Singularities of Sense, Knowledge and the Social

I think OOO and onticology specifically addresses this problem better: what must the world be like for us to relate and have knowledge about it? Indeterminate, non-specified clumps of matter and energy just don’t work. But neither do we simply know things are they are, either, as knowledge is simply a subset of a larger, more significant distinction drawn by onticology: relation. Otherwise you risk making humanity an essential ingredient in being itself—that doesn’t make sense, either. There is something between pure materiality without form or structure and transcendental idealism. Namely, the partially translatable individual entity.

Joseph C Goodson replies to my comments about withdrawal and OOO. Making sense, indeed.

Let me flip Joseph’s warning regarding humanity as an essential ingredient in being itself. Is there a dimension of Reality that only humans have access to? What is this dimension of Reality? Meillassoux has carried out a fine service for so-called correlationists. Of course we relate to nothing other than matter and energy, while at the same time it is not as simple (or complex) as a relation directly with matter and energy, as this is unintelligible to us. Sure, scientistics can produce elaborate experiments to reduce the number of variables so as to work at relating directly to matter and energy. Do they apprehend matter and energy? No, they attempt to come up with a description that ‘fits’ the particular singularities at play in a particular composition of matter and energy as isolated in their experiments.
In The Logic of Sense, Deleuze describes ‘sense’ as the contraction of singularities that renders bodies and mixtures of bodies sensible and therefore intelligible to humans. A ‘description’ is a particular series of singularities. In his Discourse on Language, Foucault described his ‘archeological project’ in terms of examining a series of these descriptions for particular epistemes — what he called discourse events — and critically analysing the composition of singularities on the side of human intelligibility. The distribution of singularities, and series of singularities as they are never (ironically) ‘single’, he described as a distribution of statements. Bruno Latour’s project has been, in part, to expand this critical analysis to examine the practical, social and institutional, that is, extra-discursive, distribution of singularities that exist in great chains of relations and which are essential for the reproduction and production of such descriptions. An ‘incorporeal transformation’ (from A Thousand Plateaus) is to use a different description (sense + knowledge + sociality) for a given series of singularities that combines it with another series of singularities, which in Deleuze and Guattari’s example, renders a person as a convict. You get the jist? As if Reality is only objects and thoughts about them (the so-called ‘correlationist’ position), and not a baroque distribution of singularities across every fold of the cosmos…
On the non-human side of this composition are singularities that belong to the cosmos, and exist for humans as they exist for any subject whatsoever; Whitehead called these singularities ‘eternal objects’. I’ve described the singular point that humans describe as a ‘boiling point’ here, as part of an explanatory post on the concept of the virtual; this is the relevant section:

Think of the boiling point of water. Humans have measured the boiling point and have figured out that it is 100C. The boiling point is real; you can actually witness water boiling, but on the other hand, depending on the energy introduced into the water-boiling system only small amounts of pure water at sea level will boil instantly and turn into steam. (If there is a large amount of energy released into a system, such as a nuclear weapon, then larger bodies of water will boil and evaporate instantly. Instantly still not being ‘instantly’, it still takes some time for this to happen, relative to our human frame of reference, it is an ‘instant’.)

In all other situations, the boiling point is virtual because it is actualised in different ways according to the variable constraints that move the water-boiling system from the ideal model (small amount of pure water at sea level pressures). Super heated water, for example, is water that has had extra energy added to it (heated) beyond the boiling point, but kept under extreme pressures. The boiling point remains virtual, it is not actualised, but the variable constraint of pressure (nominally at sea level) has not been fulfilled.

‘To boil’ is an event. Depending on the conditions, it is repeated in different ways. It would be impossible to exhaust the number of ways to boil water. That is, for example, we could never run the infinite number of experiments required to capture the infinite multiplicity of differentially repeated events of boiling water (or the critical point of a phase state at which water vaporises into steam). This is not the inifinity of extension, but the infinity between one and zero. It is the intensive multiplicity of Bergson’s duration. The reduction of this multiplicity, and that which renders the boiling point intelligible to humans, are counter-intuitively extra singularities of sense (Deleuze), knowledge (Foucault) and sociality (Latour). Others have expanded on this.

For example, Massumi bypasses this series of proper name philosophers to draw on others and has explicated the singularities of experience, which, to continue the example, are those singular points of qualities that belong to the event ‘to boil’ that are differentially repeated. My singular ‘experience’ of boiling water occurs, for example, everytime I boil the kettle for my morning (and mid-morning and mid-afternoon) coffee. I experience particular qualities of sound and vision, and if I am unlucky heat. These specific actualisation of singularities (mostly vision and sound, less so heat) require my specifically human perceptual apparatus for this specific event of experience. They experience of the fly in my kitchen, for example, has a better sense of the air currents produced by the steam expanding and heating air.

Latour’s work to connect human and non-human sociality has rightly indicated that I also include the virtual singularities actualised by the kettle itself (and kitchen and power supply and so on) of sufficient electrical contact between the plug and the mains socket and again in the kettle’s switch, of sufficient integrity belong to the kettle, and so on, that combine in certain ways to give the kettle agency in the event (it, literally, does ‘work’ in every sense of the word).

Tim Morton has described water boiling from an OOO perspective here. He writes:

Think of a kettle boiling. What is happening? Electrons are quantum jumping from lower to higher orbits. This behavior, a phase transition, emerges as boiling for an observer like me, waiting for my afternoon tea. […]
It would be wrong to say that the water has virtual properties of boiling that somehow “come out” at the right point. It’s less mysterious to say that when the heating element on my stove interacts with the water, it boils. Its emergence-as-boiling is a sensual object, produced in an interaction between kettle and stove.

And from a previous post:

The tendency is to see it as some kind of underlying causal mechanism by which smaller components start to function as a larger, super component.
If true, this would seriously upset the OO applecart. Why? Because objects are ontologically primary entities, not some process such as emergence. In an OO reality, emergence must be a property of objects, not the other way around. Thus it seems likely that in OOO emergence would be a sensual feature of objects. In other words, emergence is always emergence-for or emergence-as.
In other words, emergence implies 1+n objects interacting in what Graham Harman call the sensual ether. This ether is the causal machinery, not some underlying wires and pulleys.

So my simple response is: Is water boiling a quality of electrons “quantum jumping from lower to higher orbits” and therefore a ‘critical point’ is a quality of electrons? Or is the “ontologically primary entity” or ‘object’ of water and not the electrons? Or should we describe it as a ‘phase state’ proper (thus including all attendent and involved ‘objects’)? (Ether! What?!) This could be extended further to analyse the singularities involved in ‘waiting for tea’, which introduces another series of singularities contracted into habit and memory that ‘possibilises’ relations of futurity as protension.

Here is the crux of the issue: There is no withdrawal, there is only ever an addition of singularities, and because there is only ever the addition of singularities, objects are not ontologically primary entities. The reality is not of a withdrawn object, but the reality of the object is a reality that always exceeds the object (and and and).

Occurring Qualities and Philosophies of Relevance

What if there are only ‘occurent qualities’? I don’t mean the obvious primary/secondary qualities distinction, but that the composition of matter and energy are entirely compositional and contingent. As energy cannot be destroyed, only transformed, then this or that composition of matter and energy is continually being transformed (ie entropy) since the beginning of the universe. The given composition of anything would therefore be a particular contingent composition of matter and energy. Isn’t this what meillassoux is getting at with his hyper-chaos (or, as I have always understood it, Guattari’s chaosmos)?

I’d argue this is a far harder task for any OOP: rather than simply ‘withdrawing’, when observed, the composition of the matter and energy change, always! Or is OOP is describing an anthropomorphic consistency in the composition of matter and energy as ‘objects’? Unless one wants to argue for an absolute non-relationism, and therefore avoid a recomposition of matter and energy, etc. I can’t really see how this can be avoided.

Above is another comment to Levi’s post about the notion of objects withdrawing. An easy way it can be avoided is following Deleuze’s argument in Difference and Repetition regarding differentiation, does the recomposition catalysed by observation of any composition of matter and energy beyond the sub/atomic scale make a lick difference? No… Well at least not to human perception and our perception of a (correlationist) difference.

I think I’ll call this the thermodynamic critique.

Exchange of persuasions and excitement

“From salesman to client, from client to salesman, from consumer to consumer and from producer to producer, whether competing or not, there is a continuous and invisible transmission of feelings — an exchange of persuasions and excitement, through conversations, through newspaper for example — which precedes commercial exchanges, often making them possible, and which always help to set their conditions.” (Gabriel Tarde in Bruno Latour and Vincent Antonin Lepinay “The Science of Passionate Interests”, 39)

My ‘festive season’ reading has largely consisted of Bruno Latour and Vincent Antonin Lepinay’s “The Science of Passionate Interests: An Introduction to Gabriel Tarde’s Economic Anthropology”. It makes for fascinating reading. The extent of my Tarde reading consists of his Laws of Imitation and the special 2007 issue of the journal Economics and Society on his work. (Oh, plus Tarde’s post-apocalyptic science-fiction novella!)

In The Science of Passionate Interests, Latour and Lepinay have produced a diagrammatic reading of Tarde’s masterwork Psychologie Economique (1902). They set up Tarde’s core problematic in terms of developing an adequate critical theory (or ‘science’) of economies that does not fall into the same mistakes as ‘economics’. Here are my notes to part one (1-32). The science part of it is a development of the notion that everything can be measured according to measures appropriate for their terms.

Latour and Lepinay begin with Tarde’s theory of value, and demonstrate its relation to subjectivity. For Tarde subjectivity refers to the “contagious nature of desires and beliefs, jumping from one individual to the next without ever […] going through a social context or structure” (9). Value extends to all desires and beliefs; it is made up of all the continual assessments we make. Bourdieu’s theories of cultural capital is also another way of critically engaging with non-economic economies of social and cultural value. The difference between the two is that Bourdieu’s focus is squarely the deployment of cultural competence and social esteem within structurated fields. Tarde and Bourdieu have different takes on the aquisition of value, for Bourdieu it is learnt as a product of imbrication in a field, for Tarde (immanent social) value is produced through the special interference effect of congruent practices of ‘imitation’, what he calls ‘invention’. Tarde’s value is a mmeasure of talent, Bourdieu’s is a measure of competence.

Tarde argues that economists did not make use of all the possible ways value can be quantified and they instead relied on, firstly, reducing all human behaviour to an ‘objective’ realm and, secondly, extending this reduction to all domains of human activity. Latour and Lepinay argue that economists format social relations. They do this by confusing two orders of measuring. The actual measured measurement that “captures the real state” (15) and the measuring measurement that formats the social world. Latour and Lepinay quote Tarde’s example of how the value of ‘belief’ is (re)produced by monks:

Priests and the religious have studied the factors involved in the production (meaning here reproduction) of beliefs, of ‘truths’, with no less care than the economists have studied the reproduction of wealth. They could give us lessons on the practices best suited to sowing the faith (retreats, forced meditation, preaching) and on the reading, the conversations and types of conduct that weaken it. (Tarde in L&L 15)

For Tarde it is a question of the laborious work of seeking out the specific values of any activity. Latour and Lepinay introduce the term valuemeter to refer to all devices whose specific function is to make visible and readable all the value judgements of what Tarde calls economics (16). The result is a metrology produced by chains of valuemeters. They provide the sociology of science as an example, where a metrology of learned literature “made visible and readable by the very extension of the quasi-currency we call credibility where, better than anywhere else, the very production of the finely differentiated degrees of belief plays out” (19).
The flaw in the approach of economists is to imagine they had to pursue a line of inquiry characterized by a “progress of detachment, objectivity and distance” (20). Latour and Lepinay provide money as an example of a ‘measuring measure’. What money measures, as a process of simplified registering for the purposes of capture (money as an ‘apparatus of capture’?), has kind of link to what is indicated by the numbers (21).

It would be a mistake to imagine, Latour and Lepinay warn, that as the number of metrological chains of valuemeters increases, there is a danger of shifting from passions to reasons, from the inter-subjective of Tarde’s social economy to the anemic economics of neoliberal markets, etc. Nor is it about finally recovering economic reason, but about how the economic rational is always thoroughly irrational. The solution to ward off the epistemological problem of false distance, built on a scaffold of irrationalities, is to properly appreciate value “from up close, in small numbers, and from the inside” (28). Latour and Lepinay are clear on this:

If there is, for Tarde, a mistake to be avoided, it is to take social facts “as things,” whereas, in other sciences, if we take things “as things,” it is for lack of a better alternative! How could sociologists abd, more surprisingly, economists, have had the crazy idea of wanting to imitate physicists and biologists through an entirely artificial effort at distancing, while the very thinkers they tried to imiate would give their right hands to find themselves at last close to particles, cells, frogs, bodies with whom they try top come into intimate association with the help of their instruments? (29)

The central problem has been to mistake the discipline of economics for the economy (31-32).