In my previous post, I discussed objects as monads. As monads, each object or machine is an observer or experiencer of the world. The structure of experience differs from monad to monad. It consists of what a monad can encounter in its world, and how it operates on those inputs. I suspect that monads like rocks have pretty uninteresting structures of experience. Similarly, human experience of light or electro-magnetism is fairly dull compared to how mantis shrimp experience electro-magnetism (we experience 3 primary colors, while they experience 11 or 12. They can see ultraviolet, infrared, and circular polarized light, whereas we cannot). The world looks quite different for mantis shrimp. The mantis shrimp has access to an entirely different world than us.
Likewise, as I suggested in a follow up post, monads like insurance companies are open to the world in a different way than we are. Just like mantis shrimps and humans, insurance companies have their sense-organs and particular openness to their environment. As far as I can tell, insurance companies are capable of sensing four things in their environment: deaths, accidents, natural disasters, and fluctuations in the market. Just like mantis shrimp that sense their environment, in part, through electro-magnetism or wavelengths of light, insurance companies have their medium through which their sense-organs relate to their environment: forms or paperwork. The forms we fill out when filing for coverage are the “light” through which insurance companies sense events in their environment. In this regard, insurance companies are unable to register speech, because like subtle movements that only flies can perceive, speech moves too quickly to be registered by insurance companies. Instead they require the slower medium of the paper or electronic form circulating throughout the apparatus of the bureaucracy.
Scott Graham worries that I have an anthropomorphic concept of time:
While Bryant’s point about the whole/part issue is well taken, I must pause at his argument that an object is an “organization or structure that persists across time.” Whose time? I fail to see how this argument amounts to much more than, humans recognize a similarity between two actual occasions and thus by virtue of their temporal endo-structure construe a persistence between the two instantaneous time-slices. And for that matter, would not the perception of similarity itself be information? If an autopoietic system is constantly self-remaking, who is it that is recognizing the persistence/ similarity of the structure/organization?
I hope this isn’t the case, for what I’m angling for is a pluralistic account of time. In this regard, Scott asks exactly the right question when he asks Whose time? Within a pluralistic theory of time, there is not time but times. There is the time of each monad. The time of a rock is different than the time of a human which is different from the time of a fly or an insurance company or a government. Each monad has its own unique structure of time.
Here my inspiration is thoroughly Kantian (though in a reworked sense passing through Jakob von Uexkull’s Foray into the Worlds of Animals and Humans; Uexkull was one of history’s great monadologists). In the Critique of Pure Reason, Kant writes that,
a) Time is not something that would subsist for itself or attach to things as an objective determination, and thus remain if one abstracted from all subjective conditions of the intuition of them; for in the first case it would be something that was actual yet without an actual object…
b) Time is nothing other than the form of inner sense, i.e., of the intuition of our self and our inner state. For time cannot be a determination of outer appearances; it belongs neither to a shape or a position, etc., but on the contrary determines the relation of representations in our inner state…
c) Time is the a priori formal condition of all appearances in general. (B49 – 50)
For Kant, time is not a feature of the things themselves, but rather is a structure of our subjectivity through which minds such as our own organize our experience of the world. It is a sort of formal structure of what Harman calls “sensual objects” (as opposed to real objects). In this regard, Kant remains agnostic with respect to whether reality itself is structured temporally in this way, leaving open the possibility that it is not and that there are other temporalities that differ from our own.
In my own thoughts about time– and I find it very difficult to talk about time in non-paradoxical ways –I retain Kant’s thesis that time is the way in which monads subjectively order their experience of the world, while pluralizing temporalities. Where Kant restricts his account of time to rational agents such as ourselves, I try to argue that each type of monad has its own structure of temporality. In other words, there is not one transcendental aesthetic, but many transcendental aesthetics.
In Onto-Cartography, I found it useful to talk about these different transcendental aesthetics in terms of “hertz” (Hz’s). There I was trying to talk about time in its simplest, most rudimentary form, prior to getting into more complex structures of temporality possessed by critters such as dolphins, humans, and governments (historicity, futurity, memory, etc). Hertz measure the cycles per second of a periodic phenomena. Thus, for example, humans perceive at a rate of 60 Hz, while houseflies perceive at a rate of 200 Hz, and honeybees perceive at a rate of 300 Hz. These are different temporal structures for different monads. If it’s so hard to swat a pesky housefly, then this is because houseflies can perceive much smaller, faster, more subtle movements than us humans can. As a consequence of this structure of affect, they are able to respond more quickly, deftly escaping our gross and lumbering movements. Every monad has its hertz, or rate at which it encounters the world. An insurance company, for example, might encounter the world at 5 – 10 Hz.
The temporal structure of a monad plays a key role in how it is able to respond to its environment and what it is able to register in its environment. For each monad, there will be events that are either too fast or slow to be registered by that monad. Monads each have their endogenous and exogenous structures of temporality. The exogeneous structure of a monad’s temporality pertains to the rate at which it is able to register events in its environment. Honeybees are able to register much quicker events than us lumbering humans. Us lumbering humans, in our turn, are able to register much quicker events than sloth-like governments. By contrast, the endogeneous dimension of a monad’s temporality refers to the rate at which it’s able to carry out operations within itself. For example, what is the rate at which a cell can complete a chemical process, a brain can make a decision, or a government can enact a new piece of legislation?
Some events will be too slow for a particular monad to register. Take the relationship between the United States government and climate change. At the endogeneous level, US government oscillates at a rate of 2, 4, and 6 years (the various election cycles). This entails that it will be relatively blind to slow moving catastrophes like climate change. These election cycles entail that governments such as our own will favor short term planning, pertaining to the issues of the day, and will find it very difficult to respond to long term issues and engage in long term planning. For environmental activists, this entails that a central political question is how to respond to the temporal limitations of monads like governments.
In his post, Scott writes,
I’m a theoretical pragmatist (both in the philosophical and colloquial sense of the term, but here I mean the colloquial). For me the utility of a theory is in many ways based on whether or not it offers a better/ more compelling account of the objects of study. Within new materialism, there are many options available. OOO is one of the primary among post-ANT/associology. However, I am a bit concerned regarding the comparative utility of OOO as long as it fails to overcome the problem of time as information.
I share Scott’s commitment to theoretical pragmatism. I think that concepts that make no difference are useless. Good concepts are ones that generate new questions, new areas of inquiry, and new forms of engagement. I think the account of time I am crudely sketching here and elsewhere does this in a variety of different ways:
First, it allows us to discern new forms of power. On the one hand, because this account of time is pluralistic, positing a variety of different times rather than just one time that contains all entities, we can now raise questions about what happens when one monad is captured in the temporal field of another monad. Student loan and credit card debt, for example, are forms of temporal capture by corporations, banks, and governments. A person’s life becomes trapped and striated by this temporal field and they become indentured servants. Everything becomes structured around that 20+ years of indenture.
On the other hand, it allows us to discern chrono-political strategies of control and domination. Those of us working in the tradition of cultural Marxism and Foucault, are accustomed to examining how people are duped into willing their own oppression by ideology and investigating how institutions and technologies like the panopticon exercise control, but there isn’t nearly as much attention to how the structuration of time itself is a strategy of domination. Marx– who was not a cultural Marxist –recognized this in his reflections on the working day. Monads such as ourselves only have so much carrying capacity with respect to energy and influxes of information. Fatigue is a real political issue and a genuine strategy of domination. If I am doing one thing, I can’t do another thing. If I am attending to this or that bit of information, I am not attending to other bits of information. If my working day is so saturated by labor that all my calories are eaten up, I’m left without energy for revolt. One contributor to people tolerating their own oppressive conditions is to be found simply in structurations of time and energy, rather than mistaken ideological beliefs. Recognizing this opens the possibility of new political strategies for freeing up time.
Finally, third, recognizing that each monad can only exogeneously encounter its environment at particular rates, allows us to devise strategies for overcoming these forms of structural and temporal blindness; these forms of a priori blindness. It seems to me that pragmatically these considerations are all things of great use and value.