Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Bitbol on the transcendental

Another resource on this distinction between the transcendent and the transcendental is Bitbol's "Some steps toward a transcendental deduction of quantum mechanics." Excerpts follow with some comments:

“If we want to apply the transcendental method to quantum mechanics, we must adopt a thoroughly modernized version of it...what is needed to make the transcendental method acceptable nowadays is a shift of emphasis from passive reception and purely mental shaping to effective research activities and instrumental shaping” (3).

“The transcendental approach could then only survive and develop in the kind of version proposed by Neo-kantian philosophers such as Hermann Cohen or Ernst Cassirer, who both aknowledged to some extent the possibility of change of the a priori forms and their  plurality as well. Nowadays, there is also another flexible and pluralist conception of the a priori; it is the pragmatist version of transcendental philosophy as defined by Putnam after Dewey. It is relative to a certain mode of activity, it consists of the basic presuppositions of this mode of activity, and it has therefore to be changed as soon as the activity is abandoned or redefined” (4).

“Saying that the phenomena to be anticipated are relative to an experimental context is tantamount to removing a familiar constraint, rather than introducing an additional one; it is tantamount to removing the constraint of de-contextualization.... Taking for granted the possibility of combining all the contexts, and/or the perspective of a perfect indifference of phenomena to the order of use of the contexts, thus means imposing a drastic constraint. It is equivalent to impose what we have called the constraint of de-contextualization. The structure of propositions in ordinary language, which allows us to ascribe several characteristics to a single object as if they were intrinsic properties (independent of any context), presupposes that this constraint is obeyed. Now, as it can easily be shown, this presupposition is closely associated to Boolean logic; for the logical operations between the propositions of a language underpinned by such a presupposition are isomophic to set-theoretical operations. Moreover, the same presupposition is also closely associated to a Kolmogorovian theory of probabilities; indeed, Kolmogorov’s theory relies on classical set theory (or on a logic isomorphic to classical set theory) for the definition of the ‘events’ on which the probabilistic valuation is supposed to bear” (10-11).

“The actuality of each particular phenomenon cannot be accounted for by any physical theory. The only thing a physical theory does, and the only thing it has to do, is to embed documented actualities in a (deterministic or statistical) framework, and to use this framework to anticipate, to a certain extent, what will occur under well-defined experimental circumstances” (18).

“The former notion of co-emergence of an experimental activity and its constraining ‘factual’ elements, which is so closely akin to the transcendental method, raises the temptation to adumbrate a picture of ‘reality’ as an organic whole made of highly interdependent processes. Could not one hope to get an insight into this real reality? I think that such a project is not only doomed to failure due to some contingent boundary between us and the 'thing-in-itself'; it is hopeless because it is self-defeating. It is tantamount to assuming that it makes sense to seek what is reality independently of any activity of seeking; or to characterize reality relative to no procedure of characterization at all” (22).

p. 3: The shift away from "passive, mental shaping" to "instrumental shaping" is akin to Bryant's objects enacting their actualities in exo-relations with other objects. And which does not need reference a human object aka 'mental' shaping, thereby avoiding an epistemic fallacy. Granted some kind of observation is needed, that is, an experimental (experiential) context within which an object interacts with another object, thus creating an instrumental shaping.

p. 4: The ontological is not ontotheological in that a priories are not transcendent but constructed (built), and they can and do change depending on "mode of activity," much akin to Bryant's not only changing exo- but endo-relations, the 'virtual' side of an object.

pp. 10-11: This is related to my prior criticisms of set theory and the MHC, which presupposes a universal de-contextualization. Hence Commons even relates the MHC to ideal Platonic forms. Bitbol explains that we must remove this 'constraint' and contextualize through transcendental deductions. He then goes into a incomprehensible (to me) discussion of how set theory etc. is still useful if limited, and how it can be organized into some kind of meta-math, but it was over my head. If any math-heads can elucidate please do.

p. 18: All of this math and deduction though can only describe an object under very limited and specific experimental conditions, akin to Bryant's exo-relations. But the object's virtual substance cannot be accounted for, let alone its actuality in toto.

p. 22: This reiterates Bryant's (and Morton's) notions that we cannot get outside our limited 'awareness' to some totality or assholon, always requiring some sort of context within which to relate or respond. Granted we can speculate about transcendental conditions but it leaves a lot open, not only in the future but in the past and present as well, given virtuality.


  1. Also recall Bryant's blog post here.* While refuting transcendent ethical principles he nonetheless asserts an ethics specific to particular 'regimes of attraction.' He also cites Bennett's use of Dewey on this (recall Putnum's use of Dewey on pluralists a priories). Bryant though realizes this could be cause to call relativism. He says just because there are no absolute values doesn't mean we cannot say what are better or worse values based on health/pathology and preservation/destruction. He admits that this might be sneaking a transcendent in the back door.

    I'd argue that it is not transcendent but immanent because it is based on material embodiment, which comes before abstract principles. It is only when abstract principles are divorced from their embodiment that we get the kind of abstract, ideal and ontotheological universals. So one issue is, can we have such universal principles that are embodied and thus not ontotheologial? Might it be something like Bitbol's meta-math that provides a quasi-universal to organize set theories? Or like some kind of integral meta-theory that does the same for theories? This might also be a sort of embodied transcendental, in that the body (and its health and survival) is the necessary presupposition for abstract universals?

    * http://larvalsubjects.wordpress.com/2012/05/17/speculative-realism-the-commons-and-politics/

  2. Balder remarked that this topic reminded him of Spirit as prosthesis from this section of Polydoxy: http://books.google.com/books?id=9_uLm842UdYC&lpg=PP1&dq=Polydoxy&pg=PA72#v=onepage&q&f=false. I replied:

    Betcher, quoting Bruns: "God does not generate love in us, but rather, our loving generates God" (72). Which is consistent with God as a conceptual prosthesis, one generated by our embodiment and connected to the abstract universal principle. But a principle that is not a source from some ideal universal that works its way down into embodiment. Which is what I was talking about in my last post. This is how we can have a universal that is not transcendent but transcendental.

    Spirit as prosthesis is specifically used as a metaphor, one embodied in the artifact of a 'crutch.' I prefer the more general metaphor of 'tool' though, as this expands our embodied, embedded and enactive interactions with/in the contexts and hyperobjects in which we participate. In this sense then concepts are indeed useful, expanding tools as long as we keep the transcendental deduction's origin down below* instead of up above. Or as Betcher says, "openness to the intercorporeal field" (72).

    * They got one thing in common, the fire down below.


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