Asymptotic Thinking and Naturphilosophie (pt 2)


FWJ von Schelling closes his essay on human freedom in the following way:

“We have the greatest respect for the profundity of historical investigations, and believe to have shown that the almost universal opinion of man only gradually arose from the dullness of animal instinct to rationality it not our own. Yet we believe the truth lies closer to us, and that we should first look for solutions to the problems stirred up in our day at home, on our own soil, before we wander to such distant sources. The time of mere historical faith is past when the possibility of immediate knowledge is given. We have an older revelation than all written ones-nature. It contains prototypes that no man has yet interpreted, whereas those of written revelations have long since received their fulfillment and interpretation.”

Take also the following quote from Peirce which Lorenzo Magnani uses to open his text on abductive cognition and epistemology:

“How was it that man was ever led to entertain that true theory? You cannot say that it happened by chance, because the possible theories, if not strictly innumerable, at any rate exceed a trillion – or the third power of a million; and therefore the chances are too overwhelmingly against the single true theory in the twenty or thirty thousand years during which man has been a thinking animal, ever having come into any man’s head. Besides, you cannot seriously think that every little chicken, that is hatched, has to rummage through all possible theories until it lights upon the good idea of picking up something and eating it. On the contrary, you think the chicken has an innate idea of doing this; that is to say, that it can think of this, but has no faculty of thinking anything else. The chicken you say pecks by instinct. But if you are going to think every poor chicken endowed with an innate tendency toward a positive truth, why should you think that to man alone this gift is denied?”

Though Peirce’s written comments on Schelling are lukewarm (though often attached to his critic of the use of Schelling and Hegel by British Idealists) Peirce mentions in a letter to William James that he could see himself as a Schellingian transformed in the light of modern physics. Yet in many of his short essays Peirce seems more attracted to Hegel (or at least his triadic notion of classification) than any particular idea or concept of Schelling’s. Yet Peirce’s interest in a radical form of intuition (as suggestive above) holds more in common with Schelling than with Hegel as the former utilizes a constructive intuition that attempts to show the interconnectedness of things. While Hegel’s heterogeneous monism carries some guarantee of a historical whole (though this would change depending on whether one follows Zizek in saying that the subject determines the contingency of history in the whole or whether there is some ‘more objective’ form of totalizable history) Schelling’s monism does not.

While this breakdown of any totality in Schelling is posited as a limit of thought in the wake of temporal stretches (the unprethinkable is at least visually tied to the deep past) Gilles Chatelet in the third section of his remarkable Figuring Space, addresses how Schelling (and other Naturphilosophen) accomplish this in a spatial sense. Taking both Schelling’s Naturphilosophie and his Identity Philosophy together (often written off separate failures), Chatelet takes up Schelling’s focus on the point of indifference as itself the producer of two symmetries (75-76) – an argument which Schelling uses to situate himself between Spinoza and Leibniz in his Essay on Human Freedom. Chatelet places this discussion in the contest of Schelling’s proto-Field theory of polarities which in turn leads to the work of Faraday and Maxwell. Schelling’s constructive intuition is what makes possible, and in turn is made possible by (though on a different scale), the description of the universe as polarities which can only be adequately described in the diagramatic register. Where Schelling’s concept of the Potenz is often dismissed (such as by Beach and Vaughn) as Spinozistic power and nothing more, Chatelet recognizes that it speaks to an original tension of fields in Schelling that exponential produce and spin out of control producing more and more stages of being (stufenfolge). Chatelet’s description of the Naturphilosophical project as “feeding on the specificity of the singular to reach the plane where the intuitive and the discursive are born synchronously”  (101) brings us back to the above epigraphs from Peirce and from the end of Schelling’s Freedom Essay.

Furthermore, there lies a polarity internal to the intuitive itself where a tension lies between thinking according to the object and creating/discovering virtual-real objects through intuition which, again as Chatelet points out, is why Schelling’s articulation of the dialectic is that which deepens difference and functions one step back from reality as opposed to Hegel’s since, for Schelling, the dialectic cannot determine the course of nature or history but can only function as between methods or, in the Sellarsian sense, between scientific and manifest images or between myths. But, as always, the difficult lies in related this continuum of swirling polarities (or Maxwell’s gear-like voritices) which are not bound in absolute space for either Schelling or Peirce but a space which is connective (as the manifold is due to an excessive meshing due to the sheer number of entities) but not simply relative, not produced object to object. This space has a Kantian provenance yet it is a space which Kant never quite fleshed out. Whereas Kant takes the Leibnizian line against Newton in the Metaphysical Foundations of the Natural Sciences, the discussions of space in the Opus Postumum swing towards Spinoza through its use of the connective ether. As Iain Hamilton Grant points out in his essay “Movements of the World,” it is the polarization of the forces within the ether which Schelling takes as the starting point of philosophy. Schelling, according to Grant, the unconditioned as motion, exists prior to the formless form of all forms.

In this sense, intuition (as embodied abduction) participates in the polarization of the actual at the level of the object and the form of intuition. Grant’s assertion that Naturphilosophie pursues morphogenesis at its most basic level (as the formless form of all forms as activity) is a kind of cosmological reinscription of Kant’s transcendental object whereas the intuited object for Schelling, not only has its own form, but that form reshapes the very trajectory of thinking (ie when I think a cube my thinking takes the shape of a cube). The polarization of all fields in this way is not only Naturphilosophie’s contribution to science (against the empty spaces between the atomistic frames dominant in England and France following Lavoisier, Newtwon, Joseph Black and others) but also to the engine of modernity and universality. The punctuated field of the transcendental, which breaks itself into different iterations of polarities (a dialectic but one without human purview) demonstrates that the project of modernity is not always-already failed because it attempts to fly over actualities, but that it is the choice of the actualities utilized which determines the best speculative paths. It is the polarity within certain strands of modern thought itself (as a humanist conservatism and purportedly anti-humanist trajectory) that paints modernity or even reason as short sighted – as if reason could only ever belong to the hands of a few. It is the conglomeration of stratified resources and powers that allow for the colonial juggernaut of reason such as it has been named. Or, as Nick Land once put it, if reason is so secure why all the guns? Reason should not be marked as the curse wrought by the oppressors, but a weapon that has, in many ways, been poorly used.

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One Response to “Asymptotic Thinking and Naturphilosophie (pt 2)”

  1. Thank you for the juxtaposition of Schelling/Grelet – that definitely helps me think about things a lot more clearly. Best wishes, David.

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