Astronaut has now spent more continuous time in outer space than any other person in history.  Clocking in at 520 days, I can scarcely imagine what this must have been like.  The mission was conducted to gather data on the impact of long-term space dwelling on the human body to determine the feasibility of a mission to Mars, and the verdict, I think, is not good.  The passages I’ve read from his memoir of the experience are riveting and, I think, of great philosophical interest as raw material for thinking the being of beings.  The significance of Kelly’s experience goes well beyond insight into what happens to us when we are in space for prolonged periods of time, giving us a sense of both what it is to be a body and a thing.  In a certain respect, we can say that Kelly’s mission is the greatest of ontological experiments, for what it does is detach the body from the field in which it ordinarily dwells (the earth), raising the question of just what a body is.  From the standpoint of object-oriented ontology, I find this experiment incredibly interesting, because it both confirms, after a fashion, the thesis of withdrawal insofar as we discover startling features of the body in a zero-g environment, while also refuting it.  If the latter, then this is because we discover just how dependent bodies and things are on the fields in which they dwell or exist.

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The aftermath of the mission that Kelly describes is incredibly disturbing.  Kelly writes of what happened to him when he returned to Earth:

I struggle to get up. Find the edge of the bed. Feet down. Sit up. Stand up. At every stage I feel like I’m fighting through quicksand. When I’m finally vertical, the pain in my legs is awful, and on top of that pain I feel a sensation that’s even more alarming: it feels as though all the blood in my body is rushing to my legs, like the sensation of the blood rushing to your head when you do a handstand, but in reverse.

I can feel the tissue in my legs swelling. I shuffle my way to the bath room, moving my weight from one foot to the other with deliberate effort. Left. Right. Left. Right. I make it to the bathroom, flip on the light, and look down at my legs. They are swollen and alien stumps, not legs at all. “Oh shit,” I say. “Amiko, come look at this.” She kneels down and squeezes one ankle, and it squishes like a water balloon. She looks up at me with worried eyes. “I can’t even feel your ankle bones,” she says.

“My skin is burning, too,” I tell her. Amiko frantically examines me. I have a strange rash all over my back, the backs of my legs, the back of my head and neck – everywhere I was in contact with the bed. I can feel her cool hands moving over my inflamed skin. “It looks like an allergic rash,” she says. “Like hives.”

Without endorsing Hegelian dialectic, it is hard not to think of Hegel’s essay “Who Thinks Abstractly?” in response to these descriptions.  Hegel writes:

I have only to adduce examples for my proposition: everybody will grant that they confirm it. A murderer is led to the place of execution. For the common populace he is nothing but a murderer. Ladies perhaps remark that he is a strong, handsome, interesting man. The populace finds this remark terrible: What? A murderer handsome? How can one think so wickedly and call a murderer handsome; no doubt, you yourselves are something not much better! This is the corruption of morals that is prevalent in the upper classes, a priest may add, knowing the bottom of things and human hearts.

One who knows men traces the development of the criminal’s mind: he finds in his history, in his education, a bad family relationship between his father and mother, some tremendous harshness after this human being had done some minor wrong, so he became embittered against the social order — a first reaction to this that in effect expelled him and henceforth did not make it possible for him to preserve himself except through crime. — There may be people who will say when they hear such things: he wants to excuse this murderer! After all I remember how in my youth I heard a mayor lament that writers of books were going too far and sought to extirpate Christianity and righteousness altogether; somebody had written a defense of suicide; terrible, really too terrible! — Further questions revealed that The Sufferings of Werther [by Goethe, 1774] were meant.

This is abstract thinking: to see nothing in the murderer except the abstract fact that he is a murderer, and to annul all other human essence in him with this simple quality.

Hegel’s point is that the murderer is an actualization of an entire field that he has pleated into himself over the course of his life.  It is only in relation to that field that the murderer comes to be.  Yet when the abstract thinker encounters the murderer, we treat “being-a-murderer” as an intrinsic property of the murder that exists in the murderer alone as his essence.  We detach the murderer from the field from which he emerged, treating this property as a feature of him alone. We treat them as in-dividuals.

This is how we tend to think of bodies and things in general.  We treat bodies and things as bundles of intrinsic properties and hold that they would have those properties regardless of what field they exist in.  Yet as the example of Astronaut Kelly shows, bodies and things are not in-dividuals, but rather are dividuals.  The minimal unit of being is not the thing or object, but rather the dyad.  A dyad is not a dualism.  It is two-in-one, like a wave in its relationship to the ocean.  Indeed, from a certain vantage, every being is a sort of wave, pleating both its interiority and the exteriority within which it dwells.  The pleat is both a noun and a verb.  As a noun, the pleat is the thing itself.  All things that exist are a sort of origami, a sort of fold arising out of interiority and exteriority.  But they exist as pleats only through the process of pleating or folding:  the dynamic and ongoing activity of folding their exteriority into their interiority.  Of course, the process works in reverse as well; for in pleating exteriority, waves or things also affect that exteriority, leading it to unfold in different ways than it otherwise would.

This is precisely what Kelly encountered in the depths of his body.  His body was something quite different in the zero-g environment of outer space, pleating itself in different ways that produced very different properties or qualities in his body (the degeneration of muscle, bone, and the cardiovascular system of outer-space is well documented).  When he returned to Earth and a new field or ecology, his body struggled to pleat itself as it once did.  What he discovered is that his body exists in an intimate dialogue with exteriority.  Of bodies and things we can say that there is no thing without its atmosphere– whatever that atmosphere might be –or, that every thing is profoundly ecological.

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