April 7, 2015 § 13 Comments
[Image: Kohei Nawa]
Below is the second of my two abstract for this year’s Whitehead conference in Claremont.
Track: Journey of the Universe and Inclusive History as A Context of Meaning
Title: Appearance in Time: Whitehead and von Uexküll on Aisthēsis in Evolutionary Process
Author: Adam Robbert
Abstract: What is the significance of aisthēsis in the context of evolutionary process? The central claim of my talk is that an ecological understanding of aisthēsis—that is, of the plural modes by which species perceive and engage their surroundings—is necessary for an understanding of evolution at its most fundamental level. In other words, my argument is that we have to understand that which appears as meaningful to organisms if ever we hope to comprehend the history of evolution on Earth. To support this claim, I draw on the works of Alfred North Whitehead and Jakob von Uexküll to offer a non-anthropocentric and aesthetic account of meaning in the context of ecological history. Ecology from this view is an ongoing entanglement of values, concerns, and decisions, and it marks the space where the division between matter and meaning breaks down. Further, beyond suggesting the importance of aisthēsis for all species, I conclude by noting, following Whitehead, that aisthēsis connects each organism with a field of action, a semantic topography that ingresses upon the evolution of species in the mode of inherited forms. This ingression demonstrates that, while the real cannot be reduced to appearance, it is nevertheless shaped in part by the exchange of appearances coalesced in evolutionary process.
April 3, 2015 § 1 Comment
Below I’m posting my first of two abstracts for papers I’m giving at the 10th International Whitehead Conference. I’m re-working some familiar themes here, but, as they say, repetition is the best teacher. Will you, dear readers, also be in attendance at Claremont this July? Drop me a line via email or in the comments and let’s coordinate.
Track: Re-Imagining Late Modernity’s Reductive Monism
Title: Concept and Capacity: The Ecology of Knowledge
Author: Adam Robbert
Abstract: In Process and Reality Alfred North Whitehead writes, “a new idea introduces a new alternative; and we are no less indebted to a thinker when we adopt the alternative which he discarded. Philosophy never reverts to its old position after the shock of a new philosopher.” In this paper I ask, what is an idea? How does it introduce a new alternative? How does this new alternative relate to human knowledge and experience? I argue that the best way to understand human experience, now or in history, is by demonstrating the ecological basis of all human thought, action, and perception. To understand how knowledge and ideas participate in human action, I draw on literature from the philosophy mind, particularly enactivism, to propose that knowledge is a skill of perception waiting to be acquired. It is an attunement to new aesthetic contrasts made possible by the coordination of multiple species, practices, and technologies. Similarly, I define conceptualization as a speculative capacity, a performance of the body that leaps the subject beyond immediacy into the spaces of possibility afforded by the present. Stated differently, knowledge represents the acquisition of a conceptual faculty, an ability to mediate difference and contrast in the environment in a meaningful way. I conclude by suggesting that the organism is that place in the universe where material nature is transformed into conceptual nature, where matter becomes concept in the mode of embodied awareness.
March 23, 2015 § 6 Comments
The epistemic import of camouflage vis-a-vis notions of realism is an under researched area of inquiry.
The point is not to efface differences across species but to explore multispecies entanglements in perception.
February 27, 2015 § 3 Comments
[Image: Dillon Marsh]
We cannot think of words or statements as simply marks on a page or concepts as simply nouns. What’s needed is syntax, the arrangement of words. Syntax is essential to the emergence of semantics, the meaning of a statement. Syntax and semantics are part of the relational architecture that exists between a text and its reader. There is in one sense a higher-order meaning to letters when arranged to form words and again to sentences when arranged to express statements. In another sense, though, “higher-order” is just a spatial metaphor since linguistic meaning just is the arrangement of letters and spaces grasped by a reader. This is the whole point of linguistic communication, after all: to express meaning. Syntax and semantics are part of the real dynamics of understanding any linguistic artifact and must be construed as part of what’s considered a “text.”
Further, concepts, often the content of a statement, cannot be collapsed into specific words. Concepts and words are not interchangeable. (The SEP notes why the relationship is more complex than that.) Words are often about concepts and concepts are often about other non-conceptual things (but can also be about other words and other concepts or even about the structure of language or conceptualization itself). Multiple words can express the same concept (e.g., “one,” “un,” “один,” and “1” are all about the same concept). Similarly, concepts can be expressed through non-linguistic means—as in a symbol for “one” such as “*” but also as a sound, say, as a single beat. Beyond humans, concepts are available to all manner of critters. (This is not a settled issue, but the evidence is trending in the right direction. Again, some basics are available at the SEP.) We do not need to cleave to a superficial understanding of the concept as a simple, static unity or as a transcendentally secure, foundational entity to accept this premise.
Concepts are complex and historical, open and relational, multispecies and plastic. Language cannot be treated as a privileged road to the concept, as though a word gives some kind of direct access to it, nor can the concept be discarded in favor of the word. We should avoid a straightforward collapse of the concept into the word while still recognizing that language use is among the factors that influence conceptuality. The third thing between readers and texts here is not a ghostly apparition—an ideal concept, dropped in from above—but a sensible apprehension of the content of expression as it is entangled with its nonconceptual object of engagement, which the word brings forth and helps to communicate through its process of comportment with a concept in the activity of thinking. The concept pre-exists its external expression but is nevertheless empirical. None of this is epiphenomenal to the activities of brains and bodies; the exchange is the means by which real entities transform themselves and engage with their surroundings.
February 13, 2015 § 14 Comments
[Image: Nunzio Paci]
I wasn’t going to post this since the event has unfortunately been canceled, but Matt Segall threw his up so I figured I’d leave this here for future reference. The below abstract was meant for a conference on theoretical archaeology in Copenhagen. Readers will notice that the abstract continues to develop the themes that have occupied my recent posts. The paper is about 2/3 finished, and I’ll probably end up pitching it to a journal or using it for another conference down the line.
Abstract Proposal: XV Nordic TAG 2015
Title: Cognitive Archaeology and the Ecology of Extended Minds
Author: Adam Robbert
Panel: Disentangling the Neolithic ‘Revolution’ in Southwest Asia
Abstract: The role of the cognitive archaeologist is to re-construct the values, thoughts, and beliefs of past societies. In this paper I argue that the best way to understand human experience, now or in history, is by demonstrating the ecological basis of all human thought, action, and perception. Building on the work of enactive approaches to cognition, I suggest that human experience and behavior is an ongoing and distributed activity achieved at the intersection of conceptual knowledge, physical perception, and environmental affordance. But what is knowledge? What is a concept? How do they participate in larger ecologies? To understand how knowledge participates in human action, I propose that knowledge is a skill waiting to be acquired. It is an attunement to new contrasts made possible by the coordination of multiple species, practices, and technologies. Similarly, I define conceptualization as a speculative capacity, a performance of the body that leaps the subject beyond immediacy into the spaces of possibility afforded by the present. Stated differently, knowledge represents the acquisition of a conceptual faculty, an ability to mediate difference and contrast in the environment in a meaningful way. One way to visualize this intersection is to underscore that ecology entangles perception with cognitive activity through the enaction of experience. The intersection of concept with sense, then, is the basis for the ecological understanding of knowledge. This understanding in turn provides a theoretical framework that operates outside of traditional Nature–Culture dichotomies and accords with the historical character of the values, thoughts, and beliefs studied by cognitive archaeologists.
January 13, 2015 § 10 Comments
[Image: Liu Kuo-Sung]
How are we to think about Foucault and Deleuze in an ecological world?
On one level, Foucault’s interest is in writing a history of the dynamics that make statements true or false, in the modes of governance that shape bodies, and in the kinds of truths that can be told and the people who are allowed to speak or verify those truths. On another level, Foucault is interested in the shaping of humans into certain kinds of subjects with certain kinds of capacities, in the ways in which subjects complexly conform to and resist processes of subjectivation. Uniting both levels is Foucault’s exploration into the possibilities and constraints of speaking the truth where truth statements are indexed to a certain historical a priori—a bringing of the transcendental conditions for the possibility of knowledge into the riven flow of history.