Wednesday, June 20, 2012

How Nature Thinks … Desire

My book, tentatively titled How Nature Thinks, reduces to three interrelated ideas. 1) If you cannot imagine it, then you cannot experience it as meaningful. 2) Affectivity is prior to and semi-independent from cognition such that 3) the unreflective function of imagination may diverge from its reflective employment so that meaning had may diverge from meaning taken or cognitively grasped.

The conclusion is that affective sensibility is prior to cognitive sensibility, and habituated rifts between the two cause terrible problems for a person. For example, in our contemporary American times, sex sells and young people are conditioned to lust after idyllic beauty at the same time they are admonished that it does not matter. Hence, their habits of sexual desire and discursive practices are primed for conflict. Why? Meaning is had first on the level of the body and not the mind: what we find desirable and what we claim to be such need never confront one another until we are challenged. The widespread nature of the practice makes these challenges difficult.


  1. This seems particularly applicable to the scale of our current environmental problems. Matt Segal, at Footnotes to Plato, posted an interview with Tim Morton. Morton states that there are currently objects within the human purview that defy explanation through modern modes or norms of conversation. (I believe he thinks the depth of thought and knowledge is not there but I haven’t listened to the interview.) These objects, such as global warming or Styrofoam (the universe?) occupy a region spatially or temporally that stretches beyond normal everyday comprehension. His term for these things is hyperobjects.

    Having an emotion about something is essential for forming a memory about it. Those memories form the collective thought structure within which we operate subjectively. From these memories we begin to bring through our imagination. Imagination is built on memory, the collective conscious within which one finds his or her self, and the possibilities one ascribes to one’s self. In the trailer to this movie about the American school system, “Waiting for Superman”, there is a section that says the US scored somewhere below the vast amount of other developed nations in standardized test scores but the kids ranked highest in confidence. I think from here it is easy to see that there is a dearth of imagination in the US currently.

    Without imagination we can not understand these hyperobjects Morton has defined. Things such as climate change while easy to first comprehend are enormously complex in practice. While solutions to the problem are also easy to comprehend the action of organizing society to follow through is also a test of will and communication, not to mention imagination. People must be able to imagine the consequences in sufficient detail to affect the change within them selves.

    There was a study that came out a little while ago about the scientific literacy of climate change science proponents vs skeptics. The study found no difference in their literacy. Opinion on climate change seemed to be split by political ideology instead of ability to comprehend science. When you state that “if you can not imagine it, then you can not experience it,” I am left with little hope in the ability of humans to solve these problems.

    Your statement on the divergent character of emotion and reason reminds me of your statement on hypocrisy earlier. I was going to say that it seems most applicable to individuals within a similar thought structure or political belief system, that’s obviously what you’re going for. I believe it was you who said to Matt that you appreciate outside opinions within a discipline, fence jumpers.

  2. I think this is incredibly applicable to how climate change is being reacted to now. Currently the poles are warming at a rate far faster than the rest of the Earth. This is causing enhanced warming of shelf ice in the ocean. ~85% of the world’s methane clathrates are located in the Arctic with the vast majority in the East Siberian Arctic Shelf (ESAS), a shallow area of permafrost that is thawing and being replaced with warmer water. Methane is some 72 times more potent than CO2 over 25 yrs making it an incredibly dangerous gas. And there’s more than enough to double atmospheric carbon concentrations with a little burp. Last summer they found methane plumes a kilometer across all over a specific part of the ESAS, where shipping lanes were opened that had never been traversed. The largest until then were 10s of meters across.

    At Rio+20 nations are still caught up in the North-South emissions-funding debate. The Northern developed states will not fund development in the South because the South will not make deep enough emissions cuts for the North to be super super positive they won’t lose their position of hegemony in the world. Super super positive.

    As for affective sensibility being prior to cognitive sensibility I don’t know what to say about that. I think our affective sensibility generally leads us in the right direction when we are first born and as we go through life the world reprograms us. I’m in a weird position where a lot of people in my neighborhood hate me. Occasionally I’d hear their kids say but I like that guy. He seems nice. Why is he bad? Eventually it was supplanted by mimicry. They would say EXACTLY THE SAME THINGS their parents would. I would mention this and there would be these smug replies of so what, who cares, the world is not fair, you should deal with your lot. These shallow inane replies show me what the developed world is really dealing with in terms of change in lifestyle and perspective. These aren’t a few people, it is everyone, all political spectrums, even the radical. Love of independence, sovereignty, and freedom has not reached a level where people value it enough for themselves to give it freely to others.

    I think it is this freedom dichotomy where your split between the cognitive and affective is most pronounced. We deem freedom to be a key principle of American life. It is our staple. Yet we hesitate to grant it within society in favor of hierarchy and ‘success’.

  3. Thank you for your thoughts.

    My work discusses the technical natures of these concepts, whereas I like to be more practical and less boring on my blog. Well ... this might not be exciting ... but it's less boring than technical articles for most... ;)