31.8.11

Properties, States and the Ubiquity of Change

From Larval Subjects:
In Book I of De Rerum Natura, Lucretius writes,
A property is that which not at all can be disjoined and severed from a thing without a fatal dissolution: such, weight to the rocks, heat to the fire, and flow to the wide waters, touch to corporeal things, intangibility to the viewless void. But state of slavery, pauperhood, and wealth, freedom, and war, and concord, and all else which come and go whilst Nature stands the same, we’re wont, and rightly, to call accidents.
A property is something that is intrinsic to the thing such that it really is in the thing. Within the framework of my onticology I quibble with this a bit because I hold that what is really in things is powers or dispositions, not qualities or properties (the latter of which I call “local manifestations”). The weight of a rock is not in the rock itself, but is a relational property that emerges in relation to where the rock exists. This weight or local manifestation is different on the planet earth and the moon due to the different masses of these planets. Moreover, this weight or local manifestation differs with the speed at which the rock moves. Most qualities or local manifestations are, I believe, relational in this way. They are not in the things themselves, but rather emerge in and through the relations the entity entertains with other entities.
art by Vitor Bosshard 
And I, of course, side with Lucretius in that properties, or what Levi calls 'qualities' above, are not 'other than' the emanating substantiality of the thing itself. The complex strata of material and expressive potencies (or what Tom Sparrow might call "sensations") that constitute an object-assemblage's substantial being are identical to its intrinsic properties, with no remainder. [also see here]

However, I'm not at all convinced of an ontological split between "properties" and "states" - considering the vulnerability and openness of actual object-assemblages. Object-assemblages always exist under particular conditions. And their existence is contingent upon the "cooperation" between conditions, existing affective forces and their assembled properties. Indeed, every actually existing entity persists through relations that not only augment or amplify or otherwise change its properties and capacities - it's potency - but also afford those capacities, and provides the context in which the properties of object-assemblages can be expressed in the first place. That is to say, 'thingness' is always a relational affair with coalescing properties (what i call elements) forming temporal (temporary) object-assemblages (matrices) through intensive and material-energetic processes. In my thinking "powers" or "dispositions" are animated by a collaboration between both the qualities or properties inherent in the material composition of onto-specific entities and the ever-present conditions in which they exist. So, no, properties are not in things, they are those things as they exist in relation.

In the context of Levi's example, then, I also argue that the weight of a rock is not "in the rock" itself, but instead, for me, is a compound event/actuality that emerges in relation to both the rock's constituent properties and capacities (its potencies) and its relational situation within the wider field of affective forces. Both the intrinsic properties of an object-assemblage and particular background conditions must be present for weight to occur.

But Levi continues:
Setting this aside, what is really interesting in this passage is Lucretius’s discussion of states. In effect, Lucretius observes that the social position of women, the proletariat, minorities, kings, the wealthy, is not a property of these entities, but a contingent state that can pass away or be changed.
And I argue that the properties of kings and proletariats, for example, do enter into the contingent dynamics of particular states. It is the specific material, relational and historical combination of the properties of kings, weapons, energy supplies, horses, ecosystems, castles and such flowing into and augmenting or amplifying each other that generates the particular "state" of affairs of any given situation. Each object-assemblage contributes its own affective potencies and material vibrancies to the compositional character of the larger field or matrix of action in their own onto-specific ways, while simultaneously being vulnerable (capable of being changed in unexpected ways) to the emergent dynamics loosely contained within. It is this inherent dynamism of actual occasions that allows change (social or otherwise) to not only be possible, but in fact inevitable.

30.8.11

Agency, Substantiality and Potent Alliances

DMF on the agency of objects:
I'm all for seeing the world of objects as having their own physical capacities but I think that they are truly alien and have nothing like interests, hell I don't even think that most of the objects/processes that make up our own bodies, even at the level of our kluged non-conceptual neurofunctions have interests/intents...
Without a doubt I share Dirk’s hesitation about granting ubiquitous “agency” to non-sentient beings. Yet, I’m not sure that proponents who argue for the general agency of things are in fact seeking to project “intentions” as they are traditionally or commonly conceived. I believe such theorists are in pursuit of a more mutinous reevaluation of the efficacy of things.

That said, I think we might resolve some of the hesitation about the agency of objects by relaxing (or stretching?) what we mean by both ‘agency’ and ‘intentionality’. For example, we could ask, “does a machete have intentions?” Within a certain frame of reference we might reply, “of course not”. A machete doesn’t have the requisite capacities (e.g., plasticity and recursivity) to expressively ‘want’, ‘desire’ or be interested in objects outside its bounded substantiality. So in a traditional sense a machete is not a will-full entity. However, a machete does have certain irreducible (onto-specific) properties that define its intrinsic boundaries and capacities. And these assembled “physical capacities”, as Dirk calls them, are affective - that is, they make differences in the world in terms of where they came from, how other entities or assemblages encounter them (e.g., passively or actively), and the relations they enter into. That is to say, a machete brings with it a material-affective substantiality with capacities (to cut, to threaten, etc.) unique to its individual existence. Such inherent substantial capacities are precisely  to what I call potency. [see here] And it is this general potency of existing entities which theorists refer to when they talk about a thing’s “agency” (e.g., Bennett’s “thing-power”). A machete’s potent capacities are a kind of rudimentary agency.

So it’s not a matter of, say, my spleen having individual “intentions”, but about my spleen expressing inherent capacities and properties irreducible to (but simultaneously enmeshed within) its functioning in my body. Likewise for machetes. Machetes have a potent materiality specific to their actual existence and irreducible to the relations they enter into – despite the crucial relational character of their temporal consistency.

Now this is where it can get very interesting for social theory. No object is an island, and no potent assemblage exists in a vacuum. Every existing entity is implicated (to varying degrees) in forces and relations with a multiplicity of other processes, flows, networks and objects that express rudimentary forms of “agency” or potency in their own right. This implicate primordial mix of differential properties constitutes the generative matrix within which both individual objects and ‘societies’ of entities become possible. Thus, at a fundamental level, what we encounter are a series of inter-acting and intra-acting potencies capable of coalescing into various contingent assemblages (what Latour calls compositions) and ecologies expressing differential degrees of affective force and distributed agency. These substantial matrices (or alliances, complexes, societies, ecologies, situations, contexts, etc., etc.,) of affective force and extensivity operate on all scales of reality.

Each object-matrix contributes its own agentic potency (material and expressive capacities) towards that alliance - thus creating novel material-energetic dynamics and amplifications of affective force hitherto not possible. No ‘virtuality’ needed; only relatively individuated matrices of affective potency colliding and catalyzing to generate unique combinations and assemblies of capacity.

Human agency and cognition is a great example of this: without the affordances of interobjective support, extended symbolic networks, social communication, group affective resonance, etc., humans would have very rudimentary “agency” with relatively unrefined cognitive capacities. It is because we are nurtured and connected beings perpetually implicated in ecologies with potent affordances that we can amplify our abilities and acquire relevant instantiated skills, historical understandings and communal participations. (see the growing 4EA paradigm for details).

To provide one (morbid) example of this analytic, we can understand how the irreducible proto-agency or potency of machetes combined with the agency or potency of humans, combined with the diminished potency of depleted ecological “resources” generated a matrix/situation or “regime of attraction” (Levi Bryant) where 800,000 people were murdered in Rwanda in 1994. Without the affective potency of machetes or the weakened potencies of humans, or the scarce potencies of Rwandan subsistence conditions, genocide may not have actually occurred. And without an acknowledgement of the irreducible “agencies” of all these elements we can’t truly understand what and how it happened, and how to decrease the possibility of it ever happening again.

So, without going too much into here, what fascinates me, first, is how objects/complexes/processual-units/matrices enter into specific, historical “alliances” or networks with other complexes to form complex, potent (“agentic”), novel, distributed and emergent assemblages with irreducible capacities and properties specific to those alliances - and then secondly, what worldly affects and effects (consequences) do specific matrices or assemblages and their alliances have on the evolution and cosmopolitical trajectories of humans and non-humans alike.

29.8.11

James Hansen on Alberta Tar Sands Action

Dr. James Hansen is a giant in the scientific community and widely recognized as one of the first internationally respected scientists to begin recognizing the dangers and effects of global warming. Hansen has appeared in front of congressional committees and advised heads of state on numerous occasions.

Needless to say, when Hansen speaks both climate change denialists and the scientific community listen:


26.8.11

Connolly, Bryant, Lucretius and the Wild

With any luck I will be have my new computer (finally switching to Apple!) later this evening – as my laptop gave up the ghost over a week ago. Being without internet access at home is an odd feeling for me. The good thing about being un-linked, however, is that I finished reading William Connolly’s A World of Becoming. I always enjoy Connolly’s writing and this book is a well-crafted rendering of the kind process thought I can certainly support. I’ll post more on this sometime soon.

Meanwhile, Levi Bryant has a great post up on reading Lucretius’ De Rerum Natura ('On the Nature of Things'). My favorite passage in this post (one which I entirely agree with) is his last:
With Lucretius, by contrast, we get nature as absolute interactive immanence where whatever comes to be is but one of the possibilities of nature. Within this nature there is no outside or other (there is no culture, for example, that is something “other” than nature), but rather there is just The Wild. Culture too is a part or manifestation of the wilderness. One cannot travel to the wilderness or wild because wherever one is they are already in the wild or wilderness. Our building of houses is no more unnatural than beavers building damns. And this conception of nature, without teleology or divinely decreed ought is the condition and mark of any genuinely emancipatory project.
Wherever you go, there you, as nature, are. The wilderness of being is immanent to itself – dynamically so. Go read the rest of Levi’s post here.

18.8.11

Four Horsemen - Official Trailer


We will not return to 'business as usual'. The Four Horseman is an independent feature documentary which lifts the lid on how the world really works.

Demand the movie now: http://eventful.com/fourhorsemen
Website: http://www.fourhorsemenfilm.com
Official Facebook: http://facebook.com/fourhorsemenfilm

Coming Autumn 2011.

Directed By: Ross Ashcroft

Featuring: Noam Chomsky, Max Keiser, Joseph Stiglitz, Prof. Herman Daly, Dr. Ha-Joon Chang, Simon Johnson, Michael Hudson, Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson, John Perkins, Tarek Al Diwany, Camila Batmanghelidjh, James Turk, David Morgan, Hugo Salinas Price and more...

15.8.11

Bridging Life, Time and Blogging?

I am conflicted. I feel as though I should apologize to all you anonymous and not so anonymous readers for my recent inactivity, while simultaneously wanting to extend my hiatus after the last 2 weeks or so spent traveling more or less off the grid. Time away from electro-digital entanglements has always reinvigorated my interests in blogging in the past but something is different this time around. This time I can imagine myself walking away (so to speak) from twitter, from wordpress, from tumblr, from blogger, from Google – from all of it.

This is a strange ‘sensation’. What perplexes me most here is how a few weeks away can influence my perception of my online activities so much. For a person who loves research and access to information as much as I do why would I now consider walking away from it all? Pondering this I can conjure three possible (and interrelated) motivations for this new attitude:

1. Deluge: being bombarded relentlessly with all sorts of information, updates, emails and comments is becoming increasingly hard to accept. It is simply no longer possible to read, respond, answer and/or engage with all of the bits and bytes showering my inbox and google reader on a daily basis. I was off the grid completely for about 10 days and I had 800+ new emails waiting from me – 200 of which were relevant and interesting enough to warrant engagement.

2. Inauthenticity: with the little time I have to freely interact with people on the net I find it increasingly difficult to have authentic communications, conversations and exchanges, let alone develop personal relationships. One of the main reasons I started spending so much time on the internet in the early 90’s was to be able to communicate with people who shared my interests, wherever they may be. As a frequent user and abuser of early chat rooms in my 20’s I met a wide range of often wonderful (but sometimes insanely maladjusted) people who shared my passions and interests - and who taught me so much on so many fronts. Accept for a few low intensity acquaintances this rewarding aspect of my online participation is now almost non-existent.

3. Incompetence: very much related to the first two problems, I believe, is my growing concern for the quality of my contributions. As time constraints limit my capacity to properly think through certain issues and then construct and review my posts I become frustrated by the lack of depth and clarity in what I write. I have so many concepts, arguments and original thoughts swirling around in/as my psyche yet only less than an hour a day to formulate and craft them into anything approximating an intelligible offering. I’m a person who thrives on transforming insight into praxis so constantly missing the mark in this regard is torturous.

In addition to a personal drive for quality it is also becoming harder to keep up with all the interesting posts and productive discussions happening on my favorite blogs/websites (see the sidebar list titled ‘rhizome’ for links to some of the best blogs in existence). This is increasingly frustrating because I feel compelled to weigh-in on the issues but usually unable to do so. If I take the time to read such posts (as I usually do) I’m then unable to respond. Moreover, I haven’t even been able to produce the bare minimum of posts and responses I’ve committed myself to generating - as evidenced by my lack of participation in the Integral Ecology reading group.

As a result of these difficulties I’m now reconsidering my future online. Seeing as though I’m unwilling to sacrifice family time, unable to decrease work responsibilities, or limit my activist involvements, and as I’m learning to embrace the necessity of sleep, what role can blogging and online activities have in my life? How does the (post)modern citizen bridge a full and rewarding life with an authentic and stimulating online presence?

In the next few days I’ll be posting some additional thoughts on this issue along with the promised chapter summaries of the Integral Ecology book. I’d be especially interested in hearing from any of you who also struggle with these questions, or have successfully integrated online activities (blogging, etc.) with family and work life.

4.8.11

de Certeau on Foucault: popular procedures and power

Michel de Certeau on Michel Foucault's Discipline and Punish:
"In this work, instead of analyzing the apparatus exercising power (i.e., the localizable, expansionist, repressive, and legal institutions), Foucault analyzes the mechanisms (dispositifs) that have sapped the strength of these institutions and surreptitiously reorganized the functioning of power: "miniscule" technical procedures acting on and with details, redistributing a discursive space in order to make it the means of a generalized "discipline" (surveillance). This approach raises a new and different set of problems to be investigated. Once again, however, this "microphysics of power" privileges the productive apparatus (which produces the "discipline"), even though it discerns in "education" a system of "repression" and shows how, from the wings as it were, silent technologies determine or short-circuit institutional stage directions. If it is true that the grid of "discipline" is everywhere becoming clearer and more extensive, it is all the more urgent to discover how an entire society resists being reduced to it, what popular procedures (also "miniscule" and quotidian) manipulate the mechanisms of discipline and conform to them only in order to evade them, and finally, what "ways of operating" form the counterpart, on the consumer's (or "dominee's"?) side, of the mute processes that organize the establishment of socioeconomic order.

These "ways of operating" constitute the innumerable practices by means of which users reappropriate the space organized by techniques of sociocultural production. They pose questions at once analogous and contrary to those dealt with in Foucault's book: analogous, in that the goal is to perceive and analyze the microbe-like operations proliferating within technocratic structures and deflecting their functioning by means of a multitude of "tactics" articulated in the details of everyday life; contrary, in that the goal is not to make clearer how the violence of order is transmuted into a disciplinary technology, but rather to bring to light the clandestine forms taken by the dispersed, tactical, and makeshift creativity of groups or individuals already caught in the nets of "discipline:" Pushed to their ideal limits, these procedures and ruses of consumers compose the network of an antidiscipline..." (The Practice of Everyday Life)
Read More: Here

1.8.11

Black Holes, Event Horizons and Spacetime

Below is a Discovery Channel documentary about the relationship between Supermassive Black Holes and the evolution of the cosmos.

A black hole, according to the general theory of relativity, is a region of space from which nothing, including light, can escape. It is the result of the deformation of spacetime caused by a very compact mass. Around a black hole there is an undetectable surface which marks the point of no return, called an event horizon. It is called "black" because it absorbs all the light that hits it, reflecting nothing, just like a perfect black body in thermodynamics. Under the theory of quantum mechanics black holes possess a temperature and emit Hawking radiation. Despite its invisible interior, a black hole can be observed through its interaction with other matter. A black hole can be inferred by tracking the movement of a group of stars that orbit a region in space.

Alternatively, when gas falls into a stellar black hole from a companion star, the gas spirals inward, heating to very high temperatures and emitting large amounts of radiation that can be detected from earthbound and Earth-orbiting telescopes.Astronomers have identified numerous stellar black hole candidates, and have also found evidence of supermassive black holes at the center of galaxies. After observing the motion of nearby stars for 16 years, in 2008 astronomers found compelling evidence that a supermassive black hole of more than 4 million solar masses is located near the Sagittarius A* region in the center of the Milky Way galaxy.

The no hair theorem states that, once it achieves a stable condition after formation, a black hole has only three independent physical properties: mass, charge, and angular momentum.Any two black holes that share the same values for these properties, or parameters, are classically indistinguishable.The simplest black hole has mass but neither charge nor angular momentum.

The defining feature of a black hole is the appearance of an event horizon — a boundary in spacetime through which matter and light can only pass inward towards the mass of the black hole. Nothing, including light, can escape from inside the event horizon. The event horizon is referred to as such because if an event occurs within the boundary, light from that event cannot reach an outside observer, making it impossible to determine if such an event occurred.






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