely dispersed agencies (networks, environments, ecologies).

An anti-humanist conception of science is certainly plausible. To prove the point, do we need to point to an activity that includes all of the above processes, but without human intervention? Or perhaps it is enough just to show that each of these processes could be carried out by a non-human agency?

Research Notes: Merleau–Ponty, humanist and anti–humanist science

Follow-up to Research Notes: Merleau–Ponty, the philosopher as perpetual beginner from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Can we concieve of a science that operates independently of humans? The humanist Merleau-Ponty says no.

Eric Mattews, in his The Philosophy of Merleau-Ponty, argues that the recasting of the phenomenological reduction is driven by a need to make sicence, and the objectivist view of the world that it encourages, realise that there is always a human element to it: perception, and the phenomenology thereof. For Merleau-Ponty, perception is always already inextricably tied to a human perspective, with psychological, historical, political. and social specificities. Following this, we could say that Merleua-Ponty argues for a humanist appreciation of science.

This makes some sense. Consider for example a science that were to conform to the most rational and well-ordered model: that of Popper for example. There is still something at the heart of such a science that we could recognize as science: perception, the attentional force that drives its selectivity, and the scientific imagination that pushes its investigative focus beyond the obvious, thus making new conjectures.

Is there an anti-humanist response? It would be necessary to demonstrate that a science without humans could percieve in an intelligent and selective attentional way, going beyond the obvious, forming new conjectures. Could there then be an AI scientist? A science without humans?

Considering the failure of the AI business, one would be encouraged to reject, laugh even, at the idea of a robot scientist. But another argument has arisen from the failure of traditional AI. Andy Clark has argued that the kind of cognitive perceptual processes that we are describing may actually happen more in the world as the operations of an extended cognitive apparatus. This is, in part, a deliberate application of Merleau-Ponty to AI. But it's side effect could be to undermine some of the humanism of Merleau-Ponty. The extended cognition thesis could demonstrate that processes such as the scientific imagination are actually much less human than we commonly think.

But we should still be cautious in calling this an anti-humanist position, suggesting an anti-humanist conception of science. Clark seems to believe in an inelliminable human element driving from some super-subjective level. To see an example of that refrain abandoned, we could turn to a more extreme position: Deleuze and Guattari. In a similar way, D&G see perception and thought as being the property of rhizomes (networks) of machines (processors). The networks and processors of human and scientific thought are multivarious, distributed and in most cases inhuman. Or rather, humans are in fact spread out across these assemblages which include social and economic organisations that control us more than we control them. This is a genuinely anti-humanist position.

But they go further. There is no recourse to an organizing driving super-subject. The drive behind perception, attention, innovation, that which can be seen as inelliminable to scientific activity, its desire, is said to be an emergent property of the assemblages of networks and proicesses: the ghost in the network. In his War in the Age of Intelligent Machines the Deleuzian Manuel De Landa demonstrates how AI science is the product of non-human forces (the military machine). In fact it is more likely that real working AI will be assembled out in the field from components combined without the conscious design of humans.

Note that this argument goes much further than the sociology of science in that it abandons the model of "rational subjects trapped in and manipulated by social, political and economic circumstance". If there is any rationality, it is out there amongst the machines. A long way from the phenomenology of perception.

If you are interested in this research, then contact me

November 15, 2005

Research Notes: porous minds and cracked–up agents

Follow-up to Research Notes: how radical can extended cognition be? from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

I just found this in a text file whilst tidying up my laptop. It doesn't seem to have been published yet. There may be a reason why I abandoned it. But here it is anyway...

Section 10.6 of Andy Clark's book Being There is entitled with the question "Where does the mind stop and the world begin?". For philosophy this is a very significant question. For cognitive science and AI, much less so (its just a design issue). Why not just adopt the latter position? Would that be such a scandal?

Clark's answer to the question is both pragmatic and realistic, whilst promoting a proportionate, specific and sufficiently detailled investigation of real minds and environments. This is quite a contrast to the vague generalizations of some phenomenological models.

For someone with an AI/cog-sci background (that I in part share), the identification of a boundary (even a porous one) should only be significant when it could contribute to our understanding of the capabilities, limitations and developmental process of real cognitive processes. Our boundary marking conditions would have to be ones that really make a difference to the cognitive process itself. For example, one interesting boundary marking condition would be:

how replaceable or otherwise is a specific (internal or external) cognitive artefact? Could the individual agent simply swap the artefact with another similar or even totally different artefact? And to what extent would this change the character of the agent?

A related, equally important, but different question is:

how dependent is the development of an agent upon a specific artefact, such that it's abscence makes a significant difference to that agent?

This gets close to our understanding of what an agent actually is: it has a relatively consistent and pervasive character existing over time and to some extent surviving changes to the environment in which it exists. Whilst at the same time, its development and continuation is dependent upon the existence of key artefacts within that environment. It is as Clark says, closely coupled. Furthermore, the agent tends to influence the environment in which it exists so as to promote the continuation of these characteristics, so that an agent tends to be associated with an environment (reverse evolution), whilst the environment tends to promote certain characteristics in the agent and classes of agents (evolution).

This, to readers of recent dynamical systems theory (and the likes of Deleuze and Guattari), is quite an obvious model: 1) there are arangements of mechanisms that interact with and consume other mechanisms through processes of ordering, selection, managed preservation and controlled degradation; 2) these mechanisms have selective principles (the character traits) that are repetetively applied over time; 3) some of these repetitive mechanisms reproduce the conditions of their own production and reproduction; 4) and fewer still reproduce the conditions that make their own reproduction more likely, more desired by the environment in which they exist. Or in shore: they are desiring machines.

I would say that this is stating the obvious. Certainly there is a degree of convergence towards such a model in evolutionary biology. And I'm sure there will also be such a convergence in AI development. So why is it likely that philosophers will still consider it to be controversial? Why does it seem OK in biology, but radical when applied by, for example, the psychotherapist Felix Guattari, to the problem of fixing broken minds and bodies?

Thinking is selecting, is doing.

Research Notes: Merleau–Ponty, the philosopher as perpetual beginner

I have just read the first two chapters of The Philosophy of Merleau-Ponty by Eric Matthews. Of greatest interest is the conception of the "phenomenological reduction" (and by implication, the purpose of philosophy), which is not really a reduction at all, but more like a phenomenological refocussing on detail, context and engagement with the messy reality of the world.

So far it has dealt well with the historical context, including a high-level overview of the differences between the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty, Heidegger, Husserl and Hegel. These are all philosophers whom one would expect to see in the same sentence. But something marks out Merleau-Ponty as being very much different. Matthews states that the purpose of philosophy for Merleau-Ponty:

…is not a discovery of transcendent or eternal truths, but the adoption of an attitude of wonder, of being a "perpetual beginner". p.41

As Matthews explains, Husserl may have turned towards this position in his later work. However, much of phenomenology aims in the other direction: either epistemological of ontological transcendence. Even when trying to return to the world, it is only to recast the world as something other than its complexity.

Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology is entirely different. It shares with Nietzsche a liking for a child-like openness, a highly rational position of naivety and innocence. That's also the same ethos that sees Deleuze and Guattari talk of playing with circuits and concepts like a child plays with toys.

I suspect that this is not simply a result of Merleau-Ponty's work on psychology and pedagogy. This philosophy, like that of Deleuze and Guattari, is for a very different purpose. It is, as they say, an itinerant or nomadic philosophy. One that equips us to deal with change.

If you have something interesting to say about this entry, then contact me

November 11, 2005

Research Notes: switching between cognitive and behavioural/affective attention

Writing about web page

Acquiring IT skills often involves mastering detailled but prgrammatic patterns of behaviour concurrently with understanding theoretical and non-visually-presentable models. What can the experience of teaching such a subject tell us about extended cognition?

I have been reading What teachers know the final report of the project Attention and the knowledge bases of expertise (Michael Luntley and Janet Ainley). So far it has proved to be quite thought provoking, both in terms of philosophy and also in direct pedagogical implications. The aim of the project (broadly) is to examine the conjecture that the expert knowledge of the teacher goes much further than what is commonly and easily represented in a lesson plan. In fact, as I think they demonstrate, the most significant expert knowledge involves the teachers understanding of patterns of attentional activity amongst the students and themselves.

Teaching is, as I recognize from my own experience, about engaging with and guiding the attentional activity of the students in discovery, skills practice and moving towards independence. My recent work with concept mapping techniques, in which a map is used to focus and guide attention towards insight and discovery, has given demonstration of this.

There is, however, one assumption in the methodology of the project that is philosophically controversial, thought provoking, and significant. That is the disctinction used between cognitive tasks and behavioural/affective tasks. The challenge to this comes from Andy Clark's extended cognition thesis. The nature of the challenge is a concerted effort by Clark to show that many practical activities, and the tools that they use, are in fact inseperable from and definitively part of cognitive activities. The relationship between mind and world is porous. The case of IT teaching would support this. The process of carrying out an algorithm on a computer, physically operating the interface, is a classic case of thinking through a non-brain-contained activity. It could also be said to have an affective component (this is more contentious).

The teaching observations and subsequent interviews carried out as part of the research noted one very significant, and to me familiar, case where the difference between the cognitive and the behavioural/affective has to be considered. Most teachers recognize this situation:

  • a class is working on a physical ativity, requiring the playing out of a set of behaviours;
  • the teacher wants the class to abstract out of that activity a concept (or model) that summarizes, extends, makes generic, or contextualises the activity;
  • the teacher must somehow shift the attention of the students from the physical activity to conceptual thought.

You will often hear me signposting this in a lesson: "we now need to focus on the following concepts which you should think and use during the practical activity". That's fine when I'm teaching adults, but with children it is much more difficult.

This is interesting because it indicated that there are two different forms of activity, and teachers must understand the relationship between them. The challenge back to Clark is: does this experience mark out a separation of the physical and the cognitive? I would say that there is a clear difference between these two modes of learning, but it is not a physical/cognitive distinction. As evidence, consider the use of physical tools in the understanding of a concept or model – the classic example being a concept map shown by the teacher at the point of teaching the concept.

The really significant issue is: what are the differences that mark out the two modes of learning. From experience I would say that there is a difference. This difference, I argue, marks out the separation of behavioural and conceptual. I suspect that considering this distinction more fully would give a better understanding of attention, insight, learning etc. So then, what is a concept?

Note that I don't think that this in any way undermines the argument about attention. In fact it may add weight and subtlety to it. Teachers should certainly be aware of the grey areas between the physical and the mental, as that may be where most learning actually happens. A big question for every teacher is: how does a physical embedded activity become an independent concept?

If you are interested in this entry, then please contact me

November 08, 2005

Research Notes: what is a concept? and the role of attention

Am considering the "what is a concept?" chapter of Deleuze and Guattari's What Is Philosophy? in the light of real teaching experience and the AHRB project Attention and the Knowledge Bases of Expertise (Luntley and Ainley).

Here's an initial concept map:

November 06, 2005

Research Notes: how radical can extended cognition be?

Follow-up to Research Notes: social–machinic thinking, the 'mangrove effect', the 'diagram', the 'rhizome' from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

How radical is the extended cognition thesis proposed by Andy Clark in Being There? Is his argument trivial or with huge consequences?

Page 215 sees both an indication of just how radical its implications might be, followed by a clause that is perhaps an attempt to avoid an engagement with a whole set of possibly esoteric philosophical issues.


Firstly, there are significant ethical implications of an argument that sees a persons mind being extended into the environment. Hurt that environment and you hurt the mind. This goes a little beyond the arguments of human rights lawyers, who could safely say that long term deprivation may affect the development and sustanance of the mind. Clark's argument clearly indicates that damaging the extended cognitive apparatus has an immediate and damaging effect on their mind.

If, for example, a human rights court assessing the actions of the regime at Guantanamo Bay were to accept that abuse of the Quran were a direct physical attack upon the minds of the inmates, then the range of crimes would be greater and more extreme.


The first point opens up a radical debate. The second is just as dramatic in closing one down. Clark makes a threefold differentiation:

  1. brains;
  2. minds;
  3. consciousness.

He also talks about "self", and seems to be referring to the totalized singularity of the collection of factors that make a person individuated. That, I think, is closely tied to what he wold call "consciousness", but the issue is not properly explored.

His argument clearly shows that minds are more than brains, being extended out from the brain into the environment (or perhaps coming in from the environment and parasitising the brain). But he is careful to say that there is something called consciousness that is not extended into the environment. Individual consciousness, my attentional experience, is packaged back inside the individual. It is philosophically safer to say that there is still something, some inelliminable feature of being human, that is not dissipated out into the apparatus of extended cognition.

The clause avoids some very difficult philsoophical ground, but only at the risk of begging a very big question. This clause has the following effects:

  1. a separate set of apparatus must be implicated in consciousness;
  2. this apparatus cannot be reducible to, dependent upon, and part of the environment, as being such would again make it porous and subject to an extended cognition argument.

Obviously the second of these points is hugely controversial, and heading towards the kind of mind/body separation that Clark set out to dispel. But I would say that it is essential to Clark's attempt to keep some kind of separation between subject and object (individual and world). Without some kind of absolutely non-porous subjectivity, his thesis gets increasingly radical. The supposition of an individual consciousness, for example, provides some limitation to the damage that extended cognition could do to our established legal and ethical assumptions.

How to escape from this? Phenomenology leading out from Kant has recourse to time. In fact once can see the predominately spatial way in which much of the extended cognition debate is framed. We have a bounded, territorialized layout of minds and environments. One could argue that consciousness is the experience of this layout in time. The link between "self" and "consciousness" seems to rely upon this, with time, history, evolution and its experience from a specific perspective being the individuating feature:

…the flow of reason and thoughts, and the temporal evolution of ideas and attitudes, are determined and explained by the intimate, complex, continued interplay of brain, body and world. p.217

We could investigate how the environment/mind relationship unfolds differently to an individual consciousness. A kind of "pure time", a "duration", could be the inelliminable fact of consciousness. But what are the origins and effects in the world of this pure time? It can't be an organizing super subject, because that would be subject and hence porous to the world it organizes. As you can see from the passage given above, Clark does actually acknowledge that the experience of being a singualrity in time is the result of a complex dynamical coupling.

There's another possibility. Rather than being an organizer, a Kantian transcendental rationale, perhaps it is exactly the opposite, a hesitation at the core of conscsiousness, the force that holds the folds of time open and inelliminable. A chaotic attractor at the core of being in the world?

My argument is that the "chaotic attractor" of consciousness, and its temporal incarnations, is in fact crucial to perception and cognition. It is the drive behind inquisitiveness and the dynamical engagement of minds and environment. Far from being outside of cognitive science, it will prove to be the key.

But perhaps to obtain this key we have to accept that our ethical and legal assumptions need to be re-thought?

If you are interested in this entry, then please contact me by email.

October 22, 2005

Research Notes: social–machinic thinking, the 'mangrove effect', the 'diagram', the 'rhizome'

Follow-up to Research Notes: dissipating reasoning, 'advanced' cognition, creativity from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

During the debate following Andy Clark's excellent presentation at Warwick Philosophy Department this week, the possibility of non-problem-solving forms of understanding was raised. Having now read chapter 10 of Clark's book Being There, I think he already has this covered.

I have commented previously on how cognitive science has been dominated, and possibly limited, by a conception of the nature of cognitive tasks that reduced them to being classical problem solving activities. This 'problem solving' ranges from trivial pattern matching to complex strategy formation. In every case, the problem is well stated, along with the conditions that demonstrate the achievement of a solution. Cognitive science has of course existed to a great extent to support development in artificial intelligence, which has itself been skewed towards industrial and military applications (see De Landa's War in the Age of Intelligent Machines for an account of this relationship).

Coming as I do from a very different philosophical background, one that is more interested in artistic and literary creativity, it would be easy for me to dismiss cognitive science for its obsession with such trivia (even considering that the actual problem solving isn't that simple). However, Clark's extended cognition thesis fits neatly with accounts of artistic and literary creativity given by the likes of Deleuze and Guattari. Indeed I plan to explore these links in much more depth. I can see occassions in which it finds a line of escape from the 'cognitive task as problem solving' trap.

In chapter 10 of Being There, Clark describes a recognizable form of 'extended cognition', which he calls the "mangrove effect". The metaphor is this: a mangrove seeds itself in a shallow water, grows roots, traps other roots and particles, forms a network of roots with other mangroves that seed nearby (helped by the first mangrove), and eventually forms a more solid island within the sea. Clark argues that in some cases linguistic elements (both publicly spoken and internally contained) can work in this way. A word is uttered, not to fill a definite space or necessarily solve a well–defined problem, but rather to probe the cognitive and social environment, to see what connections form around it, or even to change the cognitive and social environment. This sounds much closer to the activities of musical and painterly composition described by Deleuze.

That is what Deleuze and Guattari would call "rhizomatic".

Most importantly, we should consider how this model of cognitive task frees us from a theoretical dependency upon a well integrated goal oriented super–subject. During the discussion following Clark's paper, the practical question of how to differentiate cognitive apparatus properly belonging to an agent from those belonging to the environment. I think he responded with an answer that relied upon the existence of such a super–subject (and its plans and goals). My alternative argument (which I think comes from Deleuze) would be that it isn't so much a well–integrated well organised super–subject that provides the drive for the cognitive task, but rather a dissonance producing chaotic attractor, speculatively dispersing fragments of sense into the world in order to simple make things happen. As Deleuze and Guattari say "the machine only works when it breaks down" (spot the double meaning).

So in fact, I argue, the cognitive tasks that drive the "mangrove effect" are closer to artistic creativity – composition, especially poetry. But this is not alien to Clark's thesis. In fact on page 208 he brilliantly identifies poetic composition as a form of thinking that exploits the "mangrove effect".

This leads onto Clark's more recent thoughts on other way in which thought is dependent upon an extended apparatus in a non–trivial way (that is to say, more than just as a means of cognitive off–loading, as in the case of simple note taking and note reading). Gestures and other rhythmic, haptic techniques were discussed. Someone asked if an exercise machine could ever form part of the extended cognitive apparatus (a musician would certainly say yes). Clark did talk briefly about non–linear couplings between mental and extended apparatus. A consideration of rhythmic apparatus could be drawn from there, leading into time and complexity.

At this point I remembered Cezanne's description of how his hands and the paintbrush and the canvas would merge together in the act of painting – what Deleuze called the "diagram" (see my entry on Cezanne Unlocking Sensation ). The act of painting for Cezanne, this merge between mental and external apparatus, rhymthically moving together, is a "mangrove effect". Cezanne:

Our art must shock nature into permanence, together with all the components and manifestations of change. Art must make nature eternal in our imagination.

August 25, 2005

Research Notes: dissipating reasoning, 'advanced' cognition, creativity

Follow-up to Research Notes: still unconvinced about cognitive 'science' from Transversality - Robert O'Toole

Can Clark's open-minded and pragmatic cognitive science be applied beyond the scope of problem-solving behaviour to which it is aimed?

By Chapter 9 of Being There, Clark has etablished good arguments for a more open-minded and pragmatic cognitive science, combining dynamical, computational, componential, symbol-processing and representational models so as to match the richness that we should expect of real minds. There is also the start of a set of heuristics to guide us in deciding which approach (or blend of approaches) to use in a given situation. The discussions of 'continuous reciprocol causation' and 'representation-hungry problems' provide some clues as to what indicators to seek in choosing methodologies for specific situtations.

Chapter 9, Minds and Markets, opens this up further, arguing for the importance of seeing minds as embedded in and formed from a set of other 'external' open systems. These real-world cognitive tool kits provide the material required for the various tricks and techniques that allow a brain to extend its intelligence and power significantly:

The idea, in short, is that advanced cognition depends crucially on our abilities to dissipate reasoning: to diffuse achieved knowledge and practical wisdom through complex social structures, and to reduce the loads on individual brains by locating those brains in complex webs of linguistic, social, political, and institutional constraints.

This may in fact sound rather obvious. Research in psychology, linguistics, sociology is concerned with just this. However, we could argue that there is a tendency to 'protectionism' that guards certain cognitive activities from this analysis. The discourse on 'creativity', for example, even now is surrounded by notions of genius. Studies of creativity as an embedded, machinic process (such as Deleuze's study of Bacon) are rare. And yet such studies have proven to be revealing and powerful.

My argument is that the 'higher' we can set the aims of the 'higher reasoning' addressed by Clarke, the better. Apply his methods without limit.

But at the same time, be critical and wary of his bias towards reasoning as pattern-matching, goal achieving, problem solving. Note the emphasis on constraints, and the lack of consideration of 'wild' less-directed revolutionary creative activities, in which arrangements of 'continuous recipricol causation' emerge rapidly, redefing the problem-space faster than the selection of problem solving apparatus.