I’m really enjoying using twitter as a medium in which to do philosophy, because it forces me to make an argument that is organised in chunks, and to ensure that those chunks are more or less well formed and reasonably compressed. It then allows me to capture those thoughts here, and edit, extend, or recompress them. It also lets me use hyperlinks instead of references, which is impressively liberating. What comes out isn’t exactly perfect, but that’s the point: to enable one to make things better and better beyond the suffocating bounds of the optimal. As I have said many times before, I can be concise, but I find it much harder to be brief, but the twitter-blog feedback loop is helping me to work on that. Moreover, it has allowed me to think a bit more about the writing processes of different philosophers throughout history, some of whom are more or less accessible depending on the way they were able to write and permitted to publish.
I feel like Nietzsche and Wittgenstein would have loved twitter, while Leibniz would have preferred the blogosphere, and Plato would have immersed himself in youtube (Socrates: That’s all very well Glaucon, but you have not answered question with which we began: are traps gay?). I think Hegel would have preferred a wiki, and would have been a big contributor to nLab. I would have loved to have been Facebook friends with Simone Weil or Rosa Luxemburg, but I can imagine getting caught in flame wars with Marx and Engels if I stumbled into the wrong end of a BBS (Engels: Do you even sublate, bro?). I desperately wish I could subscribe to Bataille’s tumblr, or browse the comments Baudrillard made on /r/deepfakes before it got banned. I know the world would be infinitely richer for de Beauvoir and Firestone’s Pornhub comments, but we should be thankful we were spared Heidegger and Arendt’s tindr logs. However, I’m pretty convinced that nothing would have stopped Kant from thinking very hard for a couple decades and then publishing all his thoughts in several big books. We’d have gotten a few good thinkpieces from him (Clickbait: ‘This man overturned the authority of tradition using this one weird trick, now monarchies hate him!’), but nothing could have stopped his architectonic momentum.
Yesterday, I had an excellent conversation with Peli Grietzer on the subject of qualia and the hard problem of consciousness, and the reasons why some attempts to defuse these problems (e.g., Dennett’s ‘Quining Qualia‘ or his response to Chalmers) leave people who are drawn to the seriousness of these problems cold. I recommend Peli’s work to everyone I know, and even some people I don’t. It’s simultaneously incredibly unique and incredibly timely, trying to unpick issues at the intersection of aesthetics, epistemology, literary theory, and philosophy of mind using the theoretical insights implicit in deep learning systems, particularly auto-encoders.
Peli has come the closest of anyone I know to giving real, mathematical substance to the most ephemeral aspects of human experience: moods, vibes, styles; the implicit gestalts through which we filter the rest of our more explicit and compositional cognitions. Why does being in Berlin have a distinct cognitive texture that’s different from being in London? It’s not any one thing you can put your finger on, but a seamless tapestry of tiny differences that you drink in without needing to reflect on it. So when Peli says that he’s not sure that these most immediate, holistic, and yet nonetheless cognitive features of our experience are being taken seriously, I have no choice but to listen, and to see if there’s another way to articulate my own worries.
This result was probably the best thought experiment I’ve ever managed to articulate, and probably the most concise explanation of my problems with certain styles of thinking in the philosophy of mind. Given that my thoughts here are also in some sense an engagement with Wittgenstein and his legacy, I thought it might be nice to try articulating them in an aphoristic style. Here is the result.
Here’s another Facebook interaction that grew into something interesting, initiated in response to an observation by the incomparable Mark Lance:
I think that this is an interesting observation that I’m sure will feel familiar to anyone who pays attention to politics on FB, either because they use the medium for political communication, because they take a more anthropological approach to the ways this medium is changing the public sphere, or some combination of the two. It’s also something that will be of no surprise to anyone who has encountered the concept of intersectionality, no matter what they think about the evolution of the concept and the debates surrounding it and the cursed concept of ‘identity politics’. I was also not aware of Liam‘s post on the fallacy he calls ‘political omega-inconsistency‘, and I was absolutely delighted to learn about it. However, I was interested in articulating a slightly different sort of fallacious reasoning, and how it is involved in this phenomena of ‘one dimensionalism’ that Mark was putting his finger on:
So far, I’ve tried importing thoughts from Twitter. Today, I’d like to import some thoughts from Facebook, and to even import some that are not my own! I have a habit of writing massive comments on FB, and getting drawn into some complex discussions and sometimes even strident debates. I often only find the right way to express an important point in such moments. These moments are then lost in time, as the man said, like tears in rain.
Here’s a thought courtesy of Reza Negarestani, who, whatever else you might think of him, is probably in a better position to talk about the curious relationship between philosophy, the humanities, and the art world than anyone; and to treat the relations between these institutions not merely in terms of their possible, abstract configurations, (e.g., the way in which philosophy/theory might inform artistic practice), but in terms of their actual, concrete manifestations (e.g., the way in which art institutions contract with philosophers/theorists to provide intellectual prestige):
We are living in a world where the word philosophy is deemed inferior to even fields such as comparative literature, media studies, etc. This is not to say that such fields don’t think philosophically, but to merely point out the compromised states of thought in which a theorist in this or that field thinks philosophically yet either thinks of philosophy as antiquated or a dangerous enterprise while unconsciously parasitizing on it. I have heard the same things from the art people. Just because you know this or that philosopher, it doesn’t mean you know the meaning of philosophy, what it stands for or what the task of a philosopher entails. What is this hostility against philosophy by the very people who feed upon it? How can you actually talk about theory without the philosophical elaboration of the term theory?
Here’s another twitter thread from a few days ago, offering some tentative suggestions for reforming bits of academia that are unquestionably broken. I didn’t get much feedback from my twitter audience, so I’m wondering if people here might be more inclined to offer some critical responses. I think it’s increasingly important not only to have these conversations, but to be seen having these conversations. Over to you.
So, I switched to the official twitter app, and then once more failed to understand how it handles threading: my mistake was assuming that ‘add tweet’ meant ‘add tweet to thread‘ in this context. Apparently not.
Regardless, I’ve realised that it’s actually quite good practice to transfer some of my better social media contributions here, if only so I don’t lose them to the endless Heraclitean river of online content. For a while now I’ve been posting fragments of older writing under the heading of One from the Archives (OftA), so I’m going to tag these more spontaneous outbursts Thoughts from Elsewhere (TfE). Here’s the first one, about conceptualising freedom in the age of information.
It seems that I never feel so old as when I try to use twitter. I’ll be turning thirty-four on Tuesday, but returning to twitter after the better part of a year makes me feel like a man out of time, as if I’d gone to sleep and woken up in another decade. It seems that the twitter client I have on my phone won’t handle either the new expanded character limit, or the new threading mechanism, and storify is apparently no more.
So much for micro-blogging then.
Here’s tonights stream of twitter thoughts, compiled into a reasonably coherent sequence. It provides a glimpse of the bigger picture work I’ve been doing in philosophy of logic and mathematics over the last few years, which finally seems to be coalescing to the point at which I can be a bit aphoristic about it. I’ve taken the liberty of inserting a few links to make explicit what I’m referring to.
Once more, my hopes of posting more here were dashed by illness. Since the last time I posted I had to go through another extended process of changing pain medication, side effects, withdrawal, and all. However, the good news is that what I’m now taking is having a really positive effect. The pain is mostly in check, though the dizziness still strikes intermittently. The proof of this is that I managed to give a paper for the first time in over a year, at this year’s undergraduate conference in Newcastle.
I’ve had an interest in the philosophy of games for quite a while, having previously co-written a piece on the aesthetics of table top RPGs with my good friend Tim Linward (here), and a piece on Herman Hesse’s Glass Bead Game and the history of the concept of game for the eponymous journal (here). However, I’ve done a lot more research on the topic than has actually lead to publications, and this has slowly coagulated into an outline of a theory of games. This talk at Newcastle is the first attempt to present this outline, which I’m hoping to write up into something vaguely publishable soon.
Another year, another apology for a prolonged break. After a brief upsurge in activity last year following Transcendental Blues, I was somehow stricken by mysterious nerve damage in my upper neck. The resulting mixture of chronic headaches and random vertigo basically cost me most of the intervening year. I’ve been on medication for nerve pain for the past few months, but it’s still rather inadequate, and anything that puts strain on my neck, including using a laptop and reading books, has a tendency to exacerbate my symptoms in a thoroughly counterproductive manner. If you’d deliberately designed an ailment specifically to make it hard for me to work, you couldn’t have done much better. Nevertheless, I’m trying to be more active, and I’m hoping to maybe post a few thoughts here in the coming months. Until then, here are videos of two talks I gave in Moscow last year, just before the advent of catastrophic meatsack failure.
If there’s one topic that I’ve probably done more work on than anything else, it’s what you might call the methodology of metaphysics. My PhD thesis attempted to extract insights regarding what metaphysics is and how to go about doing it from Heidegger’s work on the question of Being, my Essay on Transcendental Realism attempted to extend these ideas in a Kantian direction using Sellarsian/Brandomian tools, and my book attempted to show how not to do metaphysics by critiquing one strand of the return to metaphysics in the Continental tradition. The latter probably contains the most sustained analysis of the provenance of metaphysics in my extant work, and probably the best available account of its evolution into Continental and Analytic strands in the 20th century.
However, the best stripped down overview of my opinions on the nature of metaphysics is an essay I wrote for Speculative Heresy nearly 8 years ago. I’ve worked out a lot more of the technical details in the years since, but they fill in rather than revise my position. With that in mind, I’m transferring it here.