Notes from New Sodom

... rantings, ravings and ramblings of strange fiction writer, THE.... Sodomite Hal Duncan!!

Monday, December 12, 2011

There Are No Objects in the World

Pixie Farts and Particles

Hmmm. I seem to be slowly drifting into a philosophical kitbashing mode here. This is what happens when you read too much of PKD's Exegesis (... so to speak. As if one could ever really read too much of the Exegesis. Feh!) Anyway, fuck it. Let's run with the whole freeform ontological jazz riff, see where we get to from Plato's Cave and an OOP-principled take on universals and particulars as classes and objects. Cause why the fuck not?

So, as per the previous post, I don't buy the whole notion of a realm of ideas, the flummery of ascribing existence to universals. I look at universals and I see class-structure, and not as the pre-defined library of a coder outside time, but as the analytic produce of an objHuman. I see the hierarchies of such class structure developing with the running of this program called reality as fairly blatant signs that "universals" are in fact anything but; they're as ephemeral as fireflies in the grand scheme of things, the flux of activity itself developing such that sub-classes of CPerson -- CHunter, CSmith, CTailor, CCarter -- have been thrashed out over a whole history of diverse cultures of CHuman objects. Eternal Platonic forms? Dude, these types of human are not capable of being defined as classes until they exist as instances, not capable of existing until the objects they require for this or that key method exist -- spear, forge, clothes, wheel -- until the method is so codified and culturally integrated it can become a speciality. Existence precedes essence here because essence is made the fuck up.

Fuck, I can't imagine a Platonic morphological realm without thinking about the Platonic forms of "skin cell," "brain cell," "sperm cell," and all such structures -- all as fundamental to the "human" form as the triangle to the tetrahedron. And more fundamental still is the water molecule, the hydrogen atom, the electron. There comes a point where the "incorporeal reality" ascribed to the essences of things is simply a fancy of substantiation in aether instead of matter, pizazz in place of energy, where we're just fantasising a spirit-cosmos inhabited by incorruptible avatars of every imaginable class of object -- including, of course, the CHalDuncan class -- but made of pixie farts instead of particles.

As far as I can see, this notion of the essential, the spiritual, the metaphysical is all about the existential, the material, the physical; it's simply a matter of switching labels to maintain a mumbo jumbo pretence of Eternity, a dream of this world's forms unfleshed so they can be imagined corporeal in another medium -- forever. It's just a repackaging of the existential without the angst-inducing muck of carnality and cadavers.

Fuck that shit.

Transcending the Transcendence Game

However, I am an inveterate footerer with wacky ideas, so I am kinda interested in the idea of a sort of morphological realm -- a realm of ideas -- that I'd count as metaphysical in the sense that a dance is. A particular instance of a dance, I mean, wherein a bunch of drunk folks at a ceilidh, say, dance the Gay Gordons. The dancers are physical, their actions are physical, but the dance itself is a non-physical object instantiated through the co-ordinated actions of the participants, a pattern emerging in the substrate of human interactions, a form that is existential, spatiotemporal, but only as a gestalt of entities' actions. We could just call these events, of course, but that is to parse the flux of activity into discrete chunks, to treat these chunks of action as objects in some strange way -- a dancing of the Gay Gordons as an instantiated object of the class CGayGordons.

A Mexican Wave at a football match would be another example, one that neatly offers us the event as pure form -- waveform -- and points to the ubiquity of the object paradigm. We speak of waves in water as objects too. Fuck it, aren't we dealing with a world of objects made of particles that may also be considered as waves? If all those low-scale events can be parsed as physical objects, it doesn't seem unfair to parse mid-scale events as metaphysical objects.

We just need to execute any assumption that metaphysical somehow means spiritual. Any implication of priority or elevation -- we need to take it out to the woods, put a bullet in the back of its head. That's the transcendence game. That's the crude concrete thinking of the Platonic "Realist" not simply projecting the actual instantiation of objects onto class-structures -- hand-waving it as "existence" in spirit instead of substance -- but projecting a spatiotemporal co-ordination of the physical and metaphysical stuff, one that -- surprise surprise -- privileges the latter (the one without all the messy flesh) as "higher" reality. How facile can one's mode of thought be? For Cock's sake, it's the philosophical equivalent of counting on your fingers to shackle your thinking to such simplistic projections. If there's any transcendence to be done it's of this notion of transcendence.

It's not an arduous task, rethinking the metaphysical as a) not made of pixie farts, and b) not floating above our heads. That prefix meta- doesn't have to mean above, conflating the metaphysical with the supernatural, applying an obsolete heavens-oriented hierarchy whereby the structural framework of forms is projected into a "higher level" of ordering principia, shallowly cosmomorphised as a realm. The root meanings of meta- are actually with, across, after, so one might well rearticulate the morphological as the metaphysical along those lines -- as a matter of structure dependent on the physical (after,) manifest in the relationships of the physical (across,) and inherently bound to it (with).

Where actuality becomes virtuality is what we're talking here, I suppose. That dance is a virtual object, instantiated in a medium of human activity. It's not a material object in the way a rock is, but it's every bit as actual as that rock. That Mexican Wave isn't physical in the same way an ocean wave is, doesn't obey the laws of physics as a wave, but it's no less spatiotemporal. And approaching the metaphysical from this angle might just redeem the notion from the obsolescent fantasy of essences as spirits.

A Dancing of Substantia

One thing to clarify: while I used the notion of classes and objects in the last post to try and dismantle some of the tosh surrounding universals as "abstract objects," this is not to propose OOP principles as the best approach to ontology. It's an approach designed for prescription not description. I reckon that model is a good starting point for establishing existence as a matter of substantiation, of actual instantiation in material spatiotemporal reality, establishing the differences between actuality and a) virtuality, b) potentiality. But I doubt my whim of an objHuman.Analyse() method bears much relation to how we really make sense of the world.

Really, taking classes, attributes and methods out of the equation as "abstract objects" is to clear some space to deal with abstracted objects that are spatiotemporal, that are existential -- metaphysical objects in the after/across/with sense, things that aren't material in the sense that an eminently kickable rock is, but which are no less in and of this cosmos -- e.g. humanity considered not as a quality inherent in all humans, not as a class of primates, but as the living species that came into existence, to the best of our knowledge, 200,000 years ago. Or the stock market. Or the SFF scene. Humanity, the stock market, the SFF scene, a dancing of the Gay Gordons, a Mexican Wave -- all of these are more interesting than universals because their metaphysicality, their virtuality, is a matter of framing. These are collective actualities abstracted to structures, series of events framed as objects.

The twist is, the same can be said of a rock, I'd argue. Rather than carry on from the whole OOP principles model with its assumption that there are discrete objects we try to describe with class structure, I want to question the whole notion of the physical object. I want to blow apart the whole abstract/concrete division, scrap the discrete object entirely, and for the sake of argument treat all such things as collective actualities.

There are no objects in this world.

That's an extreme way of articulating it, but before you kick a rock to refute this wild fancy, understand that this is not a denial of substantiation but rather the opposite -- a repudiation of the notion of "object" for the way it projects essence upon the existential. It's a mere matter of human framing to see this portion of stony substantia as a rock when it was once mountain and will one day be sand. In the notion of the rock as "object," I mean, we set a frame upon a portion of reality's material spatiotemporal stuff, isolate it out as a singular thing. That framing is a natural and logical approach, sure, but where thinking of the rock as object casts the frame as an inherent quality of discreteness, it's just bogus.

All "objects" are substantia framed by human convention. To reject the characterisation of the rock as an object, see it as a collective, an aggregate of mineral crystals, each in turn a collective of molecules, and so on, is not to deny substantiality of the stuff, or even the utility of the frame; it's just rejecting the blinkers that pretend the rock is not ultimately a dancing of substantia, an ephemerally emergent structuring of the flux of activity.

It's hardly a radical idea -- it's been around since Heraclitus. But a couple of thousand years of Platonism seem to have obfuscated the logic of a simple ontological paradigm in which the "object" is just an artifact of human framing, actualities circumscribed within what one might term an effect horizon. Humanity, the stock market, the SFF scene, a dancing of the Gay Gordons, a Mexican Wave , a rock -- with all of these there's no discrete thing, simply a horizon of effect where we parse actuality into entity by saying this here is this affecting or being affected by that.

The -Ing of the Be-

No objects then in this (anti-?)ontology, just entities which are always already collectives, conceits of unity circumscribed by an effect horizon. They may be readily sustainable conceits, especially if the effect horizon is defined physically -- as with a rock, say -- but a metaphysically defined effect horizon -- like that of the SFF scene, say -- can be nebulous to the point of incoherence.

While we're at it, the subject can go too. Fuck, Heraclitus didn't go far enough. It's not just that you can't step into the same river twice; it's that the same you can't step twice into the river. An individual human is just as much a collective of actualities, just as much a conceit. For most of us, I'd hazard, there's no more singular an entity than that which we think of as our identity, but on every level, in every facet, that extra special object also breaks down into a collective. We're made of cells, molecules, atoms, constructed from a zygote, sustained by continuous reconstruction, each of us made today of completely different material than we were seven years ago. We're each as much an aggregate of stardust as the rock is.

Oh, there's that mysterious inner locus of self, of course, its effect horizon defined in terms of sensation and action -- the Me as mind. But the best current model of that mind, as I understand, in terms of psychology and neuroscience, has it a composite thing, with distinct primary and secondary consciousness. Fuck, that locus of self we tend to hold up as the very paragon of unity -- that ongoing ego which sums because it cogitos -- is extinguished every single time we sleep. We all assume it's the same sentience being booted up each morning, but we do so on the basis of memories that any sentience fired up in that system would have.

I mean, just as a wacky idea, suppose that this sentience malarky is an object in and of itself, a discrete component in its own right, a little inner admin fairy quite distinct from the memories and affective response protocols stored in the brain matter. It has no memory in and of itself -- it's a fairy, what do you expect? -- but it has instant access to those memories stored in the brain, to everything stored in the brain. It's what does the sensing and remembering, the being aware of thoughts and feelings. It shimmers into existence one morning, an I, an inner eye, the -ing of the Be-, the PoV, the Me.

So, like the good admin fairy that it is, it does its job as the sentience that experiences the selfhood among all the shit that goes on during the day, recalling memory, paying attention to affect, all that jazz. And at the end of the day, off you toddle to bed, and gently you drift off to sleep. And it dies. Snuffed out like a firefly. The next day? It's a whole new fairy. Has all the memories of yesterday at its beck and call. Can't tell that it's not the same fairy because those are its only references; there's nothing to it but the sentience. Still, it's a totally different fairy.

I mean, just as a wacky idea, suppose that's what the You who's reading this now is. Yeah, you have all your memories of yesterday, but actually it wasn't you who experienced it the first time around. It was yesterday's you. Tonight you die. The sentience that wakes up in your body tomorrow will no more be that which is reading this than is the sentience that's writing it. That discrete object you know as Me is over and done with when you hit the pillow. Tomorrow a fresh one takes its place.

Sucks for you.

Yesterday's Bob

Or turn it inside out: suppose you're a Phildickian android, Bob-2A, who got another android's memories installed before being booted up this morning, the memories of yesterday's Bob, Bob-1. Yesterday's physical body actually got destroyed, but you don't know that -- we'll assume the bodies are indistinguishable. So you wake up thinking you're Bob-1 because his memories are all your sentience has.

Now, even if some shit-stirring fucker of a writer tells you the truth, the memories are so integral to your sense of identity, you'd probably find it hard to believe you're not yesterday's Bob. Or that you won't be tomorrow's Bob. Even if this body you're in now is fated for the furnace, well, today's memories will get installed in tomorrow's Bob, so you might hold on to that as a hope of your continued existence. You'll get ported across, you reason, via those memories.

Except now you're introduced to Bob-2B, who also got Bob-1's memories this morning, and who is also headed for the furnace at the end of the day. And tomorrow, there'll be Bob-3A/1 and Bob-3A/2 waking up with your memories, and Bob-3B/1 and Bob-3B/2 waking up with those of Bob-2B.

It's not a happy wacky idea, I admit, but if you're of a mind to see the self as some discrete object housed in the vessel of body and brain, a thread of pure consciousness carving its way through corporeal reality... really, that singular Me you're positing is simply spirit by another name. And quite the contrary to what such thinking generally presupposes -- that the homunculus made of mindthoughts in your head persists through life (and maybe even beyond) -- one might more logically assume that Me a fleeting thing which lives only as long as a singular continuity is maintained.

Cogito ergo sum. I think therefore I am. It doesn't necessarily follow that when I stop thinking I no longer am, but it does beg the question, no?

Why shouldn't such a spirit be ephemeral rather than eternal? Why shouldn't such an ego be temporary rather than persistent? There's patent discontinuity here, the blatant chunking of Me-ness into individual sessions separated by non-dreaming sleep's oblivion. If you're claiming a causeway, I don't expect to look at the river and see stepping stones, man, but that's what we see. No, an insistence on the self as singular object rather invites us to point to that series of singular objects and ascribe a discrete Me to each, a little virtual Bob-for-a-day, today's objSentience object instantiated with the Wake() method, destroyed with the Sleep(). From a coder's perspective, one would expect such an admin object to be new each session. Hell, even if you want to be all religious about it, maybe your "eternal" soul is like a candle flame, baby, sparked up and snuffed out as you wake and sleep, a beautiful and shining thing but more ephemeral than a butterfly. Maybe your God just likes the pretty twinkling.

Or, of course, we can see the self as something more complex, the path made from all those stepping stone sessions of consciousness, the cumulative articulation of experience extended by each discrete session -- not an object at all, but a collective entity. No discrete thing, just a horizon of effect where we parse actuality into identity. Me, I rather prefer this notion that my Me is not some discrete homunculus of mindthoughts or soulstuff whose term in office could well end when my head hits the pillow tonight.

Cause right now I'm about to head to bed and I know for a fact this Me that many would deem an object is headed straight for oblivion. I'd much rather think it's just an ongoing ceildih, and while today's dancing of the Gay Gordon's is coming to a complete end, tomorrow's Dashing White Sergeant will be the same ceildh still going strong with just a brief break for the piper.



Blogger Allen Varney said...

This sounds much like the Mahayana/Tantric Buddhist conception of shunyata, "emptiness":

There's a long Wikipedia article on shunyata, but it seems quite dull. It does quote Robert Thurman, though: "Voidness does not mean nothingness, but rather that all things lack intrinsic reality, intrinsic objectivity, intrinsic identity or intrinsic referentiality. Lacking such static essence or substance does not make them not exist —- it makes them thoroughly relative."

9:02 am  

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