Sense and Sensibilia: Object Oriented Perception

 

“Without an image thinking is impossible.”

I want to linger in the Aristotle pieces—Sense and Sensibilia and On Memory (translated? by J.I. Beare)—to try to work through the language and ideas because something is there for me that I don’t quite have the senses to perceive (an object of my thinking).

Aristotle seems to commit himself to a claim to the effect that a sense organ in one way or another becomes like its object when it perceives—“what can perceive is potentially such as the object of sense is actually”. Aristotle questions if several objects can be perceived simultaneously (at once and individual to one another). After posing the question, he opens by positioning perception in the soul; if different things were being perceived, he questions if different parts of the soul would be perceiving by describing perception as “genus” or subdivided classes of perceiving. Using the eyes as anaology, two organs that function as one and perceive as one, he posits that the perceiving subject is one. He describes the senses as simultaneously one and many (I’m unsure if he’s explaining that we can use more than one sense at a time to perceive or if each sense is singular but heterogeneous in all that it is capable of perceiving with that one faculty). He states that there must be one resultant of perception “But there must be such one, inasmuch as the general sense-perception is one” but then questions on the next line what one object is perceived by one faculty. He states that “no one object arises by composition of these”, concluding that there is one faculty in the soul that perceives all precepts but that it perceives each “genus of sensibles through a different organ”. Although the faculty of perception is one and the same it is different in that “in genus as regards some of its objects, in species as regards others”; this leads Aristotle to the claim that although different objects can be perceived simultaneously with a faculty that is numerically one and the same, it is not the same in its account. He ends on a statement of impossibility that reminds me Graham Harman’s concept of withdrawal—that all objects are withdrawn such that they never touch; Levi Bryant explains withdrawal as

a protest against all ambitions of domination, mastery, and exploitation.  What withdrawal says is that all entities harbor– as Graham likes to put it –scarcely imagined volcanic cores bubbling beneath the surface that we are never completely able to master or control.  It is this from whence his profound respect for things– human and nonhuman –indeed his indignation against those that would try to reduce things to signifiers, concepts, sensations, lived experiences, intuitions, etc., arises

This withdrawal, this inability to pinpoint sense, is described by Aristotle through distance and contact, visibility/invisibility, and perceptibility/imperceptibility. He explains that every sensible object is a magnitude and that the distance at which an object is visible is determinate, while the distance at which an object cannot be seen is indeterminate (the same applies to all sensibles not discerned by actual contact). He sets up the object in an interval of distance “the last from which it is invisible, and the first from which it is visible” that is indivisible—this place, he describes, is where imperceptibility ends and perceptibility begins. This place, this perception, is impossible.

This is a fruitful place of im/perception for me, but for now, a few questions:

What does it take for a sense organ to become like its object in perception? What parallels can we draw to our constructed sense organs (tool and technological sense extenders and registers)?

This is perhaps a little too playful, but I can’t help but read Aristotle alongside speculative realism (the inability to perceive/access a thing, especially as a human alone). I am thinking of Ian Bogost’s provocation in Alien Phenomenology that language is only one way of knowing and the challenge to make things other than texts. Instead of thinking of perception and memory as captured (or not) in oral language or in imprinted language (both focusing on the human symbol systems), what might we be afforded if we looked at the objects of perceiving and remembering—not the ideas expressed as what we know/don’t know, but the objects expressing?

Thinking is made im/possible by the objects through which we perceive.

Advertisements

The Grasshopper: Possibility and Potentiality

I don’t wish to belabor a point (or rather, a nebulous idea that is pointed), but in reading Bernard Suits’ The Grasshopper, I kept thinking about what I was unable to say in my post last week on PolyFauna, ambience and ambiguity in play. To return to ambience as a means of foregrounding, Thomas Rickert uses Brian Eno to describe it as “the decision to stop seeing yourself as the centre of the world, to see yourself as part of the greater flow of things, as having limited options and responsibility to your actions” (Eno qtd. in “Circumnavigation”,  Ambient Rhetoric). In trying to postulate ambience as matter in ambiguity and play, I was drawn to Suits’ discussion of the concepts of open and closed games; he describes open games as “a system of reciprocally enabling moves whose purpose  is the continued operation of the system” (124), in contrast to closed games which have inherent goals whose achievement ends the game (122). I found myself questioning how we define goals; this found resonance in Thomas Hurka’s introduction to the text when he is describing Aristotle’s energeiai and kinesis. To Aristotle, energeiai has no external goal, but has an internal goal to itself, while kinesis folds in the ends as part of its action. Hurka posits game play as countering Aristotle’s argument that states “Where there are ends apart from the actions [the defining characteristic of a kinesis], it is the nature of the products to be better than the activities” based on properties internal to the activity of game play. I found myself wondering if goals, rules, and actions weren’t so bounded, how Suits’ lusory attitude (one of his element of game play in addition to ends, means, and rules) might influence how open and closed are imagined and how play itself is imagined in ambiguous games/play.

I return to PolyFauna as a possible example of ambiguous play/game with Suits in mind. But instead of treating it as an object of curiosity alone, I tried to treat it as more of a game; I searched for reviews of its game play and uncovered the following video, which describes itself as a walkthrough of the game:

I found it curious that the video would state such a claim, as my understanding of a walkthrough is a text (written or visual/aural) that demonstrates game play not just as suggestive strategy based on rules, but as experiential demonstration. The rules for PolyFauna are as follows:

Your screen is the window into an evolving world.
Move around to look around.
You can follow the red dot.
You can wear headphones.

I’m left questioning ambiguity more in terms of attitude and as existing in the experiential, as something in means/actions instead of ends/achievement of outcome. In the experiential of open versus closed, I return to the use of Aristotle’s dichotomy of kinesis and energeiai as potentiality; the concept of potentiality to Aristotle is any possibility that a thing can have as contrasting to actuality which he describes as motion, change, or activity that fulfills possibility. How does game play change is it is thought of as potentiality versus possibility?

 

On Rhetoric

 

Credit to St. Peter's List of 60 Philosophy Memes

Credit to St. Peter’s List of 60 Philosophy Memes

For Ancient Rhetorics this week, we read Aristotle’s On Rhetoric (one of our exam texts). I know this reading cannot account for the scope of the text (which I am curious as to how many re-readings it will take…), but I am dwelling here in a few points of interest in an attempt to discern something articulable/to connect them to our conversations in class about historiography and ways of knowing rhetoric’s history.

I was really intrigued by Chapter 7 of Book I: “The Koinon of Degree of Magnitude—Greater or Smaller—as Applicable to Questions of the Advantageous and the Good in Deliberative Rhetoric” perhaps because of an interest in scale. To explain simply, I attribute scale in part to Franco Moretti’s concept of distant reading (which I plan on applying to On Rhetoric to see what emerges as patterns…). Close and distant reading (Moretti) are not binaries or diametrically opposed on opposite ends of the spectrum:

close —————————————distant

but move along a spectrum of proximity in reading a text or collection of texts (“close” being the reading we as a human individual can do within individual text(s) and “distant” being reading humans + computation can do across text(s) ); this is differential reading. Differential reading, or reading at scales, defamiliarize texts, making them unrecognizable in a way (putting them at a distance or oppositely at a proximity) that helps identify features otherwise unseen, to make hypotheses, generate questions, and figure out patterns and how to read them (Tanya Clement, “Text Analysis, Data Mining, and Visualizations in Literary Scholarship”). I am playing with Aristotle’s koinon like differential reading scales. Aristotle identified greater and smaller as degree of magnitude of importance as a form common to all species of rhetoric in questioning possibility or fact. Koinon are degree of importance/unimportance and possible/impossible. He then outlines 41 conceptions of koinon, ranging from “things exceeding something equal to a greater entity are greater than it” (six), to “what is scarcer is greater than what is abundant, though less useful” (fourteen), to “what all people prefer [is preferable] to what all do not” (twenty eight) as all the sources of pisteis or proof, means of persuasion, belief (31). Aristotle divides pisteis (proofs) into artistic and non-artistic:

  • non-artistic: witnesses, testimonies, other proofs which do not need to be invented
  • artistic: need to be invented

I found myself wondering what type of proofs historical texts and historiographic research are categorized as—artistic or non-artistic and how this might change the way we see what is possible in doing historical work. If we see historiography as non-artistic proof, perhaps we are limiting what we can see as possible history even as we try to broaden our perspectives of history. Perhaps if we see historiography as artistic proof, needing to be invented, we might change how we look at history. Something like differentiated reading, made available through distantly reading texts with computer assistance, might bring to the surface details about history we have not focused or gaze upon.  Thus my fixation on differentiated reading with the koinon as illustrative of pisteis: historical work has ambient perspectives that have not been in the vocal spotlight. This brushed up against the idea of amplification or auxesis from Chapter 9 Book I: Epideictic Rhetoric (epideictic being demonstrative or fit for display). Auxesis is an overstatement to stress size/significance; it extends thoughts/statements to increase rhetorical effect, to add importance, or to make the most of a thought. To maximize or minimize elements through amplification seems to fit with the conceptions of koinon in proof. From limited reading about rhetorical amplification, it involves identifying parts of a text by a process of division, where each text can be amplified. Amplification is equated to inventio or systematic discovery that investigates the possible means by which profs can be discovered. Turning this thought thread back to historiography, I wonder how this might affect the ways in which historical work is done. Or perhaps, how we imagine it can be done. Which left me wondering about stasis theory (something that came up in a conversation with Collin last week—an accidental Aristotle connection) and its application to historical research. Stasis theory leads to knowledge building, or perhaps debate and re-building, through achieving stasis. Achieving stasis means that parties involved in a dialogue about a given issue have reached consensus on (or agreed upon) the information and conclusions in one or more of the stases:

  • Question of fact: did the person damage the item? (conjectural)
  • Question of definition: was the damage minor or major? (definitional)
  • Question of quality: was he justified in damaging the item? (qualitative)
  • Question of jurisdiction: should this be a civil or criminal trial? (translative)

Where does most research fall along the stases? How does this impact the ways in which we know the field (ways of reading and researching)? How might our perspectives change if we focus not on what we’re reading/researching, but how we’re reading/researching?

The allure of the triangle

Returning to Aristotle for class today, I found myself focusing on his use of threes in defining rhetoric in its subjects, kinds, ends, etc. Why threes? What is it about the number itself? Why a rhetorical triangle? What makes three the right balance – two as divided, four as a multiple of two’s divisions, and upward too many? One doesn’t imply balance and is as encompassing as a circle, minding scope. Perhaps it was easy to draw.

Aristotle

Reading Aristotle (ashamed to admit that it’s really my first textual encounter), I was stuck on this articulation of art as production, as making, under the guidance of right reason – a direct and natural response of a person to the sight of the beautiful. And although right reason is described as a natural response, it is made clear that art, or rather the productions of art, are not things that come into being as nature because they originate without a person. While it make sense to me that the productions are not things that exist within nature, I wondered in what ways nature, as a state of mind, could be a material – maybe beyond influence/inspiration that complicates right reason. I don’t just mean nature as materials like wood, stone, clay, but the structures of nature – honeycomb, natural arches, sedimentary rock – that craft craft/art. Then I saw a book I picked up before I visited my friend in Japan (and dragged him to traditional craft centers) and began skimming for relationships to right reason, products as good, and nature in the description of craft:

Folk Arts and Crafts of Japan by Kageo Muraoka and Kichiemon Okamura

“The Hidden Beauty of Common Objects” (“Zakki no Bi”):

The Craftsman and His Craft

“Although the Japanese folk artisan is poor and uneducated, he is a fervent devotee of his craft…Unconsciously, he is motivated by his belief in kami (the spirit of nature) and seized by its indomitable force…Because he was not self conscious about what he was doing, the man who made this dish had not planned the final outcome of his creative effort…What is beauty?…We cannot expect him to be prepared with clear-cut answers to such questions, but even though he may not have thought-out knowledge, his hands move rapidly at his work And we could perhaps say that just as the voice that speaks the Buddhas name is not actually the man’s voice but is that of the Buddha, so too the hands of the potter are not his own but those of nature”.

Soetsu Yanagi

And another thread:

Screen shot 2013-09-11 at 10.33.15 PMDr. Tobias Hoffman

And another – Aristotle:

“now Making and Doing are two different things (as we show in the exoteric treatise), and so that state of mind, conjoined with Reason, which is apt to Do, is distinct from that also conjoined with Reason, which is apt to Make: and for this reason they are not included one by the other, that is, Doing is not Making, nor Making Doing. Now as Architecture is an Art, and is the same as “a certain state of mind, conjoined with Reason, which is apt to Make,” and as there is no Art which is not such a state, nor any such state which is not an Art, Art, in its strict and proper sense, must be “a state of mind, conjoined with true Reason, apt to Make.”

“And, so neither things which exist or come into being necessarily, nor things in the way of nature, come under the province of Art, because these are self-originating. And since Making and Doing are distinct, Art must be concerned with the former and not the latter.”

*exoteric: of or relating to the outside; external

I feel like in trying to unpack Aristotle, I’m not making much progress…I suppose what I’m getting at is reason’s relationship to utility (or maybe use) in craft? Whether or not art and craft are one in the same and what connotations this has on aesthetic/fine art (especially distinctions between knowledge, wisdom, intuition, science and art)? And ways of considering nature’s relation to craft aside from inspiration as beauty alone? (or perhaps I’m not fully grasping this notion of beauty or nature either). This might all be lingering and densely packed confusions about tensions of the terms nature/natural and culture in other philosophy texts I’ve encountered.

And I suppose I want to pause on objects and things in the manner in which Aristotle uses them – what relationship do objects/things/matter have? To man? To nature? And in thinking about the ethics of things, can it be the thing itself considered?