Sunday, August 28, 2016

highlighting / emphasis

A "Top highlight" from an arbitrarily selected post on Medium.

These top highlights can function as a crowdsourced "tl;dr" -- although not every post enables them.

Highlights can also be discussed in comments following the post.

Incidentally, here maybe the medium is the message -- one person's highlight becomes a possible occasion for further discussion.  And yet, the way comments work on Medium, there is no such thing as a discussion thread!  So there is only a collection of perspectives on the piece -- a sort of "functorial" utopia.

(There are discussions on Medium, but they're just not very typical or obvious.)

Friday, August 26, 2016

comments: "On Substances and Causes Again" - Morphogenesis and Individuation, Chapter 1

[p. 7] Thus Individuation starts with a double critique: on the one hand of the Aristotelian hylomorphic dualism of matter and form, on the other of the monistic reduction of nature to a fundamental substance.

The critique of hylomophism is reviewed by Tim Ingold in Making, following Deleuze and Guattari, who were probably following Simondon, who I'm thinking was probably following Bergson.  The basic critique is that 'form' is not, in general, imprinted on matter in the way that a brick is shaped in a mold. For the record, Aristotlelian forms and Platonic forms are a bit different, but even so the co-emergence of form and matter is "modern" (say, Bergsonian) idea.  I'm less clear on the difference between Simondon and Bergson here.

But interesting to note that Simondon is firmly not a monist.  Given that some of our earliest posts here were written with The Monist in mind -- and that we continue to write with Pierce in mind -- it's worth rooting out the philosophical foundations.

[p. 9, fn 12] According to Simondon 'Nature' conceived as a macro-individual would be the silent and perfectly stable---dead---universe of maximum entropy; on the contrary, we are exclusively concerned with 'non-totalised' systems: 'Systems cannot be totalised, since the fact of considering them the sum of their elements spoils the awareness of what actually makes them systems: relative separation of the sets it contains, analogical structure, disparition in general, relational activity of information' (ILFI 234, n. 1).

This is reminiscent of the principles in Simondon's "Technical Mentality".  In a technical object, "The subsets are relatively detachable from the whole of which they are a part," -- but even so the technical object is not simply the sum of its parts.  According to the second principle, "If one wants to understand a being completely, one must study it by considering it in its entelechy, and not in its inactivity or its static state."  The technical object is understood (at least) through its 'disparition' and 'relational activity'.

[p. 14] at the psychical level 'we believe any thought, precisely as far as it is real, is a relation, i.e. it entails an historical aspect in its genesis' (ILFI 84)

This is a nice succinct summany of part of Simondon's "relational reductionism" i.e. not only are 'beings' to be understood in and through their relational activity, but so is 'understanding' itself.

[p. 15] Simondon's concepts, in fact, do not define any separate 'realms'---matter, living beings, psyche, society---traversed by individuals or any kind of substances of which individuals would be composed.  On the contrary, they indicate 'phases', processes, whose dynamic composition continuously constitutes and modifies the configuration of individuals, as it happens within a magnetic and gravitational field, in which different forces and processes constitute an irregular and unstable space, full of potentials, which can modify or be modified by whatever---matter or energy---becomes part of it.

I've come around to the view that the etymology of 'phase' is from the 'φάω'-associated root -- as distinct from the 'φατός'-associated root. Nevertheless, following Sloterdijk, we can conceptualise a basic "phatic architecture" (indicated in short2 by the sequence φάω/φαίνω/φατός) in which the 'phases' or 'appearances' of matter appear to a dynamic pre-individual field, in which relations are then formed.  Agamben has some good insights into the root meanings of 'dynamic' that I'd like to use to expand that aspect of the model (i.e., it's not just a throw-away term).

To make the picture here a bit more concrete, imagine light eminating from a star, or a campfire.  Although the light radiates out, well, radially, there are (at least potentially) a collection of trans-radially-directed vectors, that is, pointing along the various "rotational" directions around the imagined point source.  These vectors would correspond, for example, to the conversations that take place around the campfire, or to the time-binding relations (e.g. seasonal patterns, Mayan calendars, etc.) that take place as we rotate the sun.  If the figurative hypothesis is correct, then these "rotational" vectors create something that is indeed rather like a vortex (cf. Phatische Brief / short.pdf and Charles Wake), or to use a five-dollar word, a kind of 'autocatakinesthetic' entity -- namely the channel.  [BTW, I think "Wake" has a somewhat prophetic-seeming surname in this regard!]

[p. 20] If knowledge can trace back the lines which allow for the interpretation of the world according to stable laws, it is not because in the subject some a priori forms of sensibility exist, the consistence of which with raw data derived from sensation would be inexplicable; this happens because being as a subject and being as an object come from the same primitive reality, and thought, which now seems to institute an inexplicable relation between the object and the subject, in effect continues the initial individuation.

This is a somewhat convoluted sentence (yes, just one, -- count the capital letters!), but I think basically it is referring to is the "Trace" in the Nattiez/Molino picture of the semiotic situation.  Again keeping in mind the basic architecture (from Sloterdijk), the Trace is the "primitive reality"; we could position it at the "φαίνω" (phenomenal) level, whereas we would position the object at the "φάω" level and the subject at the "φατός" level.  This gives a proposal for generalising the basic phatic situation to other semiotic situations.

(I'd propose that phatic relationships -- even between e.g. humans and birds -- would give us something more fundamental than 'thought'.  I believe Jung says something similar in Psychology of the Unconscious.)

[p. 20] What Simondon calls the 'analogical method' is in fact the method of invention, an operation both theoretical and practical, which lacks any guarantees, as Simondon himself reveals when defining his own philosophy as 'a dramatic theory of the becoming of being' (Simondon 1960, p. 755).

This Analogical Method reminds me a bit of Koestler's "bisociation" which has been made much of in cognitive science -- although I think the Koestler strategy reads as though there are "stable laws" (see prev. quote).

[p. 21, fn 31]  'It is only abstractly that one can speak of an absolute indeterminism (realisable through a complete internal resonance) or an absolute determinism (realisable through a complete reciprocal independence of chronology and topology).  The general situation is a certain level of correlation between the chronology and topology of the system' (ILFI 148) ... 'Simondon's theory of individuation puts in relation the complexity of physical systems with morphogenetic processes' (Bontems 2010, p. 89).

Somewhat long-winded stuff; the second chapter in Morphogenesis and Individuation gets more into the question of indeterminism-vs-determinism, so more comments on that from me later.

[pp. 23-24] Simondon's philosophy of individuation entails a non-phenomenological 'split' between subject and object, which should be read against the backdrop of a different kind of separation.  He colocates the split not between the finite conscience and its infinite distance from the real, but rather between different levels of reality and knowledge. [...] Human beings in fact refer to different levels of reality which depend on correspondent levels of knowledge and practises.  It is as if living-man lived in-between different milieus without being able to make a synthesis of them.  Here it is what Canguilhem points to: 'a general theory of the milieu of the human being as technician and scientist ... remains to be elaborated. (Canguilhem 1952)

This business of being-in-between-milieus seems like something we could understand through a phatic lens.  I've often found myself interested by in-between states (e.g. walking from here to there, taking the bus, bus stations, etc.).  I remember speaking with a diagnosed-as-schizo-typical woman who hated the in-between state of doors in the process of being closed or opened.

The chapter describes how Canguilhem drawn on von Uexküll, whose trichotomy I think Rasmus has gone into elsewhere.  An interesting quote with respect to the idea of modern communication networks as sensing/affective networks is as follows:

[p. 25] The peculiarity of physical science as an instrument, is that it has allowed humans to include the shift between subjective milieus (Umwelt) and a geographical milieu (Umgebung) in a Welt which can---in line with principles---be adopted by the whole species to augment its predictive capacities.

The idea that aggegrated human attention can be better at predicting things than individual human attention has been evidenced with e.g. swarm intelligence ( was on Reddit recently).  But other networks can do the same thing.

[p. 25] In short, what we call reality, which we know and live in, would be [...] the intertwining of different milieus, none of which can claim ontological primacy.  This unavoidable internal tension shifts the concept of 'geographical milieu'---against the mechanistic origin of the term milieu---to the original meaning of the concept, conceived in its relational meaning as what is 'between-two centres [entre-deux centres] (Canguilhem 1952, p. 130).

Nice; the French etymology is "mi-" (mid) 'lieu' (place).  So the very existence of a milieu is somehow channel-like.

[p. 27] Simondon ... programattically dismantles the 'conceptual couples' (form/matter, active/passive, subject/object, liberty/necessity) which have for centuries grounded a whole series of false alternatives, either opposing the individual to its milieu or dissolving it into the latter.

This quote nicely sums up how radical the Simondonian position is.  Also, the connection to the concept of 'milieux' and the way in which these are co-formed with individuals seems to secure Simondon's place in phatic studies (somewhere along the Jakobson-Elyachar line).


Bardin, Andrea. "On substances and causes again: simondon’s philosophy of individuation and the critique of the metaphysical roots of determinism." Morphogenesis and individuation. Springer International Publishing, 2015. 3-31.

  title={On substances and causes again: simondon’s philosophy of individuation and the critique of the metaphysical roots of determinism},
  author={Bardin, Andrea},
  booktitle={Morphogenesis and individuation},

Of related interest

title={De l’homme {\`a} la mati{\`e}re: pour une “ontologie difficile”. Marx avec Simondon},
author={Bardin, Andrea},
journal={Cahiers Simondon},

title={Communication et information: cours et conf{\'e}rences},
author={Simondon, Gilbert and Simondon, Nathalie and Chateau, Jean-Yves},
publisher={Transparence} } 

  title={La connaissance de la vie},
  author={Canguilhem, Georges},

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

the social role of humor - Jason P. Steed apropos of Donald J. Trump

See Storify Here's the info about the PhD thesis he was referring to.
Title: Joke-making Jews/jokes making Jews: Essays on humor and identity in American Jewish fiction.
Creator: Jason Paul. Steed
Contributor: Joseph McCullough; University of Nevada, Las Vegas.
Subjects: American literature -- 20th century;
Anecdotes; Comedy; Comedians -- United States; Sociology; United States -- Study and teaching; Thesis (PhD)
Is Part Of: 65-08A.
Description: Beginning from the premise that humor plays a prominent role in the construction of group and individual identities, as a social phenomenon and a simultaneously alienating and assimilating force, these essays explore and examine humor and its construction of American Jewish identity within the context of various works of American Jewish fiction. Though organized as "chapters," the essays do not build upon one another progressively, nor do they center on a unified thesis; rather, each is written to stand alone; however, each approaches the general subject of humor and identity in American Jewish fiction, and as a collection it is intended that the whole equal more than the sum of its parts. Following the Introduction, chapter two examines Abraham Cahan's Yekl and the relationship between humor and identity for the Jewish immigrant at the turn of the 20th century. Attention is also paid to the absences of humor, and how these are likewise capable of constructing identity. Chapter three raises questions regarding the ethics of humor, particularly when dealing with the Holocaust. It examines Saul Bellow's The Bellarosa Connection under the guiding question of "What is to be gained by reading this novella?"---with specific attention being given to the connective function of the novella's humor. Bernard Malamud's God's Grace is examined in chapter four, which seeks to read the novel as a retelling of an old Jewish joke, in the form of the story of Abraham and Isaac; Malamud's reversal of the story, and his use of absurdist humor, is read as an affirmation of humanism and Jewish identity. Chapter five examines the humor of Philip Roth and Woody Allen, as representatives of second-generation anxieties about Jewish identity in America. Then, chapters six and seven explore two possible responses to these anxieties. Chapter six looks at the works of the Coen brothers and asserts that Jewishness has been deliberately absented from their narratives; chapter seven looks at the works of Allegra Goodman and Nathan Englander and asserts that, in their fiction, a new, anxiety-free Jewish Self is being constructed, with humor playing a prominent role in this postassimilationism. Publisher: Thesis (Ph.D.)--University of Nevada, Las Vegas, 2004.
Physical Description: 171 p.
Language: English
Creation Date: 2004
Digital Rights: Off-site users are required to register with CJH in order to access this dissertation
Repository: CJHRR
Notes: Source: Dissertation Abstracts International, Volume: 65-08, Section: A, page: 2994.
Chair: Joseph McCullough.
Source: CJH ALEPH cjh digitool System Number: CJH_ALEPH000369040 cjh_digitool1157742
I don't find the document itself online, but cf. Joke-Making Jews, Jokes Making Jews: Humor and Identity in Abraham Cahan’s Yekl

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

cybernetics & phatics

It strikes me that this is related to our cause:
It is my thesis that the physical functioning of the living individual and the operation of some of the newer communication machines are precisely parallel in their analogous attempts to control entropy through feedback. Both of them have sensory receptors as one stage in their cycle of operation: that is, in both of them there exists a special apparatus for collecting information from the outer world at low energy levels, and for making it available in the operation of the individual or of the machine. In both cases these external messages are not taken neat, but through the internal transforming powers of the apparatus, whether it be alive or dead. The information is then turned into a new form available for the further stages of performance. In both the animal and the machine this performance is made to be effective on the outer world. In both of them, their performed action on the outer world, and not merely their intended action, is reported back to the central regulatory apparatus. This complex of behavior is ignored by the average man, and in particular does not play the role that it should in our habitual analysis of society; for just as individual physical responses may be seen from this point of view, so may the organic responses of society itself.

- Norbert Wiener, The human use of human beings (1950)

Literary Social Networks (Modeling Narrative Discourse)

Here are a couple images from Modeling Narrative Discourse, a PhD thesis by David K. Elson.  I was looking at this because I thought it might have some clues about how to represent narratives, which is something I'm interested in vis à vis my computer programming work.  And it does seem to have some nice clues about that!  It also has some interesting results that I've skimmed about representing literary social networks, which seem at least a bit related to what we were talking about vis à vis scholarly social networks.  A few pictures and a short quote are probably worth just over 2000 words.
The notion of extracting social networks from literary texts offers a wealth of possible collaborations between computer scientists and literary experts. Studies about the nineteenth-century British novel, for instance, are often concerned with the nature of the community that surrounds the protagonist. Some theorists have suggested a relationship between the size of a community and the amount of dialogue that occurs, positing that “face to face time” diminishes as the number of characters in the novel grows. [...] We did not find this to be the case. Rather, we found a weak but positive correlation (r=.16) between the number of quotes in a novel and the number of characters (normalizing the quote count for text length). There was a stronger positive correlation (r=.50) between the number of unique speakers (those characters who speak at least once) and the normalized number of quotes, suggesting that larger networks have more conversations than smaller ones. (pp. 10-11, 38-39)

Figure 2.1 "Automatically extracted conversation network for Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park."