Immanuel_Kant_(painted_portrait)It’s difficult to understand why anyone would ever get excited about Kant’s question “how are synthetic a priori propositions possible?”  It’s an incredibly abstract question.  Everything must be placed in context.  That seems to lack any import beyond academic import.  We have analytic a priori concepts.  I think the concept “bachelor” and immediately think “unmarried male”.  There’s nothing in an analytic a priori judgments or concepts that, to use Kant’s language, “amplifies” my concept of “bachelor”.  “Unmarried male” is already contained in my concept of “bachelor”.  It’s a matter of definitions.  That’s why I can know it independent of experience.  The NSF won’t fund a study for research into whether bachelors are unmarried males as there’s nothing to learn.  We know it by definition.

With synthetic a posterior judgments, my knowledge is amplified.  When I go to Morocco for the first time, my concept of Morocco is expanded.  I synthesize the subject “Morocco” with my new experiences, learning something that I didn’t know before.  This is the magicians theory of knowledge.  Every magician knows that you can’t pull a rabbit out of a hat without first putting it into the hat.  There’s nothing in the mind, according to the empiricists that wasn’t first put there.  That’s empiricism.  The rule of the magician.

But the synthetic a priori is real magic.  From thought alone you’re getting more out of the hat than you put there in the first place.  When Kant says that 7+5 = 12 is not an analytic a priori judgment, nor a synthetic a posteriori judgment, but a synthetic a priori judgment, he’s saying that when we go through these calculations we learn something we didn’t know at first, something that’s absolutely certain but that we didn’t know at the outset, and that this isn’t merely a matter of definitions nor is it a matter of experience (the five senses).  Through thought we get more than we started with.  It would appear that with thought we can violate the principle of the conservation of matter and energy:  we get more than we started with…  At least, if synthetic a priori propositions are possible.  This is real magic.  This is a real mystery.

We might not be impressed with coming to know something more through thought alone in arriving at the sum of 12, but the issue has much broader implications than Kant explicitly suggests in the first Critique.  Situate the issue in the absurd debate between nature and nurture.  Those on the nurture side are magicians.  They say there’s nothing in a person’s mind that wasn’t first put there by how they were nurtured by their caregivers and their social environment.  If you’re brought up in a hateful, bigoted, abusive environment you’ll be a hateful, bigoted, abuser because that’s all you were ever brought up with.  If you’re on the nature side, your hat is already full.  Some sort of genetic code makes you a hateful, bigoted, abuser.  Tough luck.  That’s what you are.

But if synthetic a priori propositions are possible…  Well that’s a game changer.  If synthetic a priori propositions are possible this means there’s a power of thought…  A power to go beyond teaching or environment and a power to go beyond your nature.  If synthetic a priori propositions are possible this means you have the power to introduce something new into both your own thought and the world through thought.  This means you’re beyond history, even while mired in history, and beyond your nature.  You can think beyond yourself and make yourself beyond yourself.  What is really at stake in the synthetic a priori is freedom; your capacity to be self-determining and self-creating and your capacity to be something other than a Nazi even though you’ve only ever been exposed to Nazis and have nazism in your biological nature. This is what Badiou is talking about when he talks about the Event, what Zizek is talking about when he talks about the Subject as the gap, and what Deleuze is talking about when he talks about the New…  A power of thought to invent through thought and not simply because something else entered into the hat through the five senses.  Kant’s real question is a question about what the power of thought is, about what it means to invent or think and create the new.  It’s the question of real freedom.  And that is why the question “how are synthetic a priori propositions possible?” is a question worth taking seriously and getting excited about.

RSIIt seems I’m in a mood for lists tonight; or maybe it’s just been a long day so I don’t have the energy to compose things more artfully.  The unconscious in all its variations calls for an appearance/reality distinction.  There is a phenomenon (appearance) that calls for an interpretation at the level of reality.  We think it’s one thing, but really it’s another.

The first form of the unconscious is Leibnizian and occurs in region 7 or the imaginary.  The ocean is composed of an infinity of infinitesimal drops of water.  Unconsciously we perceive each of these drops of water (the real).  But mind performs a synthesis and we instead hear the roar of the ocean (the appearance).  This unconscious calls for us to reach the infinitesimal of the ocean; that which is the ground of what we hear at the molar or macro level of our perception when we hear the comforting roar of the ocean.

_47245971_spiderweb_splThe second unconscious occurs in region 3 and takes two forms:  the ethnographic and psychoanalytic.  The ethnographic unconscious is the system of signifiers, of categories, thrown over ones body.  “You’re a member of the Mouse clan!  You’re a member of the Owl clan!”  This form of the unconscious is not in our minds.  Just as the value of a dollar bill is not up to us, we don’t get to decide how we’re categorized (though we can fight these categories).  These categories preside over our destiny in all sorts of ways.  There are things Mice can do that Owls can’t do and vice versa.  It’s not up to us, even though we can struggle against these webs.  We might be done with totemism, but totemism isn’t done with us.  That’s how it is with the ethnographic unconscious.

crossword-puzzle-and-penThe psychoanalytic unconscious internalizes the symbolic in mind.  It isn’t an external set of symbolic determinations or categories deciding our destiny, but rather the way in which we navigate these categories.  When I still practiced psychoanalysis, I had a patient that had the following dream:

There were two deer in my brother-in-law’s back yard frolicking playfully.  I woke up fully of joy and happiness.

She had spoken on many occasions about how she hated her brother-in-law.  It was a repeated theme in her sessions.  After she told me her dream I punctuated it:  “frolicked?”  In previous sessions she’d always used this term for “sex”; with her husband she would say “we had a frolic”.  That immediately came to her mind.  “Deer”, I asked?  Immediately she associated to the homonym “dear”.  “Your brother-in-law’s back yard?”  “Oh my god”, she exclaimed, “I have a thing for my brother-in-law.  That’s why he drives me so crazy!”  This was a pivotal point in her analysis where she began to explore the desire that was disrupting her marriage and where she began to explore her unconscious.  That’s how it is with the psychoanalytic unconscious and why it’s written like a language.  It’s like the New York Times cross-word puzzle where some completely unrelated signifier that’s an “equivoke” (as Lacan puts it in Seminar 22) or set of homonyms, or like a pictogram where you’re supposed to guess the meaning of a boat on top of a house (houseboat) to find what the unconscious is expressing through furtive means.  The signifiers always get us in the end.  The metaphors we use are saying something else.

Brain loss and losing memory and intelligence due to neurological trauma and head injury or alzheimers disease  caused by aging with gears and cogs in the shape of a human face showing cognitive loss and thinking function.

Then there’s the neurological unconscious.  There’s not much to say about this, though there’s much to learn.  You’re a smoker.  You’ve quit.  Everyone in the world seems to be attacking you, seems to be threatening.  But it’s not them, it’s your neuro-chemistry.  We experience the neurological unconscious when we’re having a nicotine fit or when we’re in the midst of euphoria caused by Molly where we’re in love with everything.  It’s a chemical bath that produces this.

Today we have a new form of the unconscious:  the datalogical unconscious.  The datatological unconscious resembles the ethnographic unconscious– and is symbolic –in that it consists of the data that we electronically generate through our credit reports, our social security numbers, our web searches and so on.  At the conference I was at last week, Neal Swisher discussed the way in which this unconscious works with fitness watches.  In the first instance, you use these watches to learn something about yourself that is both yourself and more than yourself.  You learn about your heart rates and so on as you’re running and resting.  There’s something that is in you that is also not you because it is so foreign.  You upload this data, through an app, to a website to find out its meaning.  You thereby externalize yourself to know yourself.  What is interesting here is that this information is often sold to various companies like health insurance companies.  Something about you is traveling about the world, circulating throughout the world, and perhaps leading to decisions about you that you’re scarcely aware of. That’s the datalogical unconscious…  An agency that you are, that you are completely unaware of that’s deciding things regarding your life.

This is how it is with Google.  You think you’re doing a search like anyone else, but Google decides what to show you based on your past searches and where you’re located in the world.  People in Frisco, Texas see something different than people in Macon, Georgia, and both of these people see something different based on what they’ve searched for in the past.  Like someone suffering from the psychological phenomenon of depersonalization that sees their image in the mirror but cannot recognize that it is their image in the mirror, everywhere in the datalogical unconscious we’re seeing ourselves without seeing ourselves and that unconscious is making all sorts of decisions about our destiny or future.

Campbells-Soups-Andy-Warhol-4We could say that the first age of commodification occurs when merchants learn how to buy cheap and sell dear.  This was the beginning of the creation of a particularly capitalist form of time and space.  You would either buy some product such as grain and sit on it until it became scarce so that you could sell it at a higher price (the creation of capitalist time, the specifically capitalist form of waiting), or you would buy in one place where the commodity was abundant and sell it elsewhere where the commodity was scarce (the creation of capitalist space).  The second age of commodification occurred when the capitalist learned how to buy labor (-time) and manipulate production so as to get more profit out of production than was put into paying for that production.  Pay each laborer $5 an hour.  You own their bodies for this hour and whatever their bodies produce.  Purchase the time of 6 laborers for an hour each.  $30.  Create an assembly line.  Each laborer can produce 4 soup cans worth $2 each.  Each laborer produces $8 an hour, for a total of $48.  You’ve defied the laws of physics, that nothing can come from nothing, that energy can neither be created nor destroyed.  You’ve magically created $48 out of the labor you’ve paid for, or an $18 profit.  You say this is just because you put up the capital and paid for the infrastructure.  You hope that no one ever asks why the laborers don’t pay back the owner at some point in time and therefore take ownership of the system of production.

725821b3eabfe18acc65f8dd8d81be17-22a.  Make your workers buy the product they produce so that the snake eats its own tail and creates a perfect system.  Depress their wages through getting them to compete with one another for jobs, but make sure they don’t compete too much so you don’t run the system into the ground by making the commodity they produce something they can’t buy with their wages.  Often owners miss this step due to a lack of foresight and the system collapses.  Somehow it always rises again.  Make sure they’re always fighting with one another on religious, ethnic, or gender grounds so they don’t organize to ask for more.  Meanwhile, while their fighting, pick their pockets.  This strategy is even more effective if the alternative of not addressing these struggles, antagonisms, and conflicts is unthinkable.  Force people to choose between just equality or complete misery so they can’t address the shared injustice.  Look, squirrel!  Make sure they’re always chasing the squirrel and not you.

DF-09973_r2 - Will Ferrell stars in Columbia Pictures’ comedy Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby. Photo Credit: Suzanne Hanover  S.M.P.S.P. Copyright: (c) 2006 Columbia Pictures Industries, Inc. and GH One LLC.  All rights reserved.

Now the third stage.  Laborers are working 18 hours a day, using the rest to eat and sleep and take care of their families.  Make sure they never ask the question of why they don’t own the system once they’ve paid back the capital the owner invested to start the system in the first place.  They ask for more leisure, which the owner can afford to do because the owners make enough money through their manipulation of the time of production to grant this leisure without cutting too much into their profits.  Besides, leisure– sports, films, television shows, gadgets, NASCAR racing –keeps the natives peaceful.  Why fight the owners when you can get worked up about the Cubs versus the White Sox.  New problem:  how can leisure be turned into a source of profit?  How can it be a form of production?  The purpose of television is not to entertain or inform, the purpose of the new is not to tell us what is going on in the world.  Rather, the purpose of news and television is as a commercial delivery device.  Everything is upside down.  The viewer thinks the aim of a blog, a newspaper, the news, or a show is to inform and entertain.  From the producer’s standpoint, it is to deliver commercials, making profit both from the selling of add time and the hook that sells products.  Now the consumption of entertainment becomes a form of production creating surplus-value.

why costa rica 1Fourth stage:  how to turn labor itself into a commodity?  Labor, of course, was always a commodity because as workers rather than capitalists we all sold our labor as a commodity for a wage.  We sold our time, which was a way of selling our life.  They said time was money.  We thought, time is life.  We gave up more and more life…  Even our leisure became a selling of our life.  But was there a way of making labor even more of a commodity?  Create a system where one must pay for ones training to become a suitable labor commodity on the market.  Place everyone in debt so that they are indentured to the system of production, each for decades, paying back the loans they took out to get that education.  Now the workers no longer work for a wage simply to sustain their lives and families, but they work to pay back the debt they accrued to be capable of working in the first place.  People no longer work to sustain themselves, but are instead sources of interest in their labor, working to pay that interest.  The Matrix, where everyone is a battery to run the machines, is not a fictional entertainment, but a documentary.  At this point we reach total commodification.

In reflecting on why I’m so hostile to hermeneutics, the architect Karl Chu came to mind.  It’s not that I haven’t learned from this tradition.  I was trained in this tradition.  My work is replete with references to the tradition.  For a number of years now I’ve followed him on Facebook and there are always pictures of outer space, astronauts, pilots in fighter planes going beyond the speed of sound, and so on.  From afar, my impression of Karl is that we should strive to be this:


Rather than endlessly measuring ourselves by this:


Or this:

CARAVAGGIO (b. 1571, Caravaggio, d. 1610, Porto Ercole) The Sacrifice of Isaac 1601-02 Oil on canvas, 104 x 135 cm Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence Caravaggio painted a version of this subject for Cardinal Maffeo Barberini, the future Pope Urban VIII and this could be the picture. The artist thrusts the action to the front of the picture frame like a sculpted frieze. Old Abraham, with features reminiscent of the second St Matthew, is intercepted in the act of slitting his son's throat by an admonishing angel who with his right hand prevents the murder and with his left points to the substitute victim. Light directs the viewer to scan the scene from left to right as it picks out the angel's shoulder and left hand, the quizzical face of Abraham, the right shoulder and terrified face of Isaac and finally the docile ram. A continuous movement links the back of the angel's neck to Isaac's profile; and angel and boy have a family likeness. Caravaggio combines a hint of horror with pastoral beauty. In the foreground the sharp knife is silhouetted against the light on Isaac's arm. In the distance is one of Caravaggio's rare landscapes, a glimpse perhaps of the Alban hills round Rome and an acknowledgement of the skill of his one serious rival, Annibale Carracci, whose landscapes were particularly admired. --- Keywords: -------------- Author: CARAVAGGIO Title: The Sacrifice of Isaac Time-line: 1551-1600 School: Italian Form: painting Type: religious

We should place ourselves in completely unfamiliar contexts, striving to see what we become beyond our history and the past, becoming something other than the human.  Rather than seeing the past as already containing all the answers after the fashion of Ecclesiastes where there is nothing new under the sun, but only an endless repetition of the same, we should instead occupy ourselves with creating an unheard of and unimagined future.  Our age is not the age of the endless meditation on the past– though indeed we should preserve the past and not destroy monuments –but an age where we should find it in ourselves to give birth to the future by becoming-other…  A complete disorientation of where we have been, our history, and what we might have evolved from through the creation of speculative environments that make us otherwise.


12794377_10153876964791145_1869554678603480529_nI am both honored and excited to be participating in The Secret Life of Buildings symposium next October at University of Texas, at Austin.  If you are an artist or designer, please consider submitting something.  More information can be found here.


I’m excited to announce a competition that I have been planning for quite some time with the Center for American Architecture and Design at UTSOA.

This is a call for works of art or design that (i) might fairly be called ‘objects’ by the nascent philosophies of Speculative Realism and Object Oriented Ontology, and that (ii) will throw light on architecture as a peculiar set of objects, phenomena, ideas, relations, connections, skills, materials, obligations, and operations.

Jury includes: Craig Dykers, Graham Harman, Ian Bogost, Tim Morton, Levi P. Bryant, Jorge Otero-Pailos, Albena Yaneva, Michael Benedikt, Kory Bieg and more to be announced.

More info can be found here:
Information about the symposium and event can be found here:

figure1_structural-couplingMy good friend Carl has started a blog devoted to the systems theory of Niklas Luhmann.  A number of excellent and illuminating posts so far.  I’m exceedingly pleased to see this as I believe that Luhmann’s systems theoretical framework is extremely powerful and doesn’t get nearly enough attention in the the English speaking world.  Check it out!

Plato-DualismIn Plato’s analogy of the divided line we’re told that we can only ever have opinions or doxa about the physical world.  What is fascinating here is his reasoning.  The reason that we can only have knowledge of the physical world, according to Plato, is not because everyone perceives or interprets things differently.  The issue here isn’t about some subjectivism or relativism at the heart of how minds relate to reality.  Rather, it is built into the very fabric of physical reality, not the mind that regards to that reality, that it can only be a domain of opinion.  Because everything in physical reality is doomed to change or becoming, what is true of a physical being now becomes false later.

927b90c9fce2746a0c1f092a72c09d19I say “the rose is red”.  This can only ever be an opinion, according to Plato, not because someone else might see or interpret it differently or because I might be color blind, but because the rose is condemned to turn brown and die.  Truth, for Plato, must preserve itself.  If the truth value of proposition changes with time, then it is not genuinely knowledge, but opinion.  Consequently, the entire world of physical beings will be reduced to appearances, a sort of veil of maya that we must pierce to get to true reality.  There is no truth to be found in this world of appearances, of physical objects, because this world that we dwell in, this world that is the world of our embodiment, is a world of change that fails to preserve truth.

1a504d46-27ac-46e5-9b31-c2d991b508a3Lurking in the background here is the imperative of Parmenides.  Parmenides’s declaration is not simply that being is and non-being is not, but also that being is knowable.  The great and disturbing poem of the Eleatic Stranger does not merely observe that being is, but also seeks to establish that being is identical to thought.  Thought in being must be identical for being to be knowable.  Otherwise we are left with nothing but a skepticism.  If we make the claim that being is identical, we are also implicitly claiming that being must be rational.  But what does it mean to say that being is rational?  It means that it obeys the following two principles:

The principle of identity or A = A


The principle of non-contradiction or ~(A & ~A)

The structure of reality must mirror the structure of thought and the structure of thought must mirror the structure of reality.  Anything less and we fall into a skepticism, says this tradition.  If, then, we must reject the thesis that physical objects have being, says Plato, then this is because they fail to meet the requirements of the principle of identity and non-contradiction.  In changing, physical beings are non-identical to themselves and contradict themselves.  Henceforth, Plato will say that the number 17 is more real than a rose, because the number 17 is always the number 17 and never becomes anything else.  The entire world of becoming will be demoted and treated as unreality.  And do we not witness echoes of this initial philosophical decision in both Badiou’s mathematization of ontology that effectively reduces, again, appearance to a sort of surface-effect or in object-oriented philosophy’s doctrine of withdrawal that “rescues” entity from change?

So much of Plato falls into place in this moment.  Plato’s strange denunciation of writing, so profoundly explored by Derrida, will be seen to arise from how the written is always non-identical to itself both in the differentiality of the signifier, but also in its difference from what it signifies.  Writing will everywhere harbor violations of the principles of identity and non-contradiction, and above all, will create the possibility of rendering formal paradoxes material or embodied.  “If the Barber of Seville cuts everyone’s hair except those who cut their own hair, who cuts the Barber’s hair?”  Clearly the real barber never has trouble getting a haircut.  This is a paradox that is only capable of existing in the symbolic, in a signifying system.  It will mark Plato’s hostility to art and the simulacrum as something that competes with the self-identical real.  It is the underlying rationale for Plato’s denigration of the body and the senses.

Much of the history of philosophy will be an attempt to reconcile being with these two principles of thought, which is why it is led to such strange places.  Everywhere philosophy will seek a sort of parallelism of thought and being that arises as a demand that being obey the principles of non-contradiction and identity.  Again and again this requirement will lead to denunciations of the body, materiality, difference, the physical world, and appearance or phenomenality.  Lurking behind all of this will be a will to power and a denial of death, for where thought is identical with the thing, where the concept can replace the thing, we have escaped the constraints of embodiment and materiality.  Given the deep price we must pay to formulate a theory of knowledge and reality consonant with these principles, we must raise the question of whether we don’t get further with difference than identity.


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