Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Mind and Nature

Balder started an IPS thread on this book by Jason Brown wherein a link to the e-book was provided. Here are some book quotes and my comments:

Speaking of the withdrawn:

"The inexorable order of the world, which is inferred from the succession of objects in perception, is conceived as the busy surface of a process that is, for the most part, inapparent or concealed. The
concealment of the ubiquitous is a validation of its centrality. The necessities of thought are habitual and invariant, and so remain in the background. The essential is inapparent precisely because it is invariant. In contrast to the multiplicity and variety of finite actualities, the change or becoming through which they develop is uniform" (89).

And on p. 86, the section on "Buddhist belief and process thought" he sounds in some ways like our OOO friends:

"The response to the real in Buddhism is a retreat from the actual to an embrace of the indefinite, since the actual becomes definite when it becomes real. For the Buddhists, antecedent potential is coordinate with ultimate reality. Suzuki writes that emptiness is a zero full of infinite possibilities. This is a potential without content, a not-nothing that is not yet a something. Emptiness is not absence."

"That a category is a mental structure does not mean it is a product of mind alone. The continuity of the categories of mind with those of nature is the metaphysical ground of autonomy...a substance, an object, a self, are all categorical objects.... An actuality never endures, concretely, it is never fully present, but perishes as it actualizes" (xii - xiv).

I like this recognition of categories as fundamental, akin to L&J. However he seems to say that the end points of the hierarchy of categorization are where the originating or defining categories reside, whereas the baser concrete is in the middle. It's almost like Platonic ideals. L&J seems the reverse in that the mid-range is where the basic categories reside because they are the most concrete, with the ends of the hiererchy being more abstract and therefore farther away from the connected root to the field of lived experience.

Also while the referenced quotes seem to show similarities to OOO's withdrawn substance, the distinction above also indicates some difference. In Bryant, for example, the withdrawn is still not an absolute, timeless or indestructible essence but rather also contingent and impermanent. Granted in Buddhism generally this is the standard line too but Brown is admittedly of the Yogacara clan so we can see where this form of Buddhism might reserve such an Absolute. I've had this argument with Bonnie more than once, also an admitted Yogacarin (at least was at one point).

From Bryant on Whitehead, one of Brown's sources, on the issue of microgenesis:*

"I believe Whitehead’s account of actual occasions is incoherent or leads to a view of being as magic. If each absolute occasion is an absolutely instantaneous novelty and atom that issues from nothing else, then actual occasions are creations ex nihilo. That’s magic."

* Defined by Brown:

"A theory of becoming is retrospective, it is the creation of the present out of the past, or the revival of the past in every actual occasion" (xii).

It is not created ex nihilo but still, each actual occasion is re-created in each moment. Bryant too is process-oriented in that an object must constantly re-create itself anew or face dissolution. But there is no underlying sky-hook or universal plenum from which to draw for this re-creation.

Interestingly, Brown asserts that change cannot happen without this moment-to-moment recreation. Yet Bryant asserts that change cannot happen with it! See chapter 3.4 of TDOO, for example:

"What we get with Whitehead is a sort of radical actualism where every change implies an entirely new entity. Yet if this is the case, it is difficult to see how we can get from one entity to another entity. Rather, it seems that entities must possess the capacity, the potentiality, to undergo change."

Bryant thinks this comes from the failure to distinguish the concrete, the actual and the virtual. We see Brown doing this but from a more Yogacara flavor, or what he calls a process monism (ix), with a similar if less idealistic universal plenum at root.


  1. Balder: I've been regrettably swamped at work and haven't been able to keep up with my own threads! I think an exploration of Brown in relation to some of the other perspectives we've explored here -- postmetaphysical/enactive, OOO, quantum, etc -- definitely sounds interesting and fruitful. In an early section of this book, his description of nontemporal process of course sounds reminiscent of quantum views (not surprisingly, since Whitehead's philosophy was influenced by physics). Regarding OOO in relation to Brown's (or Bonnitta's) generative/process models, one question that arises for me is whether OOO acknowledges non-objects. Harman argues at some point that the universe is just jam-packed with objects, period, and even relations are objects. But objects in OOO are not eternal, they come into being and perish, they transform and change, so it seems OOO must also acknowledge process of some sort (microgenetic or not) as a basic metaphysical category? Harman's fusion and fission sound like two prospects. Might something like Brown's or Whitehead's work be useful in describing these processes (or others)? (Some SR and OOO thinkers apparently believe so, as you can read in The Speculative Turn).

    Although this may be best discussed elsewhere -- I still need to read more of Brown so I can discuss his work here -- I'm thinking the quadrants are useful here, despite possible objections from OOO or others concerned about correlationism: It can at least deal with this question of whether everthing is an 'object' or not: anything has a potential 'object' (UR) manifestation. But as Bonnie, I believe, points out in her own work, the quadrant-perspectives themselves are incomplete without a generative/process model.

  2. Me: From Bryant’s paper referenced in this post:*

    “The terms substance, process, and dynamic systems are all synonyms within the framework of my onticology.”

    Therein he also discusses time and change. It too is similar in some ways to Brown in that there is iteration and novelty but I don’t think like Brown that each moment is an entirely new creation from some storehouse memory like the alayavijnana or universal whole/process.**

    * See IPS thread for link.

    **Assholon, while indicative of a holon/object, is also a process. So perhaps contemplation provides access to this whole process, i.e., privileged assess (same accent as access).

  3. Balder: Yes, thanks, I recall that now. However, technically, I think treating substance, process, and dynamic systems synonymously is a little clunky. At least, it misses subtle but not irrelevant distinctions between them.

    Additionally -- and I'm being lazy here, in that I could go look through his book or the OOO thread, but I'm hoping you'll recall -- does Bryant distinguish between "object" and "substance," or are those also synonymous? It occurs to me that if process and object are synonymous, then it doesn't make a lot of sense for OOO folks to be so critical of process folks.

  4. Me: It depends on how one defines those terms whether his distinctions are clunky. I find that he specifically defines those terms as to be quite consistent. He is critical due to how many process folks define process, with a heavy or even-lopsided emphasis on relations, in his opinion. Whereas for him his object-process can be withdrawn from all relations. Interestingly it seems Brown says so too but rather within a monistic, absolute or unitary process, another similarity yet difference with Bryant.

  5. Balder: "Interestingly, Brown asserts that change cannot happen without this moment-to-moment recreation. Yet Bryant asserts that change cannot happen with it!"

    Akin to the conflict between Nagarjuna's and Harman's accounts: Nagarjuna argues things cannot not change without interdependence, while Harman argues that change can't happen with it.

  6. The problem for Harman's OOP is that we don't just access the world through conceptuality but also directly through flesh. Knowledge/translation is not the same as experience/perception, although the two do become intertwined viz the advent of the cerebral cortex.

    Hello Edward,

    The core of Harman's withdrawal thesis comes from a radicalization of Heidegger's tool story, which was intended as a argument about cognition and not causality itself.

    FYI: I talks about OOO and "withdrawal" in this post: http://www.archivefire.net/2012/01/riffing-on-withdrawal-part-1-difference.html

  7. As Jason Brown, “[a]n actuality never endures, concretely, it is never fully present, but perishes as it actualizes" (xii - xiv). I don't read this as compatible with OOO because Brown seems to argue (rightly i believe) that 'objects' or absolutely withdrawn identities (totally unto themselves) never truly exist because they are always in the process of perishing. Harman's OOP argues that at some critical juncture objects withdraw "completely" - that is, they become fully autonomous, non-perishing beings.

    This is not compatible with the notion that objects never fully disclose because they remain in process...

  8. I'm less familiar with Harman than Bryant. The later ackknowledges that any object is in a constant struggle (process) to maintain its substance from perishing.


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