Asymptotic Thinking and Naturphilosophie: Some Thoughts (pt 1)

07Dec12

This post is largely jumping off from a string of comments between Reza Negarestani, Benedict Singleton, and Alex Williams amongst others from several weeks ago. Also Liam Sprod discusses some similar issues here. It is also jumping from from Reza’s two recent lectures in NYC.

It started with this quote from Giuseppe Longo:

“In this sense, there are no laws that entail, as in physics, the becoming of the biosphere, and a fortiori, the econosphere, or culture or history, or life in general. In the same sense, geodetic principle mathematically forces physical objects never to go wrong. A falling stone follows exactly the gravitational arrow. A river goes along the shortest path to the sea, it may adjust it by nonlinear well definable interactions as mentioned above, but it will never go wrong. These are all geodetics. Living entities, instead, go wrong most of the time: most organisms are extinct, the majority of fecundations, in mammals, do not lead to a birth, an amoeba does not follows, exactly, a curving gradient — by retention it would first go along the tangent, then correct the trajectory, in a protensive action. In short, life goes wrong most of the time, but it “adjusts” to the environment and changes the environment, if possible. It maintains itself, always within an extend critical interval, whose limits are the edge of death, by changing the observables, the phenotypes, that is the very nature of the living object.”

In the most general sense there is a discussion of spatiality here which is generally lacking in Naturphilosophie (something I have mentioned in a few talks on Schelling) and other Naturphilosophie practitioners generally do not have a good concept of space. This is particularly problematic given the fairly convincing account of German Idealism as functioning as various means of heterogeneous monisms. This difference between Hegel and Schelling in this regard would be that the connectivity of substance is more ideal (what exactly the objects of objective idealism points to numerous conflicting readings) whereas for Schelling objects are the instances of colliding powers.

In the numerous thinkers on which Negarestani pulls from to from his asymptotic thinking (Longo, Chatlet, Oresme, Bertholz, Zalamea) the substantive model is (in so far as I understand it and that’s not very far) is replaced by a continuum. Such a continuum seems a far more agnostic model than the absolute (whether transcendental or an absolute immanence) in that the open or closedness of the continuum takes on a different meaning as ruptures or symmetry breaks happen between fields, in a way quite different from becoming which has at least brings up the image of a continuous ‘left-to-right’ creation, a volitional model skewed towards the temporal (in which the seemingly non-volitional aspects are given over to the mysteries of human experience) whereas the continuum is more like a spatialization of contingency in so far as contingency can be spatialized in terms of the emergence of fields between and within constraints. Futhermore, while it may be immediately tempting to conceive of the continuum in terms of part-whole relations (in terms of mereology) this has limitations for addressing any kind of dynamism (as I think is clear in Negarestani’s “The Militarization of Peace”).

This abstract continuum is discussed by Negarestani as the geodesics of space-time. In cosmological terms Negarestani writes: “Follow the Copernican commune to the Eisensteinian revolution and Weylian continuum-subversion (Hermann Weyl’s introduction of the continuum to the cosmological chasm), gravity is revealed to be the force that weaves the depth of the abyss by unifying the particulate (quantum level) and the galactic (the level of relativity) within one continuum, thus effectively rendering the planetary continuous to the beyond [...] Succinctly speaking, planets are black holes of cosmological contingencies. They are extended phase spaces that condition the possibility of breaking away from the entailing laws of physics, generating environments that cannot be traced back to their physical causes insofar their paths are generically non-optimal (as opposed to optimal paths of pure physical universe) and ultra-contingent.”

Elsewhere Negarestani has defined his alignment of universalism as:

“rather an ancient and somehow forgotten philosophical project extending from Greek philosophy to scholasticism with figures such as Oresme and Villa Nova and then Spinoza, Kant, Peirce, Chatelet and recently Zalamea, Mazzola and Magnani. A philosophical project responsible for engendering both antagonistic and united fronts, diversifying philosophical orientations beyond their local restricted ambit, and in each and every instance anticipating a conception of modernity – or more accurately trans-modernity – irreducible to commonalities and feigned reconciliations: synopticism in building.”

How exactly asymptotic thought operates in between regimes is still unclear to me. I’ve been reading and re-reading Robert Batterman’s The Devil in the Details to try and understand exactly how this is the case. Again, in so far as I understand it, asymptotic thought acknowledges the contingent place of one’s observations but, in order to discover the non-triviality of any particular selection of thought (or one’s own existence as such a selection or bracketing) aysmptotic thinking is a method which involves the approach of two infinities. Faced with the ocean of reason or ocean of chaos one can, to step into the navigational language will Reza has used, either navigate by a dead reckoning – by moving and trying to ascertain one’s location from speed in relation to the original fix of one’s position (an acceleration without too much epistemological strategy it would seem) or by refusing to leave the sight of land (which would seem to be the iterative normative model of Sellars and Brassier?).

The tension between a substantive or even absolute model and thinking the trans-modern continuum is tricky because I think the impulse is to say ‘continuum of what?’ in that it is hard to see a spatio-temporal continuum that is not substantive intuitively (though this is taken for granted in much of the physical sciences especially physics). On the one hand this can buttress the accelerative engine of computational reason in which being = number to varying levels of vulgarity and interestingly Batterman refers to his own theory as a kind of hyper-physicalism. In many ways, and as it seems Negarestani is doing, there is a mesh of the epistemological and ontological that is not correlationst but chaotically mired in complexity. But this begs the question of to what degree the iterative paradigm and other paradigms can be accepted? Does this lead to the so called democracy of Laruelle’s radical immanence?

The central upshot seems to be that connectivity is not enough but those doesn’t necessarily mean that discrete units is the solution to the complexity and difficulty of connection and breakage. It is here I see German Idealism (particularly one that is not overly obsessed with the problem of the subject but focuses on the problem of system) of potential use. As Paul Franks argues, if German Idealism is a response to the Agrippean (or Munchhausen) trilemma that the problem in justifying knowledge claims is avoiding 1-circularity, 2-infinite regress, or 3-pure axiomatic decision, it reveals its use as contemporary thought is cross wiring these justifications in various ways. Given the dominance of philosophies of immanence (following John Mullarkey) it would seem that axiomatic choice has become the weapon of choice. Meillassoux’s philosophy can be taken as a particularly strong form of the third choice as the groundlessness of the axiomatic (its artificiality) is the only ground one can claim to rest on.

The question is whether and how the geometrical/topological model can break out of the logical loop, or perhaps the logical loop as doubly divided from the physics of thought and the thought of physics.

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One Response to “Asymptotic Thinking and Naturphilosophie: Some Thoughts (pt 1)”

  1. What do you think about Whitehead’s contribution to the question of spatiality, of its continuity and its multiplicity?

    I unpack his approach to space-time here: http://footnotes2plato.com/2012/12/11/space-time-in-an-ontology-of-organism-the-relevance-of-whiteheads-philosophy-of-organism-to-contemporary-scientific-cosmology/


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