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Friday, July 27, 2007

Makes me feel tingly all over...

An interested reader recently decided to forward me a link to an interesting blog post. The post itself is fairly uninformative and lacking in actual commentary* but it includes passage from a philosophical text. Now, I usually think I'm a reasonably smart guy. I'm no genius, don't get me wrong, but I can usually manage to put on my pants and tie my shoes in the proper order.** I also work really hard to do well in my chosen profession*** and, as such, generally think I'm competent at understanding technical material. The meaning of this passage, however, almost entirely eludes me. At the same time, it reminds me of another piece of work- a fake piece of work that made no sense whatsoever and yet, somehow, managed to be accepted for publication in a peer reviewed journal. If I were asked to do so, I think I would have a difficult time distinguishing the "legitimate" scholarship from the hoax. This makes me wonder in turn: can anyone out there distinguish the "real" scholarship from the "fake"?****

Let's find out.

Take a look at the following passages and place your guesses: Which is the real academic work? Is it scrappy passage A? Or is it the heavyweight champion, passage B?

Passage A:
In what follows, I would like to discuss the outlines of a liberatory postmodern science on two levels: first, with regard to general themes and attitudes; and second, with regard to political goals and strategies.

One characteristic of the emerging postmodern science is its stress on nonlinearity and discontinuity: this is evident, for example, in chaos theory and the theory of phase transitions as well as in quantum gravity.81 At the same time, feminist thinkers have pointed out the need for an adequate analysis of fluidity, in particular turbulent fluidity. These two themes are not as contradictory as it might at first appear: turbulence connects with strong nonlinearity, and smoothness/fluidity is sometimes associated with discontinuity (e.g. in catastrophe theory); so a synthesis is by no means out of the question.

Secondly, the postmodern sciences deconstruct and transcend the Cartesian metaphysical distinctions between humankind and Nature, observer and observed, Subject and Object. Already quantum mechanics, earlier in this century, shattered the ingenuous Newtonian faith in an objective, pre-linguistic world of material objects "out there"; no longer could we ask, as Heisenberg put it, whether "particles exist in space and time objectively". But Heisenberg's formulation still presupposes the objective existence of space and time as the neutral, unproblematic arena in which quantized particle-waves interact (albeit indeterministically); and it is precisely this would-be arena that quantum gravity problematizes. Just as quantum mechanics informs us that the position and momentum of a particle are brought into being only by the act of observation, so quantum gravity informs us that space and time themselves are contextual, their meaning defined only relative to the mode of observation.

Thirdly, the postmodern sciences overthrow the static ontological categories and hierarchies characteristic of modernist science. In place of atomism and reductionism, the new sciences stress the dynamic web of relationships between the whole and the part; in place of fixed individual essences (e.g. Newtonian particles), they conceptualize interactions and flows (e.g. quantum fields). Intriguingly, these homologous features arise in numerous seemingly disparate areas of science, from quantum gravity to chaos theory to the biophysics of self-organizing systems. In this way, the postmodern sciences appear to be converging on a new epistemological paradigm, one that may be termed an ecological perspective, broadly understood as "recogniz[ing] the fundamental interdependence of all phenomena and the embeddedness of individuals and societies in the cyclical patterns of nature."

Passage B:
We can clearly see that there is no bi-univocal correspondence between linear signifying links or archi-writing, depending on ther author, and this multireferential, multidimensional machinic catalysis. The symmetry of scale, the transversality, the pathic non-discursive character of their expansion: all these dimensions remove us from the logic of the excluded middle and reinforce us in our dismissal of the ontological binarism we criticised previously. A machinic assemblage, through its diverse components, extracts its consistency by crossing ontological thresholds, non-linear thresholds of irreversibility, ontological and phylogenetic thresholds, creative threshodls of heterogenesis and autopoiesis. The notion of scale needs to be expanded to consider fractal symmetries in ontological terms.

What fractal machines traverse are substantial scales. They traverse them in engendering them. But, and this should be noted, the existential ordinates that they 'invent' were always already there. How can this paradox be sustained? It's because everything becomes possible (including the recessive smoothing of time, evoked by Rene Thom) the moment one allows the assemblage to escape from energetico-spatiotemporal coordinates. And, here again, we need to rediscover a manner of being of Being -- bnefore, after, here adn everywhere else -- without being, however, identical to itself; a processual, polyphonic Being singularisable by infinitely complexifiable textures, according to the infinite speeds with animate its virtual compositions.

The ontological relativity advocated here is inseparable from an enunciative relativity. Knowledge of a Universe (in an astrophysical or axiological sense) is only possible through the mediation of autopoietic machines. A zone of self-belonging needs to exist somewhere for the coming into cognitive existence of any being or any modality of being. Outside of this machine/Universe coupling, beings only have the pure states of a virtual entity. And it is the same for their enunciative coordinates. The biosphere and mecanosphere, coupled on this planet, focus a point of view of space, time and energy. They trace an angle of the constitution of the galaxy. Outside of this particularised point of view, the rest of the Universe esxists (in the sense that we understand existence here below) only through the virtual existence of other autopoietic machines at the heart of other bio-mecanospheres scattered throughout the cosmos. The relativity of points of view of space, time and energy do not, for all that, absorb the real into the dream. The category of Time dissolves into cosmological reflections on the Big Bang even as the category of irreversibility is affirmed. Residual objectivity is what resists scanning by the infinite variation of points of view constituable upon it. Imagine an autopoietic entity whose particles are constructed from galaxies. Or, conversely, a cognitivkity constituted on the scale of quarks. A different panorama, another ontological consistency. The mecanosphere draws out and actualises configurations which exist amongst an infinitiy of others in fields of virtuality. Existential machines are at the same level as being in its intrinsic multiplicity. They are not mediated by transcendent signifiers and subsumed by a univocal ontological foundation. They are to themselves their own material of semiotic expression. Existence, as a process of deterritorialisation, is a specific inter-machinic operation which superimposes itself on the promotion of singularised existential intensities. And, I repeat, there is no generalised syntax for these deterritorialisations. Existence is not dialectic, not representable. It is hardly livable!

Some sort of virtual prize will doubtless be made available to those who guess correctly, though I won't promise the prize will be anything you'll actually want. So, good luck, have fun, and if you need to decompress after reading all that crap... I know just the thing.

* Much like this post, as it happens.

** Let me stress the "usually" in that sentence.

*** Mexican wrestler. I only moonlight as a sociologist.

**** To be honest, I find it quite difficult to refer to either of these passages as "real scholarship" with a straight face.

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Blogger Aftersox said...

Aha, a jargon contest!

All I have to say is quark.

Quark, quark, quark.

Friday, July 27, 2007 12:37:00 PM  
Blogger S.S.Stone said...

I say it's passage A , the Sokal Hoax.

Friday, July 27, 2007 7:21:00 PM  
Blogger Lim Leng Hiong said...

Whenever I see the word "ontological" I feel like flipping a light switch on and off real fast.

Don't ask me why, it's some kind of synesthesia.


Sunday, July 29, 2007 8:47:00 PM  

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