Over at Being’s Poem, Daniel has some follow up questions regarding my post from yesterday. I’m extremely tired (my three year old girl woke me up around three this morning and I never got to sleep) and between classes starting and all the writing/editorial work I’m doing right now, I’m very pressed for time. As a consequence, I’ll try to keep my response brief.

1. Withdrawal– Some Preliminaries: For me there are three ways in which withdrawal takes place. First, objects or substances are withdrawn from themselves. Regardless of whether or not a substance relates to another substance, that substance would still be withdrawn. In my previous post I outlined this in terms of the relationship between local manifestation and virtual proper being. This point is crucial because those who have been following the development of OOO might have the impression that OOO merely argues that no entity can be present to another entity. From this one might conclude that while no entity can be present to another entity, entities are nonetheless present in themselves. While OOO does indeed argue that no entity is present to another entity, it does not argue that entities are present in themselves. All entities, OOO argues, are internally split or fissured, regardless of whether or not they relate to other entities. Put differently, no entity is fully present.

In addition to this sense of withdrawal, second, both Graham and I argue that entities are withdrawn from each other. Here no entity directly encounters another entity. Within Graham’s framework, entities only relate to one another or encounter one another in terms of what he calls “sensuous objects”. Sensuous objects are objects that only exist on the interior of a real object. These sensuous objects are never identical to the real object that provokes them (when it is a real object that provokes them). This, in very simplified terms, is Graham’s vicarious causation. Within my framework, objects only ever encounter one another in terms of local manifestations. Virtual proper being is never directly encountered but can only be inferred. In my view, there is a great deal of cross-over between Graham’s sensuous objects and my local manifestations. After reading The Democracy of Objects Graham seemed to think that vicarious causation is at work all over the place in my onticology.

read on!

Third, information is withdrawn from perturbations. In The Democracy of Objects I argue, following the autopoietic theorists, that objects are operationally closed. Within this framework, no object has a direct relationship to other objects in the world. Rather, each object is 1) selectively open to the world, and 2) relates to that field of the world to which it is selectively open in terms of its own organization. Selective openness to the world means that objects aren’t receptive to everything in the world. Neutrinos cannot interact with most matter because they have such a neutral charge. Dogs, unlike humans and other primates, cannot detect color in the red end of the spectrum. The utterance “I think therefore I am” resonates differently for a person trained in the history of philosophy than it does for someone who has never read any philosophy. Every object transforms those perturbations to which it is open in its own specific way according to its own particular organization. These perturbations are transformed into information or events that select system-states within an object, and that transformation, in its turn, produces a cascade of effects within the object.

2. Transmission: Daniel asks,

Is there any sense in which anything is transmitted or communicated between systems in relation, i.e. in an a) object’s reception of a perturbation or b) its subsequent translation into information which actualizes/chooses a local manifestation?

Yes, within my framework, perturbations are transmitted from one object to another object. However, those perturbations are re-structured by the object receiving the perturbation such that the information produced is never identical to the perturbation that instigated the information. I’m highly wary of the term “communication” because of how it has functioned within Shannon-Weaver models of information theory. Communication is generally thought as the exchange of something that remains identical between sender and receiver. I don’t think this takes place in relations between objects.

3. Perturbations: Daniel asks:

What exactly perturbs an object: is it another object as such, or a local manifestation of an object? Levi writes that ‘one object perturbs another’, but also that an object ‘receives the perturbation’. The first formulation seems to imply objects are perturbations, while the latter tells us perturbations are inputs, received by objects and thus presumably infiltrating them in some form where they become subject to translation.

It is the local manifestations of one object that perturb another object. One object can never directly encounter the virtual proper being of another object. Daniel goes on to ask,

So I’d simply like to know a) what exactly are the structural features of a perturbation, how b) it is not simply coincidental to manifest qualities, and finally c) whether perturbations are in the receiving object, in the object causing the perturbation, or whether it ‘passes’ from one to the other in some way.

I take it that this is an empirical question outside the scope of general ontology. The perturbations to which a cat is open are different to the perturbations to which a rock is open, and the perturbations to which granite is open are different to the perturbations to which obsidian is open. With respect to c) I’ve already said that perturbations aren’t “passed” from one object to another, but that when an object is perturbed or irritated it transforms that perturbation into information or events that select a system state. These differences will be a function of how the substance in question is structured.

4. Changing Powers: Daniel observes,

e would also need an account of how the powers of an entity change over time, and not just its manifestations, unless we can be given an account of essential powers and accidental ones.

Yes, the powers of many objects are capable of change as a result of the encounters an object undergoes. These encounters can lead to the emergence of new powers and the reconfiguration of structure at the virtual level. We see this all the time in learning and development.

5. Perturbations and Manifestations: Daniel writes:

This sharply distinguishes between perturbations and: a) translated information, and b) selected system states. It suggests that a perturbation is then identical to objective manifestations, like we surmised before. Since every time, as in the case of sunlight, what will affect an object is another object’s actual manifest state, the identity between manifestations and perturbations seems provisionally warranted. What is less clear, however, is how this identity is construed, for the reasons outlined above in question (3) above.

I’m not sure where Daniel gets this idea. In the example I gave in my last post, is sunlight identical to a tan? Sunlight is a perturbation. A tan is a local manifestation. The perturbation is the occasion that initiates the process of my body producing a tan.

6. Perturbations and Many Local Manifestations: Daniel asks,

Levi writes of sunlight and biochemical processes; is there any sense in which the sunlight produces a single perturbation or many?

The purpose of an example is to illustrate or allude to a general ontological structure. Certainly Daniel isn’t serious when he raises this question. In addition to producing tans, sunlight causes my body to sweat, it provides me with vitamin D that is important to bone strength, it plays a role in my moods, it can cause cell mutations, it causes my pupils to contract, and so on. A single perturbation can produce an entire slew of local manifestations at a variety of different levels.

7. Acts: Daniel asks,

Here I’d just like to ask whether the ‘acts’ in question refers to the selection of a system-state by produced information. The reason why identical systems/objects is enigmatic at this juncture is because it’s not clear how exactly the process of translation produces information which then determines local states. Can two objects produce an identical local manifestation? How does translation process the perturbation through the virtual being of the object into specific information which then chooses a system state?

There are a variety of acts at work in these processes. One act lies in the way in which an object translates a perturbation into information (and again, I emphasize that this is an empirical question, there is no “one size fits all” general ontological account here). Another act lies in the way in which that information activates a dimension of the object’s virtual proper being. Yet another lies in the local manifestation that is produced as a result of this activation.

8. Meaning and Miscommunication: Dan writes:

However, it is far from clear what exactly accounts for the fact that the content of meaning cannot be identical between systems, if we stipulate they posses sufficiently similar virtual structures. That is, unless we advance the thesis that no two systems are ever identical, and that translation involves the whole of the system. If two systems were identical, couldn’t there be identical local manifestations, or two identical productions of meaning? And even if such identity were not possible, couldn’t there be sufficiently similar systems so that they would produce qualitatively identical states.

When it comes to systems capable of relating to the world in terms of meaning, I find the hypothesis of two systems that are identical utterly, pardon the pun, meaningless. The reason for this is very simple. Objects capable of relating to the world in terms of meaning are also systems that necessarily have the dimension of memory. The dimension of memory entails that every event an object undergoes will be synthesized with traces of past events, thereby producing difference. In order for two systems to produce identical meanings they would have to have identical pasts. I just don’t see how this is possible.

Accounts of meaning that presuppose the sameness of meaning as a condition (shared code, shared propositional content, etc) get things the wrong way round. Sameness is not something that is there at the outset but is something accomplished (always imperfectly and only approximately) over time as a result of structural couplings between objects. In other words, it’s something produced or evolved in an interaction between two or more objects. One object perturbs another, the perturbed object in its turn produces a perturbation in the first object, and so on. Gradually coordinated activity evolves or develops. Importantly, this coordinated activity need not entail sameness of propositional content. My partner might interpret what I say in an entirely different way than I intend it and produce perturbations in me based on this interpretation. Nonetheless, despite the fact that we don’t really “understand” one another (who really understands anyone else?) we evolve coordinated action that produces the illusion that we understand each other.

Maybe a more illuminating example would be my relationship with my cats. When my cat rubs against me, I believe she is showing me affection. This, in turn, leads me to pet my cat to show affection in return. However, there’s no requirement here that this interchange need to be based on the same intentions. My cat might merely be trying to get warm or to mark important territory by rubbing her scent on me. In this case, my intentions revolve around affections, whereas my cats intentions revolve around marking territory and maintaining warmth. Nonetheless, despite the fact that there is no shared intention here we successfully evolve a feedback loop between each other that coordinates our actions though for very different ends.

I would also remind Daniel that this is a blog, not a philosophical treatise. There is only so much I can write here (or care to write here) and therefore my remarks can only be impressionistic. Given that his questions are getting a bit repetitive and time consuming to respond to, this, I think, is enough for now.