Link Post: 10th International Whitehead Conference

May 25, 2015 § 3 Comments

ermolaev_1_905[Image: Andre Ermolaev]

I’m starting to compile a list of the draft papers and/or abstracts written by folks who are participating in the upcoming Whitehead conference. It’s a short list so far, so if you’re going, or know someone who is, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll add a link to the paper or abstract. I’ll keep updating this post as I come across more contributions. My hope is that this list will give conference goers a little prep time in the lead up to the conference. Reading through the list so far it’s also becoming obvious that, at least among a certain generation, some central themes are emerging.

Here’s what we have so far:

Whitehead’s Non-Modern Philosophy: Cosmos and Polis in the Pluriverse by Matt Segall

Religion in Human and Cosmic Evolution: Whitehead’s Alternative Vision by Matt Segall

Whitehead, Eco-Theology, and Planetary Politics by Austin Roberts

Toward an Ecological Civilization: Whitehead and Ecological Democracy by Sam Mickey

Seizing an Alternative: Cosmopolitics and the Big Journey panel presentation by Sam Mickey, Kim Carfore, and Adam Robbert

Appearance in Time: Whitehead and von Uexküll on Aisthēsis In Evolutionary Process by Adam Robbert

Concept and Capacity: The Ecology of Knowledge by Adam Robbert

Appearance in Time

May 21, 2015 § 3 Comments

wave-1[Image: Mario Ceroli]

Here is a draft of the second paper I’ll be giving at the upcoming 10th International Whitehead Conference. I’ve had the opportunity to deliver a version of this paper on three different occasions now, each to a different audience and in a different context, but there’s quite a bit of new material in this version, too. I find it’s really helpful to develop a paper in this way as each time I come back to it I find that my opinion has changed on this or that issue or sometimes that the repetition alone leads me to a better way of expressing the same idea. There’s also an interesting thing that happens when ideas are shared in a public forum. I’m not sure why, but just expressing the work often leads me to finding the gaps or limitations in what I’m not doing, and this seems to work even before receiving any kind of feedback from anyone. I find the same thing happens if I just email a draft of the paper I’m working on to a friend. There’s something about just having your work out there that makes it easier to identify what should happen next.

Appearance in Time:
Whitehead and von Uexküll on Aisthēsis in Evolutionary Process 

Adam Robbert
San Francisco, CA

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 an account of aisthēsis 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. In short, when we think time and appearance together, aisthēsis becomes that capacity which connects each organism to an ecology of values that ingresses upon evolution in the mode of inherited forms. « Read the rest of this entry »

Concept and Capacity: The Ecology of Knowledge

May 13, 2015 § 5 Comments

tumblr_nn8z5pnb7C1qd0i7oo1_1280Below I am posting a draft of one of two papers I’ll be giving in just a few weeks down in Claremont, CA for the 10th International Whitehead Conference. (See my abstracts here and here.)

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.”[1] In this paper I ask, what is an idea? How does it introduce a new alternative? How does this new alternative relate to knowledge and experience? My aim is to persuade you that the best way to understand an idea is to describe the ecological relations among thought, action, and perception.

To present my position, I draw on literature from the philosophy mind, particularly enactivism, to propose that knowledge is a skill of engagement. 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 difference afforded by the present. I conclude by suggesting that the ecological view of knowledge has important consequences for the politics and ethics of first-person experience. « Read the rest of this entry »

Appearance in Time: Whitehead and von Uexküll on Aisthēsis in Evolutionary Process

April 7, 2015 § 13 Comments

tumblr_md92r6MwUf1qzngato1_1280[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.

Concept and Capacity: The Ecology of Knowledge

April 3, 2015 § 3 Comments

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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.

Multispecies Epistemes

March 23, 2015 § 7 Comments

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The epistemic import of camouflage vis-a-vis notions of realism is an under researched area of inquiry.CAqkfZBUUAAZIiw

Camouflaged critters bring to mind not just the intersubjective character of perception but also its interspecies reality.CAqj0PwVIAED_34

Different organisms hide not just from us humans but also from a wide variety of other species, playing on appearances.CAqjRDIUYAAEXpn

This means that we humans encounter phenomena in terms of specific perceptual capacities, but not in a way entirely alien to other species.
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The point is not to efface differences across species but to explore multispecies entanglements in perception.CAqlAs8UYAAX4z_

Because the aesthetic play of appearances can be life or death in multispecies epistemes.  Crocodile-fish_1594835i

Concepts and Words

February 27, 2015 § 3 Comments

copper02
[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.

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