Saturday, September 26, 2009

The Shadows of Totalization, Part XL

I want to use a concept “from” physics, inertia, to describe what appears to be a sociological, political, or philosophical process (or entity), Totalization.

One motivation for this is to dispel a nasty destructive polemical plaguing discussion at Enlightenment Underground,caused because our critical terminology is not critical though we use it as if it is. This includes key concepts of affirmation, active, passive, constructive, positive,"new" ,production,creation, but most importantly Totalization, and Totality.

We run into strange confrontations where Orla accuses me of necrophilic tarrying over dead, useless corpses of thought while to me Orla seems to be a thoughtless tot bouncing off the walls. Different conceptions of the active collide without critical awareness of the concepts or their differences.

We are unable to satisfactorily resolve basic disagreements--there is no basis for resolution. We could of course “tolerate” each other and allow each other to move in whatever direction we individually chose,independent of agreement or dialogue, but this would involve regarding the underlying problem as trivial—it is not. Whatever direction we chose to move would be trivial in comparison to the problem we would be leaving behind as intractable. Until we successfully distinguish between active and passive or the other terms we wish to use critically, we won’t have satisfactory resolution.

How would we distinguish between active and passive? How could the mysterious move to think of Totalization literally as inertia (understood as a law of motion) help?

It seems audacious or misguided to directly use science(physical sciences, not the social sciences—but part of what is at issue in the conflict is the status of the social sciences as science) to think the human (the sociological, political, cultural, or “philosophical.”) What is it in “the human” subject which makes it distinctly recalcitrant to this type of thought? Would we trace this recalcitrant distinction back to the origin of the species, or is it something we would or could find genealogically, perhaps even in recent history?

Friday, September 25, 2009

The Shadows of Totalization, Part XXXIX

“The text [ Newton's De Gravitatione, unpublished until 1962] is largely focused on presenting an extended series of criticisms of Cartesian natural philosophy; and, it is significant for understanding Newton's thought, not least because it represents his most sustained known philosophical discussion.

Three aspects of De Gravitatione merit discussion here. The first two involve Newton's rejection of Cartesian views of space, time and motion, and the third centers on his rejection of a broadly Cartesian conception of body. To begin with the first point: in much of De Gravitatione, Newton is apparently concerned to emphasize a series of problems with Descartes's basic conception of space, time, and motion; some of these problems, in turn, stem from the fact — at least from Newton's point of view — that Descartes presents conceptions of space, time and motion that fail to reflect a proper understanding of the basic principles of physics. This is a particularly pressing matter, of course, since Descartes should be credited with one of the very first modern formulations of the principle of inertia, which was obviously central to the later development of Newtonian mechanics. Since the Stanford Encyclopedia includes an extensive entry on Newton's view of space, time and motion, suffice it to say here that Newton takes Descartes's relationalism to fail to account for the proper distinction between true and merely apparent motion. One of the primary goals of Newton's Principia is to make this distinction rigorous and clear.

This point about Descartes's relationalism might be considered an internal criticism of Descartes's system for two reasons. Descartes himself attempts to distinguish between true — or “proper” [proprie/propre] — motion and motion in a “vulgar” or “ordinary” sense [vulgarem/commun], and does so in what we might call a relationalist fashion. For Descartes, whereas motion in the vulgar sense is “the action by which a body travels from one place to another,” motion in the proper sense is “the transfer of one piece of matter, or one body, from the vicinity of the other bodies which immediately touch it, and which we consider to be at rest, to the vicinity of other bodies” (Principles of Philosophy, Part Two, sections 24-25| Descartes 1644/1982, 53-4). Indeed, in the Scholium to the Principia, it seems that Descartes's “proper” motion, defined in terms of the relations of bodies contiguous to a given body, becomes Newton's relative motion. That is, Newton remarkably refashions Descartes's own distinction between the “ordinary” and the “proper” definitions of motion by contending that the latter is sufficiently precise for ordinary affairs, but not for physics. The second reason is this: Newton takes the fashioning of the distinction between true and merely apparent motion to be one of the primary goals not just of his physics, but also of Cartesian physics. So in De Gravitatione, Newton seems to conclude that Cartesian physics fails on its own terms. (Whether this is a fair assessment, of course, is a separate issue.)”

Janiak, Andrew, "Newton's Philosophy" The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Fall 2008 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

Monday, September 21, 2009

The Shadows of Totalization, Part XXXVIII

Newton and Kant both respond in some depth to Descartes.

(But I’m not going to say Newton and Kant respond solely to Descartes or that the origin of both is to be found only in Descartes.)

These are, however, very different responses.

Kant’s response becomes Kantian critical philosophy.

Newton’s response becomes Newtonian physics.

Could we just as well refer to a Newtonian critical philosophy? I contend we could.

Could we also just as well refer to a Kantian physics? I contend we could not.

Maybe this would also mean we’ve been wrong to have ever referred to a Kantian critical philosophy.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

The Shadows of Totalization, Part XXXVII

I want to make a very simple point—really just an accent and emphasis of something I said in the last post.

Newton is the last great natural philosopher and the first great modern scientist.

In truth, however, we do not have great regard for Newton as natural philosopher--we prefer to see him strictly as the first great modern scientist. What's more, after Newton, anyone proceeding to do the work Newton is most famous for is considered a scientist or a mathematician--never as a natural philosopher.

Though work in natural philosophy had been an integral part of philosophy since Aristotle (and is especially important in Descartes, something I want to remark more upon later,) this kind of work is not done any further by philosophers. From Newton onwards, a philosopher who wants to do philosophy and mathematics or science, must “change hats” back and forth.

Newton was a philosopher-scientist. However, history for the most part has stripped out the philosopher (here I mean the comments in Newton which we contemporaries would recognize as philosophical. I’m not even yet beginning to talk about the huge amounts of Newton’s work which would be regarded as theological or beyond that just plain loony, weird, screwball, and misguided,) and at the same time sterilizes the physics so extracted in such a way that it cannot without special effort yield or re-fertilize new philosophy.

This is probably the most crucial deactivation of philosophical ethos in the last thousand years.

It murders pragmatic practice of philosophy.

Physics and mathematics goes on to have a spectacularly productive run, but it appears to me the continuation of this (physics and mathematics in their capacity as physics and mathematics—I’m not interested here in physics and mathematics as they “relate” to politics or society,) is in crisis unless it can again touch philosophy-science, "natural philosophy."

Friday, September 18, 2009

The Shadows of Totalization, Part XXXVI

I want to address in detail Christoffer’s question about the last post. Christoffer asked,

“Isnt action just another (but seemingly different from the view of orientation of the first) expression of inertia? Action is that which resists the pull of inertia, and inertia is that which resist the pull of action .. How are they different?”

This question, as I understand it, stems from the problematic relationship of science to philosophy.

When I first saw the question, I considered clearing it up simply by explaining the scientific concepts of force, motion, acceleration, and mass as they relate to the concepts of action and inertia. I still plan to do this, but later. I want to keep the philosophical problem of relating science to philosophy--not brush it away by suggesting it is science which has the effective, true concepts. As I also honor philosophy as a pragmatic practice, I will not bring in the physics just yet.

Briefly, what is the history of philosophy's relationship to these scientific questions?

Philosophy posed, as far back as Aristotle, questions about the nature of force, and in the form of Aristotle’s “natural philosophy”, answered some of them. No advancements were made until the work of Newton,the last great natural philosopher or the first great modern scientist, nearly two thousand years later. It might have been possible for Newton to have revolutionized both natural philosophy (philosophy) and science if not for the intercepting intervention of Kant, who prevented the revolution in philosophy.

Kant, while knowledgeable and enthusiastic about Newton, put the kabosh on Newton in some very difficult to disentangle ways. Because of this, Newton has only influenced philosophy (and social sciences) in very restricted and ultimately perverse and rather harmful ways. Philosophy has been impervious to crucial Newtonian concepts such as inertia. If inertia has been a philosophically-useful concept, it hasn't been as Newton's concept, and it is worth finding out why.

The idea is to feed Newton back into philosophy without making philosophy into science or without losing the pragmatic power of science or philosophy. This project is necessitated (in my thinking) by the growing realization that the problem of Totalization, considered within formal philosophical boundaries, is either ephemeral and delusional, or unsolvable.

Writing under Kant's motto of the Enlightenment (thus treating Kant as emblematic of Enlightenment,) and yet wishing to consider Enlightenment the overcoming of Totalization, we have been baffled. We need to consider Kant's refusal of Newton's revolution and the way this hinders us from having the conceptual vocabulary we require.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Shadows of Totalization, Part XXXV

A polemic isn’t necessarily closed to net external force…In order to show a polemical discourse was inertial (totalizing) it needs to be shown net external forces don’t or can’t act upon the polemical.

If a polemic inspired investigation, criticism, or questioning (even if there were better ways of inspiring these) I would be unable to call the polemical inertial, although maybe I could still make a case for calling the polemical relatively inertial. However, I am looking for some social discursive or nondiscursive practice I can call absolutely inertial. Can I build the case that the polemical is absolutely inertial?

I want to temporarily propose that the polemical is fed by principle, not by investigation, criticism, and questioning. I have to come back to how I know the polemical is fed by principle, or principle exclusively. I first want to see: what is a principle?

Wikipedia defines a principle,

A principle is one of several things: (a) a descriptive comprehensive and fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption; (b) a normative rule or code of conduct, and (c) a law or fact of nature underlying the working of an artificial device.

(The Wikipedia definition corresponds with the other dictionary definitions to which I have access.)

A fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption could not change without losing its status as a fundamental law, doctrine or assumption. As fundamental law, doctrine, or assumption it could not change. It must be inert. If the polemical is fed by the inert, it would be to that extent less apt to change. It would be at least somewhat stabilized. How much stabilized?

Painting by Gloria Petyarre.

Saturday, September 05, 2009

The Shadows of Totalization, Part XXXIV

What if I take the polemical as a primary form of inertia?

Engaged in a polemical round and round and round, one of the most fascinating characteristics of such a social mass is the way no net external force seems able to penetrate, let alone act.

The round and round and round of the polemical is easily mistaken for motion, in a way which seems to me entirely analogous to the way inertial motion of bodies at constant velocity in a straight line could have been taken, prior to Newton, as acting force.

In the polemical round and round, the social (or otherwise-conceived “social” body), while appearing to be transforming itself, can also be interpreted as endeavoring to preserve its present state.

I want to be able to sort real change (or maybe it would be better to call this simply the real,) from apparent change (or maybe, simply the apparent.) How far-fetched is it to think I make progress in this by bracketing the polemical from thought? Just how difficult is it to bracket the polemical from thought? How far will this take the project? Will the “discovery” be to find active forces within the polemical which I fail to recognize? Can I non-metaphorically, non-mythically, without analogy, show the polemical to be passive?

* Photograph of God by Tony Kelly.