As all that is solid melts to air and everything holy is profaned...
- Name: Alistair Livingston
Friday, December 24, 2010
Wednesday, December 22, 2010
Just reading this very useful thesis on heat engines and capitalism.
Tuesday, December 21, 2010
Monday, December 20, 2010
Evoking Maxwell's demon – a summary.
What is the relationship between physical and social reality? Until 250 years ago, social reality was constrained by physical reality. Since then it has appeared that social reality, the reality of human culture (in the social anthropological sense), has freed itself and ourselves from the constraints of physical reality, of nature. Our liberation came from a double revolution. Human though was liberated from the constraints of tradition and superstition by the Enlightenment, the 'Age of Reason', while a parallel industrial revolution created a new economic system based on innovation and expansion.
The double revolution has transformed social reality and our understanding of physical reality – with no limit to either. However, through the greater understanding of physical reality, a problem has emerged which is set to re-establish a physical restraint on social reality. The use of coal and oil as the energy source which has powered the two revolutions has increased the amount of carbon dioxide in the earth's atmosphere. This is creating a gradual warming of the earth, sufficient to affect the planet's climate. If nothing is done, the resulting instability will re-set social reality back to survival mode, absorbing all surplus production in attempts to overcome increasingly disruptive 'natural disasters' – droughts, floods, hurricanes, snow falls and famines. Yet to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide will require a a major re-structuring of social reality, a transformation no less radical than that brought about by the industrial revolution. The political implications of such a transformation – an age of austerity – are very difficult to 'sell' to voters. The danger is that by the time the disruptive impact of climate change has become undeniably apparent, it will be too late to prevent further and even more disruptive change.
To overcome this 'impossible' problem, the disconnection between social and physical reality must be resolved now – before rather than after it has become actualised. The point where physical reality and social reality connect is our personal -private and individual- reality. But -
The lack of general historical life also means that individual life as yet has no history. The pseudo-events that vie for attention in spectacular dramatizations have not been lived by those who are informed about them; and in any case they are soon forgotten due to their increasingly frenetic replacement at every pulsation of the spectacular machinery. Conversely, what is really lived has no relation to the society’s official version of irreversible time, and conflicts with the pseudocyclical rhythm of that time’s consumable by-products. This individual experience of a disconnected everyday life remains without language, without concepts, and without critical access to its own past, which has nowhere been recorded. Uncommunicated, misunderstood and forgotten, it is smothered by the spectacle’s false memory of the unmemorable. [Society of the Spectacle, para. 157]
Thus the first task is that of re-membering our own history, of achieving historical self- consciousness, of becoming lucid within the fractured and fragmented dreamtime. This process has a parallel in the techniques of magico-religious systems which aim for 'illumination' or 'enlightenment'. It is also possible to use the work of Georg Hegel to achieve a similar state of consciousness, as this quote from Robert Ware [Hegel, Edin burgh 1999, p. 66-7] shows -
I ordinarily conceive of myself as a finite and limited entity because I regularly reflect upon myself as a particular member of the class of objects of which I am conscious. Yet so far as self- consciousness is conceived on the model of self-containment, I am more than this particular object upon which I reflect. I am also that which does the reflecting; which can never be an object of reflection; and which is entirely without determinate attributes. That which does the reflecting from the higher level is subjectivity or Hegelian spirit, and it is this same undifferentiated subjectivity that experiences the rich diversity of the world from each of our mutually exclusive perspectives. In other words it is the same undifferentiated subjectivity which is differentiated in all of us in so far as we are considered as determinate objects at the lower level. When we look into one another's eyes it is the same subjectivity that is viewing itself from each of these differentiated, opposing and mutually exclusive perspectives. Our opposing perspectives may be conceived as reciprocal, and mutually exclusive actualisations of the same indeterminate universality.
It is the 'undifferentiated subjectivity' as 'indeterminate universality' which quantum information theory [see Vlatko Vedral Decoding Reality Oxford 2010] reveals as the source/ generator of physical reality. Through successive stages of reflection upon the self as an object of consciousness, as 'information', our identity with physical reality is revealed. But this identification is also a negation. Without differentiation, the individual self and its personal consciousness vanishes and only the featureless universal remains. The lucid dream is replaced by deep dreamless sleep. Pure being is also pure nothingness, as Hegel acknowledged.
Is this 'mystical' aspect of personal reality therefore an unnecessary digression? No, since it is also part of the rational and scientific path to an understanding of personal reality as rooted in physical reality. It is a necessary realisation if we are not to become lost in the apparent certainties of social reality. As currently constituted, the certainties of social reality deny the possibility of the changes necessary if global warming is to be slowed. [It is probably too late to halt it.]
Current social reality is paradoxical. On one hand, for the past 250 years, it has involved the transformation of the world through human labour, mechanically multiplied by technology. Thus we have been the creators of social reality. On the other hand, our role as creators of social reality is denied – the transformation (it is claimed) has been achieved by an abstraction -the economic system of capitalism- by putting money rather than people to work. Like the flow of heat through a heat engine, the flow of money (capital) through an economic engine (capitalist society) produces the work which transforms physical reality into social reality. This in turn creates free individuals who have been liberated from the constraints of subsistence. Any alternative economic system would return us to the bondage of subsistence, thus diminishing our freedom. Only capitalism, with its necessary requirement of continual economic growth, can (eventually) raise the whole world out of the poverty which would otherwise be the natural state of humanity.
The collapse of communism in eastern Europe and the conversion of China to a form of capitalism would appear to confirm that there is no viable alternative social reality to that of capitalism. However, since its inception in Manchester in the late eighteenth century, industrial capitalism has depended upon energy from fossil fuels for power. This access to fossilised energy has allowed capitalism to evade the consequences of its internal (logical) contradictions as identified by Karl Marx. The contradictions were thus displaced from social reality into physical reality. They now return as global warming – at the same time as they also appear (via a banking/ financial crisis) to be returning within social reality as well.
The place the contradictions ultimately return to is our personal reality. The abstract global crises will sooner or later become personal and individual. They will force themselves upon us. Is it possible to will ourselves into collective self-conscious before we are forced to awaken into history as it becomes a nightmare? The problem is that of rationality.. The rational perspective is that of scientific objectivity, which arises from physical reality. In physical reality, increasing the amount of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has the effect of warming the planet. This will have a destabilising effect on the global climate which will have a disruptive and damaging impact on social reality. To conserve social reality, the output of carbon dioxide will have to be drastically reduced. But any such reduction on the output of carbon dioxide will itself change dramatically social reality. The continual growth of the global economy, a growth which is necessary for capitalism to survive, will have to stop. Thus the ordering of social reality by capitalism will have to end. Thus the seemingly abstract rationality of science has become a revolutionary force, bringing physical reality into 'consciousness'.
This is a stage beyond that of Karl Marx, a movement back to Hegel, a movement from mysticism to materialism. It will be physical reality rather than the proletariat which will bring the capitalist house of cards crashing down. But what will survive the ruin of capital's empire? Can rationality survive?
To conserve rationality, it must become part of the fabric of social reality. To become part of the fabric of social reality, we ourselves must place rationality at the centre of our individual and personal realities. We must evoke Maxwell's demon every day, sifting the flow of disordered information to manifest the Absolute in our lives.
...'truth includes not only the result but the path to it.' But this is a path strewn with obstacles, which consciousness, if it is to progress, must learn to recognize as obstacles of its own devising. 'The reform of consciousness consists only in making the world aware of its own consciousness, in awakening out of its dream about itself, in explaining to it the meaning of its own actions.' Dream precedes action, for … the dream is a dream of the world itself, participating, with all its ambiguities and confusions, in the movement of emergent consciousness that it merely anticipates: 'Hence, our motto must be: reform of consciousness not through dogmas, but by analysing the mystical consciousness that is unintelligible to itself, whether it manifests itself in a religious or a political form. It will then become evident that the world has long dreamed of possessing something of which it only has to be conscious in order to possess it in reality'. [Kouvelakis p. 282]
The quotations embedded in the above are from a letter written by Marx to Arnold Ruge in 1843. In 1967, Guy Debord recycled them as 'The world already possess the dream of a time, of which it must now possess the consciousness so as to really live it.' [Society of the Spectacle Thesis 167]
Sunday, December 19, 2010
Francis Stoner has scanned the whole booklet and put it on his Facebook page.
Friday, December 10, 2010
Sartor Resartus by Thomas Carlyle
Just recommended this wonderfully strange book to my old friend Mouse. Andre Breton name chacked the book in the Manifesto of Surrealism -
In homage to Guillaume Apollinaire, who had just died and who, on several occasions, seemed to us to have followed a discipline of this kind, without however having sacrificed to it any mediocre literary means, Soupault and I baptized the new mode of pure expression which we had at our disposal and which we wished to pass on to our friends, by the name of SURREALISM. I believe that there is no point today in dwelling any further on this word and that the meaning we gave it initially has generally prevailed over its Apollinarian sense. To be even fairer, we could probably have taken over the word SUPERNATURALISM employed by Gérard de Nerval in his dedication to the Filles de feu.* (And also by Thomas Carlyle in Sartor Resartus ([Book III] Chapter VIII, “Natural Supernaturalism”), 1833-34.)