Thursday, March 29, 2012

Rhizome imagery

Here are a couple of rhizome images, one from a neural network only microns wide, one from our current universe, billions of light years wide. Do these images look like nested, hierarchical complexity? Or a different kind of rhizomatic complexity? The images we use affect how we create philosophical models (and vice-versa), so which seems more akin to the Real?


  1. Of course they don’t look like nested, hierachical complexity, any more than focusing on a single Russian doll reveals nesting. The question is, when you change your focus from the neuron to the brain to the organism, what do you see?

    Just because Wilber was never able to see that the vertical is created from the horizontal doesn’t mean that others of us missed that.

    Published anonymously because the posting system won't let me use the other options - Andy

  2. I find it a little ironic that you would be attracted to a horizontal model like this, Ed. It implies that differences are simply a matter of perspective—a different network of connections—with no way of judging one perspective to be better than or superior to any other.

    But I don’t see that attitude at all in your political writings. Haven’t you actually used a level-oriented view to argue that the left is superior to the right? Doesn’t the very term “progressive” imply this?

  3. Ed, I don’t want to be seen as too harsh on LaTour. As I said, very interesting work. I like it. But he can be difficult to pin down. After arguing that distinctions such as top-bottom, macro-micro, and inside-outside should be jettisoned, he says:

    “This is not to say that there is nothing like “macro” society, or “outside” nature as the AT is often accused to, but that in order to obtain the effects of distance, proximity, hierarchies, connectedness, outsiderness and surfaces, an enormous supplementary work has to be done.”

    So he seems to be saying these distinctions have some value, but that they have to emerge (from all this “supplementary work”) through networks. I have no problem with this. Of course a lot of work has to be done. Possibly he has discovered an approach to this problem that is more useful than a lot of the current theorizing. I was reacting (maybe over-reacting) to the implication that there is nothing but horizontal interactions.

  4. Of possible relevance to this discussion is Terrence Deacon’s Incomplete Nature. He is concerned with the same general question, how do more complex forms of existence develop out of simple physical processes? What makes his approach somewhat compatible with LaTour’s “nothing but networks” is that Deacon believes this development results not from adding something new, but rather from something missing. He develops the idea of evolution as “progressive restraint” in which existence becomes more ordered by steadily reducing the endless possibilities of entropic flow. So in his view, higher forms of life can be understood in a very important sense as less than lower ones. They result from events that don’t happen but could have happened.

    His rationale for this approach is that concepts like order, purpose, function, meaning, reference, pattern, etc. are subjective. They depend on a human observer. If we are going to avoid some form of dualism, we have to show how they could have evolved from processes that can be described entirely in objective terms. He argues that describing a process in terms of constraints, of what doesn’t happen, can provide this objectivity.

    So while Deacon I think is comfortable with notions like higher/lower, he would argue that a lot of the properties we normally point to as evidence of something being higher are not actually there—or more precisely, what we are calling these properties reflect an absence of something that otherwise would be there.

    I have reviewed his book at


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