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Last time I wrote about (among other things) how the mistake of confusing the normal with the healthy should not be merely combined with a critique of the biometric approach in biology (or even more generally the mathematization of life). Canguilhem is well known for repeating over and over the impossibility of equating the normal and the healthy though he does this less in terms of a critique of statistical analysis in neo-Darwinism but by way of his own philosophy of the concept. In other words, it is on historical-conceptual grounds that healthy and normal should not be collapsed not necessarily because of the political misuse (or biopolitical imperative) smuggled within the shift from healthy to normal but because they invoke very different epistemological relations between concepts and practices. We can also say this makes it easy for Foucault to later extract these concepts and discuss the history and structure of hospital separate from the more particular experimental and clinical examples focused on by Canguilhem.

Canguilhem cites the famous physiologist Charles Bernard again and again throughout his career in relation to such a problem since for Bernard there is no perfect organism – he famously quipped he had never seen health only instances of not quite healthy specimens. But, also as mentioned in the last post, this does not guarantee any safety for the specimens declared less than perfect (as Bernard was infamous for his vivisectional brutality). Bernard’s functionalism is in this sense both highly empirical and yet always claims to be in a service of a ideal type as guiding principle – the empirical fails to be the ideal but only the empirical can give hints and lay out trails towards it.

Continue reading ‘Shiny Flesh – Ideals in biology’


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A long erratic path has led me back to looking at biology and bio-philosophy as part of a book project on the relationship between German Romanticism/Naturphilosophie and French Structuralism and Materialism. Having read both analytic Philosophy of Biology (especially Grene and Depew) and various Bio-Philosophies (Bergson’s Creative Evolution, Canguilhem’s Knowledge of Life, various Deleuzian takes etc) it seems that there is not only the usual continental/analytic rift at work but a serious gap regarding the post-Darwinian pre-Modern synthesis story about the relation of philosophy and biology.

While some continental theorists touch up the neo-vitalists (such as Driesch) or celebrate the complexity of cell theorists (such as Deleuze on Weissman) little attention is paid to how the disagreement between Mendelians and Neo-Darwinians were shaped by previous debates as well as then contemporary worries about the status of biology as a science. Those who rediscovered the work of Mendel (such as de Vries) were generally seen as non-gradualist evolutionary theorists or mutationists (believing that the genes and alleles meant for the possibility of saltationism or evolution by jumps. This view which is often seen as fortified by William Bateson (father of the cybernetician/anthropologist Gregory Bateson) is opposed to the work of bio-statisticians or bio-metricists (such as Galton, Pearson, and Weldon) who used statistical methods to prove, in a somewhat reverse sense, the existence of natural selection.

The disagreement in part was about treating genes as a kind of force or driver for natural selection, as instigating morphological change at a pace rapider than Darwin predicted or whether changes in populations could be seen as natural selection looking at the movement between communities of breeders and how traits could develop depending on population distribution. These positions while opposed on their general view of Darwinism were synthesized since the metrics of the biostatisticians could be seen as measuring the patterns of tendencies of genes while emphasis on genes allowed one to explain how selective material was transmitted hereditarily.

The critique of many biophilosophers of these approaches (when they are addressed at all – instead often one simply looks at Darwin or Cuvier or Buffon) is that it does not account for the force of life or the source of creativity (this is part of Bergson’s critique of Darwin – that there is no real account of creativity). But Bergson ( who was actually better versed than many of his philosophical contemporaries in then current biology such as neo-Lamarckianism and neo-Darwinism of the late 19th century) of course would have rejected such mathematical approaches out of hand even though they, in essence, make the flow of genes and the organisms that bear them the force of creativity itself.

Continue reading ‘Philosophy of Biology/Bio-Philosophy’


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Elvia Wilk’s novel Oval is about a green-washed near-future Berlin that moves straight into disaster without anyone seeming to notice it is too late, without anyone talking about the actual problems around them. All the characters seem too invested with a narrow vision of their immediate situations, of wondering about their social circles, with small pleasures of distraction. The main character Anja is the only one who seems capable of developing real solutions to climate change and yet we see what is possible only towards the end and when things already seem too dire. Why don’t we find out more about her work, why is she so worried about her boyfriend, what actually happens in the end?

Of course most of the knee-jerk reactions to the novel feel like they could be succumbing to traps (and some hints to this are explicit in the book). At one point in the novel it is mentioned that women are seen as being too emotion or caring to much about relationships which should warn us about reading Anja’s portrayal that way. The world that leads to disaster is one of men who are comfortable before, during, and after, who are giving funds and support for solutions that seem radical when in fact they are merely a shiny-looking shortcut.

The near future Berlin of the novel does seem familiar but only in a few details but this is not because it has radically changed rather it is because a place where everyone lives but never lives in (ex-pats who work elsewhere) is reflected in the Berg itself. The Berg (an artificial mountain eco-living collective community built on the ruins of Templehof) is a fantasy island/housing development. Nothing works quite right but that’s (at least in part) because no one follows the rules. People leave and work and consume normally but enforce micro-discipline when it comes to the garbage (or owning pets). Berlin is lived in for its short term cultural life but not really lived in – the Berg is a eco exception zone that does not really mean the people on it ‘are’ ecological.

If I have a criticism of the novel it is that the time it spends too much time lampooning the art world. It is not that the art world does not deserve this (it does) it rather that I think that the art world does a good enough job making fun of itself most of the time.

The strongest take away from reading the novel for me was this: Anja and Louis both demonstrate – the ecological crisis seems to necessitate the growing of roots but this makes us too often mistrust technological solutions in social isolation as well as social-engineering as if it is a straight forward affair or hopelessly manipulative.  The novel also makes clear that this distortion has more than a few feminist concerns – and that part of this requires changing one’s perception of feminism as stuck in 2nd wave performativity. Part of the hope of the novel is that there can be an eco-feminism which is sufficiently weird and sufficiently technological.

Note: I also was not sure how to draw the threads between the novel and Wilk’s non-fiction other than (as others have pointed out) to insist that Anja is infected by her eco house and that, at the same time, Louis could have drugged himself and others in to being socially empathic. There is still much territory to be explored in terms of the relation between ecological and the weird. There is an old text of mine here as well as the work of Ali Sperling among others.


There is a well known letter that Mark Twain wrote to his friend Joe Twichell soon after the death of Twain’s wife ‘Livy’ which constantly returns to me. It has come to my mind more and more recently as I have had too many occasions to think about the death of someone I knew. In the letter Twain writes:

“Dear Joe,

‘How life and the world – the past and future – are looking – to me? (A part of each day and night) as they have been looking to me for the past 7 years: as being NON-EXISTENT. That is, that there is nothing. That there is no god and no universe; that there is only empty space, and in it a lost and homeless and wandering and companionless and indestructible thought. And that I am that thought. And God and the Universe and Time and Life and Death and Joy and Sorrow and Pain only a grotesque and brutal dream, evolved from the frantic imagination of that insane thought.”

Twain’s words are repeated in various versions of his last and unfinished work the mysterious stranger. Satan seems to endorse’s Twain’s notion that the only certainty is oblivion and that life is a vapor, a delusion, a dream. Yet we are in that dream and what does it mean to think the dream from within a dream, to think the limit of thought if thought imposes its own limit in its dreamy non-logic? The oldest (or certainly one of the oldest) problems of philosophy is that of the unfortunate lot of mortals being trapped between thinking about that which is and that which is not.

Continue reading ‘Idealism, Solipsism, and the Mournful Mind’


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The final chapter of Kimhi’s text (the quietism of the stranger) turns back to the general concerns regarding the Parmendies and the two way split of thought. After the Aristotelian marathon of the previous chapter Kimhi looks at how Plato addresses the figure of Parmenides and critiques him without committing parricide. As Kimhi has it, Plato’s dialogue must critique and ultimetly clarify what the riddle of being is in order to show how the sophists abuse the notion of ‘that which is not.’ Similar to those who would rely upon the force of an assertion to carry its positivity, Kimhi argues that Plato’s correct understanding of the Parmenidean riddle shows how, in a syncategorematic manner, the negative is parasitic on the positive but that the simultaneous synthesis and separation of thinking as an act can think what is not in a manner not dependent upon assertoric (or rhetorical) force.

Kimhi analyzes analytic interpretations of Plato’s puzzle and argues that the various forms of reading reads the notion of states of affairs back onto it or, as following MacDowell, deflates the puzzle as merely a confusion between naming and saying. MacDowell assumes that Plato’s puzzle (what is and never changes and what changes but never is) arises from a lack of a notion of state affairs, of a notion of truth that is purely veridical (a notion of truth that is separable from questions of being and non-being).

Continue reading ‘Kimhi’s Thinking and Being (Ch 3)’


I am sure no one will read this but I will keep writing because I am almost done for all that it matters.

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In the second half of the book’s main chapter Kimhi focuses on the structure of assertions in Aristotle. Following Kimhi’s central division of categorematic and syncategorematic he argues that statements are divided by an asymmetrical emphasis on affirmation and that all statements are split two ways internally. In otherwords that I can say something is x means that I assert that it is that way while entertaining that it could be the other way – ie that my thought has a direction which does not easily confirm to a state of affairs or a psychological attitude. While Kimhi admits that this sounds odd he thinks that such a position has definite advantages over the Fregean functionalist approach (which we have already addressed) as well as the schematic conceptualization of the unity of the proposition. This schematic conceptualization reads sentences and their meanings as internal relations between the semantic and the syntactic which produce solid or sound arguments (90).

Continue reading ‘Kimhi -Thinking and Being (Ch 2 ,Sec 9-19)’


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The central chapter of Kimhi’s Thinking and Being wanders far into the Aristotelian weeds – arguing that consistent misreadings of the notion of being in Aristotle’s work has closed the possibility which Kimhi has attempted in the first half of the book to re-open – namely that thought must be considered as a two-way capacity for action. This two way split which is not strictly formal nor non-formal is meant to supplant the more common strategy of dividing thought into logical and psychological components which then become (at least functionally and methodologically) independent of one another.

I am not properly trained to say whether Kimhi’s engagement with the various interpretations of kuriotata, energia, and the apophantic is radical or not (I simply do not have such deep knowledge of Aristotle scholarship). But what is central to Kimhi’s claim (and which he notes certain sympathy with Hediegger’s reading of Aristotle’s metaphysics) is that in general the notion of logic and its relationship to action (energia) in Aristotle is smashed together too quickly. Kimhi wishes to maintain that logic (in Aristotle’s sense) should not be retroactively seen as about states of affairs (as Kimhi puts it even prayer has a logos) and in turn being (esti) should not be submitted to the reign of contemporary analytic correspondence (68)

Regarding action (energia) Kimhi argues that one cannot collapse the following three levels: (s1) – Mary thinks that p, (s2) – This human is thinking, (s3) Mary is thinking (74). For Kimhi there is something quite special about s3 and this is tied to the two-way split of thought as having a monistic character and yet being and not being predicative. This rides on the fact that affirmation is more than negation in some sense (negation is parasitic on affirmation and yet both contain the other but not in terms analyzable strictly in terms of predicate form).

Continue reading ‘Kimhi’s Thinking and Being Chapter 2 (Sections 1-9)’




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