Towards a Rehabilitation of Nature Philosophy

28Feb09

There are many enemies of Nature Philosophy among them mysticism, romanticism, and the countless gnarled roots of anthropic and theologic thought creeping out from the noetic morass of first causes.  Quantum physics for instance can (following Michio Kaku) over-ride the problems of first causes in that there does not need to be a primary mover – that atoms can begin to bounce with no external action (yet many such theories presuppose multi-verses and/or extra dimensions).

Along such lines of thought Schelling, in his early period, focuses on forces and powers (which incidentally is the title of Iain Hamilton Grant’s next text).  One cannot feel a little stunned when Schelling describes the creation of the universe as a series of explosions in the First Outline.  As several critiques and tributes of/to Schelling show, it is his empirical inaccuracies (due to the time period mostly) and his later articulation of freedom which dominates and over writes the very possibility of nature philosophy.

In Deleuze and Guattari’s What is Philosophy? the mostly disappointing section on geophilosophy contains one interesting titbit on Schelling – that where the Greeks performed philosophy in nature and mystified the mind, modern thinkers have obscured nature from the position of the mind (correlationism mayble?).

The central issue for nature philosophy becomes the tension between eliminativism and materialism (in the Zizekian/Badiouian/Lacanian sense) – between to what degree nature should be grounded without relying on a concept or structure which undermines the discoveries of contemporary science nor supports a anthropic view.  I think more and more I see myself in the theoretical Grant wing as Graham puts it though minus the Deleuze bent due to his incessant championing of positivity.

This leads us back to the festering clump of roots threatening nature philosophy taking romanticism and mysticism as particularly nefarious.  It because of the haunt of these schemas that the literature of dark romanticism is particularly useful in discerning a postitive-nihilism or constructively destructive comportment.  The dark romantics, of whom Melville and Poe are exemplary, share their sunny brothers fascination with nature but employ a pessimistic or realist attitude towards it.

To draw a parallel and to note upon the resistance to speculative realism I’ve encountered face to face, it seems that those who have reacted most strongly against speculative realism or just realism in general are feel-good live-in -the -moment types who use epistemological barriers as excuses to behave badly.

But to return to nature philosophy – it seems that the process of realist eliminativism runs into the issue of emergence at some point and, with that conflict, the problem of freedom is re-inserted into thought.

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5 Responses to “Towards a Rehabilitation of Nature Philosophy”

  1. Hi Ben- Nature philosophy is slightly out of my area, (though I read your pieces on it with enthusiasm) so just a brief comment on your last and extremely crucial point: the issue of emergence. I presume this will come up as a point of discussion at the next SR conference at UWE (if it doesn’t I will most certainly bring it up), as it sits spider like at the nexus of a number of questions. Primarily: to what extent is emergence an epistemological constraint (we see a structure, formed from a subsidiary structure, the micro-level obeying certain laws, the macro certain other laws, and whilst one is certainly the result of the other, it emerges in a dynamic manner, multiplicative rather than merely additive)- or is it an actual ontological property (as Levi and Latour hold). Is this the final gasp of correlationist anthropism (freedom in a scientistic guise?)

    It is also interesting to note your experiences with the reception of SR. Oddly, whilst SR certainly prompts a large number of troubling problems for thought, it is also profoundly liberating. The threat it poses (especially the destruction of the manifest image elements in Brassier) seems, perversely, perfectly in accord with my own intuitions on the nature of reality (that it evades our commonsensical perceptions in every direction)– and hence it is a source for constant cheerfulness… But obviously it is painful both for philosophers from the post-Kantian tradition and those who fear abstraction in itself…

  2. “incessant championing of positivity” – you make it sound like such a terrible thing! :)

  3. 3 Ben Woodard

    Alex – I think that is a very good point about emergence and I don’t know enough about the phenomenon to give too cogent of a response. The very fact that emergence is discussed in terms of patterns and behaviours already suggests a certain human view point there. An ant colony acting the way it does appears as a kind of organized complexity even though to them it is just sensory response that leads to an observable patters or geese don’t care that they fly in a V and it doesn’t matter. And I think emergence is a good reductionist/eliminativist account of structure or as a kind o counter to the count – it is just automatic.

    On the other hand I think once you get to energy flows and dynamics you have something different. Heat is not organized in the same sense and I think this is why Deleuze appears ostensibly useful for nature philosophy. But this all relies on a certain perception of time which is why I found Barbour’s “Thinking from No When” so interesting.
    The challenge is finding the Real (in Laruelle’s sense) of nature which, without time, might just be energy or mass or….gravity?

    I agree with your comments on SR – I find it incredibly liberating but then I also love stories of devastation and horror (I am a big fan of Ligotti). I think, in a lot of ways it is related to how existentialism was seen as depressing without God – and with SR we are going a step further in killing man. Sadly my grad program is full of Derrideans and Nancians – it’s depressing – and I am treated like a leper.

  4. Ben- I agree on the topic of energy- its why I keep coming back to De Landa as his dynamics theory work is less infected (or not at all in fact) with creeping Deleuzean moralism or biology… marrying dynamics theory to a totally Guyotatian subjectively evacuated cold-vitalism is one way to go on this. Whilst as Graham says, I am leaning towards eliminativism, on the other hand there is something useful in a cold/dark/mechanistic vitalism I cannot yet quite give up, at least at the level of ideas of decay, energy etc… especially when it comes to theorising about music I think, and perhaps capitalism too…

    Yes, I totally agree, SR can easily be seen as a step on (weirdly) from existentialism, in that it gives up even the pretense of authenticity and void-consciousness as hole in the seamless in-itself, its now just the in-itself in every direction!


  1. 1 Reviving Vitalism: Definitions and the Difference between ‘Cold’ and ‘Spectral’ « Complete Lies.

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