The Slow Thought Movement

June 6, 2010

I have been inspired to read Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things after finding an online reader’s group of philosophy bloggers.  As this book follows in the footsteps of Gilles Deleuze and Manuel De Landa, I was immediately interested, given my past focus on their work.  I am a bit behind in the reading schedule and may never catch up, but given the title of this blog entry, I guess that should be okay.

I was immediately struck by Bennett’s description of her philosophical project on the first page of the preface as an attempt “to think slowly an idea that runs fast through modern heads: the idea of matter as passive stuff” (vii).  This immediately made me think of De Landa’s reference to glass as a slow-moving fluid, one that takes centuries to flow.  Deleuze and Guattari often engage the phenomenon of speed as a way to indicate degrees of difference: “Speed turns the point into a line.”  Her chapter on “Edible Matter” references the slow food movement, which I used to conceive of “the slow thought movement.”

So how does one think slowly?  Perhaps it is as easy as paying more attention.  In the words of one aphorism, “a thing is simple or complex, depending on how much attention one pays it.”  Slow thinking would suggest the kind of attention to historical process that De Landa makes famous in his A Thousand Years of Nonlinear History, a book that Bennett uses (among others) to frame her argument in chapter one.

Perhaps the claim to a vitality intrinsic to matter itself becomes more plausible if one takes a long view of time. If one adopts the perspective of evolutionary rather than biographical time, for example, a mineral efficacy becomes visible. (10-11)

She then provides a long example of such mineral efficacy from De Landa’s book, a quote which is worth repeating here since it’s so interesting:

Soft tissue (gels and aerosols, muscle and nerve) reigned supreme until 5000 million years ago. At that point, some of the conglomerations of fleshy matter-energy that made up life underwent a sudden mineralization, and a new material for constructing living creatures emerged:  bone.  It is almost as if the mineral world that had served as a substratum for the emergence of biological creatures was reasserting itself” (11,  quoting Nonlinear History p. 26).

She also quotes Adorno at one point, who writes, “What we may call the thing itself is not positively and immediately at hand. He who wants to know it must think more, not less” (13).  This “thinking more,” I believe, is enhanced by “the long view of time” Bennett mentions.  Slow thinking allows for a sedimentation, a layering of processes and matter-energy flows that make up the complex expression of the here-and-now (or the wherever-and-whenever we happen to be attending to).

Bennett discusses Adorno’s “negative dialectics” as a way to “become more cognizant that conceptualization automatically obscures the inadequacy of its concepts,” at one point quoting him as saying, “objects do not go into their concepts without leaving a remainder” (14, emphasis mine).   I wondered here again about the possibility of a different way of thinking, along the lines developed in a previous blog post trying to think beyond the concept.  Perhaps there’s something here that would allow me to develop the idea of “the incept” as a way in to an object, a kind of “becoming-thought-object,” a thinking-with or -through an object.  Such inceptual thinking would require a slowing down, a kind of phase-alignment of one’s own energy with the objects under observation (for her it was the debris that “provoked affects in me” [4]).

At any rate, Vibrant Matter is stimulating to say the least, and I look forward to following the discussion of the reading group in the days to come.

Analogical Heuretics

January 29, 2010

I just started teaching Writing for Interactive Media at Emerson College, for which I introduced Ulmer’s “Apparatus Theory” and the concept of “electracy.” Part of the talk presented two examples of “analogical heuretics,” that is, thinking via grammatological analogy as Ulmer is fond of saying and doing.  So the first one asks this question: if literacy makes conceptual thinking possible, what kind of thinking does electracy make possible?  In an essay I wrote titled “Imaging Place as Imaging Thought,” I conceived of four different answers to this question, playing with the etymologies in the same way that Ulmer suggests doing in a recent blog post:  deceptual thinking, receptual thinking, inceptual thinking, and exceptual thinking.

In the PowerPoint for the class, I expand a bit on “deceptual thinking,” drawing a connection to the famous New Yorker cartoon of the dog who, while sitting at a computer, tells another dog, “Nobody knows you’re a dog on the internet” as well as quoting from Sherry Turkle’s Life on the Screen where she writes that “You are what you pretend to be.”

While reading and commenting on Ulmer’s blog this evening, I got to thinking about thinking once again and pulled an old book (1889) off my shelf by George John Romanes called Mental Evolution in Man.  He studied and reported on animal intelligence, and when I googled “recept” at one point, references to his books came up.  And what he says about recepts (a word he coins to describe the kind of thinking that happens somewhere between percepts and concepts) resonates quite a bit with what we’re trying to do in establishing a category of thinking characterized as “electrate.”

For Romanes, the recept is a kind of compound idea that precedes the act of naming or use of language, which introduces a level of abstraction that elevates ideation to conceptual thinking.  He quotes John Stuart Mill, who invokes Auguste Comte,  who suggested that “besides the logic of signs, there is a logic of images and a logic of feelings.”  The recept, that is, is a kind of thinking before language, a thinking with images.

We can build upon Romanes’ idea of the recept, which he posits to suggest that animal intelligence is on the same spectrum as human intelligence (“the universal continuity of ideation, both in brutes and men”).  With electracy, we don’t want to throw out the baby with the bath water; we will build upon literacy and allow the electrate apparatus to enhance literate modes of thinking.  In this case, I wondered if Lakoff and Johnson’s idea of “metaphorical concepts” or “conceptual metaphors” could be considered a kind of receptual thinking insofar as they are a thinking (“conceptual”) with images (“metaphors”), a kind of thinking in which metaphors/images/analogies are brought to a level of abstraction.  In virtual worlds, we take all of this to a new level and begin to think with and within 3-D spaces, via movement through a space, almost like the peripatetic philosophers of old.

Romanes himself relies upon Lakoff and Johnson’s key conceptual metaphor of the mind as body metaphor (so that “thinking is moving through a space”) when he asks, “how far can the mind travel without the vehicle of Language?”  With this metaphor, Romanes reveals an inherent bias in favor of conceptual thought:  the mind can only go so far without the “vehicle” of language.  But I’m more interested in the fact that, once again, in order to think about thinking, we resort to the use of spatial metaphors through which the mind moves.  In my comment on Ulmer’s blog, I think through and with this metaphor to suggest that allegory has powerful potential for advancing thought along these lines…

Thinking About Thinking: Post-Continental Philosophy

January 28, 2009

I recently received from inter-library loan a book by John Mullarkey titled Post-Continental Philosophy: An Outline. This looks at four contemporary philosophers: Gilles Deleuze, Alain Badiou, Michel Henry, and Francois Laruelle, all of whom, according to the author, deal with the topic of immanence in different ways in order to renew thought. The common denominator that Mullarkey identifies is that they all “show” rather than tell via diagrams, and he proposes a “diagrammatology” (W.J.T. Mitchell’s term) as a mode of philosophical discourse to “think immanence”:

And such images are never mere ornament — they are often frames around which whole arguments are set. . . . Diagrams have long been useful in teaching and learning logic . . . but now their foundation to all understanding has been highlighted through research in cognitive science and visual studies. Diagrams are ‘problem solvers’ because they ‘automatically support a large number of perceptual inferences, which are extremely easy for humans. (162)

Mullarkey’s conclusion points to the changes that a “post-continental philosophy” might induce in how we think:

What we are saying — and what a Post-Continental thought indicates — is that philosophy must take up the challenge of renewal and acknowledge the possibility that art, technology, and even matter itself, at the level of its own subject-matter, in its own actuality, might be capable of forcing new philosophical thoughts onto us. With that, however, there might also come a transformation of what we mean by philosophy and even thought itself. (193)

The transformation of thought itself: this is the theme of this blog and of electracy as a description of what becomes possible when fundamental changes occur to the communicative apparatus of a society. Mullarkey’s book, I am suggesting, offers thinking with and through diagrams as one way of of manifesting an electrate form of thinking.

Imaging Thought as Imaging Place in Heidegger

September 23, 2007

I just finished reading Heidegger’s What Is Called Thinking? and found it very interesting and, for the most part, accessible (they are transcriptions of lectures he delivered). Of interest to my “thinking about thinking” and the work done for the Imaging Place conference are Heidegger’s references to thinking as being on a journey or a path:

Thinking itself is a way. We respond to the way only by remaining underway. . . . In order to get underway, we do have to set out. This is meant in a double sense: for one thing, we have to open ourselves to the emerging prospect and direction of the way itself; and then, we must get on the way, that is, must take the steps by which alone the way becomes the way. . . . Only when we walk it, and in no other fashion, only, that is, by thoughtful questioning, are we on the move on the way.

He continues in this vein, invoking the quest-motif:

To answer the question ‘What is called thinking?’ is itself always to keep asking, so as to remain underway. This would seem easier than the intention to take a firm position; for adventurer-like, we roam away into the unknown. Nevertheless, if we are to remain underway we must first of all and constantly give attention to the way. The movement, step by step, is what is essential here. (168-170)

Later he writes of the “thinker’s quest”:

The wish to understand a thinker in his own terms is something else entirely than the attempt to take up a thinker’s quest and to pursue it to the core of his thought’s problematic. The first is and remains impossible. The second is rare, and of all things the most difficult. . . To speak of an ‘attempt at thinking’ is not an empty phrase meant to simulate humility. The term makes the claim that we are here taking a way of questioning, on which the problematic alone is accepted as the unique habitat and locus of thinking. (185)

In a different book, Heidegger invokes even more radically the notion of a region in which thinking occurs. In his Discourse on Thinking, according to its introduction, Heidegger speaks of two kinds of thinking–“calculating thinking” and “meditative thinking”–and in focusing on the latter he speaks of the horizon of consciousness, our field of awareness, calling this “the region” and “that-which-regions”:

In the opening of the region, its regioning, we have what supports and manifests itself in part as the opening of man, his meditative thinking … the nature of thinking [has] an origin prior to thought. And what is this origin? It is the nature of that-which-regions. (Introduction p. 30, 35)

This looks like challenging stuff, but I was immediately drawn to the conceptual metaphor of the Mind as a Body Moving Through Space that is in play in both books. Again and again this recurs, and I am once again curious about what it might mean, what might be the ultimate significance of such reliance upon bodily metaphors of navigating a three-dimensional space as the way that we are able to think abstractly (for is not thinking about thinking the most abstract that we can get?!).

Imaging Thought

August 21, 2007

I have finished and posted the essay that all of these posts have worked toward completing. The title ended up being “Imaging Place As Imaging Thought: Deleuze, Electracy, and Second Life.” One insight I reached in the process of writing it is that there is a connection between Deleuze’s call for a new image of thought and the new kind of thinking that Ulmer calls forth with his concept of “electracy.” Another insight I discovered is that the “imaging place” that cognitive metaphors of the Mind as a Body moving through space is a form of imaging thought. That is, we automatically image thought using these metaphorical concepts that Lakoff and Johnson have discuss.

The second part of the essay was an experiment in “thinking with Second Life.” I call it “Disorientation” as it is meant to throw into doubt some of our cherished beliefs about rationality. A startling coincidence occurred. I chose randomly, among the multitude of pink stars (indicating events in the Second Life cartographic interface), the one for the place called “The Think Differently Lounge.” And the funny thing about the place was that it was like most of the other dance halls you might encounter in SL, but this one had a grid-like structure for a ceiling and walls. And there were no obvious exits. I couldn’t find one, at any rate. So after teleporting directly into the “Think Differently Lounge,” I was trapped and surrounded by a highlyl striated (grid-like) barrier. Striation is a codeword in Deleuze and Guattari for a process that has congealed, crystallized, stabilized: all flows have slowed to a rigidity–the state (vs. the nomad), the tree (vs. the rhizome), stratification (vs. destratification), the striated space (vs. the smooth space), the territorialized (vs. the deterritorialized). I use the term in the paper to invoke this concept of theirs, in order to suggest that any form of thinking differently eventually settles in and becomes the norm. It’s a common enough, almost cliched conclusion to reach, but it was interesting to have it happen on one of the only occasions that I consciously went into SL with the intention to perform an act of electrate reasoning. Out of the experience emerged the kind of allegory (down to the woman who accompanied me, called “Nar Duell,” which sounds suspiciously like “Ne’er Do Well,” like a character one would encounter in a bona fide allegory straight out of the Middle Ages) one might expect to see more of in the emerging age of electracy.

A Revolution in the Mind

July 29, 2007

At a second, recent visit to the Harvard Book Store in Cambridge, I recently bought Reidar Due’s book on Deleuze, part of polity press’s “Key Contemporary Thinkers” series. Here again is an explication of Deleuze which puts thinking in the center of his work: “Deleuze’s philosophy . . . aims to produce a revolution in the mind, a fundamental change in how we think” (1). Due sees Deleuze’s early philosophy as being concerned with “how mental activity is situated within reality,” and in the process of engaging with the philosophical tradition in order to answer this question enlists the “cosmological metaphysicians” (the Stoics, Spinoza, Leibniz, Nietzsche, and Bergson) who “consider the mind to be an activity that unfolds within a larger set of forces or energies that constitute the cosmos or the world as a whole. The crucial feature of this picture of the mind is that mental activity is seen to be part of the world and not separate from it: the mind is not a screen” (5).

Due continues in his introduction and writes about how Deleuze extends the meaning of “immanence”: “This concept becomes for Deleuze a principle of thought rather than a property of reality. The principle of immanence means, positively, to think genetically, i.e. to reproduce in thought the genetic process that engendered an object” (8). And in turning to explain Deleuze’s alternative concept of the subject (i.e. “the notion of the individual human mind as constituting a self-conscious centre of knowledge and action” [9]).

In Deleuze’s thought, the starting-point for formulating this alternative concept of the subject is the concept of ‘affect.’ According to Deleuze, affects are the basic components of mental activity. . . . To understand an affect is to see it as a force, a particular type of energy and this energy does not presuppose self-consciousness. . . . In this philosophical perspective, the mind is a site of thoughts rather than a centre of consciousness. These thoughts are not defined by the fact that someone can say: they are my thoughts. Thoughts, in other words, are not defined as belonging to a subject.

What is Thought? A Post-Socratic Diapath

June 16, 2007

[Dialogos –> Diapathos; Dialogue –> Diapath]

The Lazy Dog: I must get organized. My thoughts keep swirling around one central question: “What is Thought?” It’s like a funnel, sucking my mental energy into a vortex. I have no control. Yet I never make any progress. I am stuck at that one location, that one point, as if a young child waiting to go forth into the world (first day of school, perhaps) and is afraid to do so. How can I think these thoughts about thought? I am not qualified. I have no credentials. I haven’t read the entire oeuvre of Western philosophy and all commentary on each major thinker. Who will listen to what I have to say? I will waste my time. I am wasting my time, for I can’t think of anything else.

The Quick Brown Fox: You spin and spin but you haven’t gone through. Dive in. You are swept up in the swept, the spinning. You are not traveling with it. Come with me through the vortex, to a new dimension of thought, to whatever is beyond the here of now.

The Lazy Dog: No, no. I must get organized. There is no time for wandering in multidimensional phase spaces. (Not to mention there’s a deadline.) This requires a particular kind of thinking, to think about thought in a systematic way. It requires analysis, a breaking down into this and that, and then a spreading out, an anatomizing of thought, an atomizing of thought. Ah yes, that will be my most erudite title: “An Atomy of Thought.” A resurrection of an ancient genre, a return to a classical age. Fox, I have no time for your non-sense. I have real work to do. My intention is to develop this genre within a contemporary context, accounting for all current thought in psychology, cognitive science, conceptual integration theory, the electrate apparatus.

[the QBF branches off of the Lazy Dog’s dialogue: he has multiple responses as it unfolds… below is a link from “non-sense.”]

The Quick Brown Fox: Oh but Dog, there is a logic to nonsense. A higher logic some would say :the logic of chaos, a theory of complexity, a recognition that all is in flux, nothing is stable, there are only flows, flows of matter (which are flows of energy, for the Einstein showed that each is a manifestation of the other, wed by speeds and slownesses), bloodflows to the parts of the mindbrain bridged by a concept, the flow of our conversation from me to you, from smooth to striated, from rhizome to tree :fractal half-dimensional web of unfolding potential :spider dropping from the leaf and falling free, web trailing from behind :banyan branch dropping down, seeking for an earth :

The Quick Brown Fox: [the following branches off from deadline]. How can there be a deadline? There are only lifelines. There is only life. Even the rocks are alive :have you ever seen a lava flow? have you ever seen a mud slide? Dog, you’re too lazy to even open your eyes and pay attention to what is happening around you! You only attend to that which you can control, that which will fit your little simplistic equations. You’re scared of nonlinear equations, or, rather, you have no way of conceiving of them :this is the limitation of your view of the concept, residue of literate thought. You must go beyond the concept to capture these new modes of thinking. Here’s a (partial?) list:

–the recept
–the decept
–the incept
–the except

So the questions you should be trying to answer are these: How to be, not conceptual, but receptual? How to be deceptual? Inceptual? Exceptual? How to create recepts, decepts, incepts, excepts? If you want to think with Deleuze, you have to think beyond Deleuze. He spoke of philosophy as the creation of concepts. You must speak of philosophy as the creation of recepts/decepts/incepts/ excepts.

The Lazy Dog: Your talk is all jumbled. How is anybody supposed to follow you? It’s all really a bit much. You’re interrupting me once again. Now, to get down to it. Let’s see. Okay. First of all an explication of terms: I will use “mindbrain” to indicate the origin or source of thoughts in order to acknowledge the current recognition of the problems that a Cartesian split (of mind from brain) poses for a current philosophy of mind. This term will be a way of acknowledging the embodied nature of thought, how it emerges from our “wetware,” from a brain and its experience of being in a body immersed in a three-space (three spatial dimensions). This recognition is in line with all of the current thinking about : David Dennett, Antonio Damasio, Josephy LeDoux. These thinkers point to the central role that emotion plays in reason, and therefore to misconceptions regarding the ….

The Quick Brown Fox: Umm, Dog?

The Lazy Dog: Yes, Fox? Yes?

The Quick Brown Fox: Preeeee-cisely.