1.2 of animals from the other pieces

The diachronic [structure] can be found in a sentence, insofar as a sentence closes its signification only with the last term, each term being anticipated in the construction constituted by the other terms and, inversely, sealing their meaning by its retroactive effect. But the synchronic structure is more hidden, and it is this structure that brings us to the beginning. It is metaphor insofar as the first attribution is constituted in it—the attribution that promulgates “the dog goes meow, the cat goes woof-woof,” by which, in one fell swoop, the child, by disconnecting the thing from its cry, raises the sign to the function of the signifier and reality to the sophistics of signification, and in his contempt for verisimilitude, makes necessary the verification of multiple objectifications of the same thing.

—Jacques Lacan, 1960

Surely he jests? Should you draw further amusement from a round of ‘count the discourse positions’ (a language game for n players, not unlike like ‘count the Wittgensteins’), compare Lacan’s “verification of multiple objectifications of the same thing” to Quine’s “reference to something not by two names but by two descriptions, or by a name and a description [... e.g.] to be able to identify Ralph with the man who mows the lawn.” Surely who jests? Granted, where the Quine is deceptively transparent, the Lacan is bound to suffer from (as per Quine 1960, undecidable) translation—but beyond stylistics, on what grounds should we prefer the Quine? If we strip the two purports to their denotation (or consequence) for a ‘commutation test’, both refer to an ambivalence which seems sufficient (but perhaps not strictly necessary ) to convoke “genuine questions of identity” in reference to both (self-multiplying? non-self-containing?) things and personages.

Or again: “Every thing fits into its own shape.”

Moreover, on a stylistic assessment, where Lacan’s prose suffers from hyperbole, Quine’s suffers from hypostasis: in particular, he fails to distinguish “a man”—who could in actuality answer to a Name, a Title, even a Peircean index or Althusserian ‘interpellation’ (“Hey, you! Stop doing that!”) from a “something”—which could only ‘answer to’ a genetic operation metaphorically. In this way, Quine’s reference to said ambivalence is redoubled by its own ambiguity. Gambits for ambits. “Does this possibility require the topology of a four-corners game?” asks Lacan, “This sort of question seems innocent enough, but it may give us some trouble if the subsequent construction must depend on it.” Hence, so it seems—that, indeed it may—for, indeed, it must.

The trouble, at least in part, is a lack of sufficient empirical basis upon which to found the formal distinction of “a man” from a “something” (see Quine 1953). Here we may be able to measure the gulf separating Quine—who by his own account fails to relate “the human use of the word ‘person’” to what he imagines as “identity crises”—from Wittgenstein, whose oeuvre consists in nothing so much as a perpetual catastrophe of non-self-identities. To wit, we should note that whereas Quine proposes that “Wittgenstein put this question”, L.W. himself had not put a question so much as he had (anticipating Lacan,) inscribed an abstract topological form to concrete topographical figures by way of rhetorical backflips:

“A thing is identical with itself.”—There is no finer example of a useless proposition, which yet is connected with a certain play of the imagination. It is as if in imagination we put a thing into its own shape and saw that it fitted. (We might also say: “Every thing fits into itself.” Or again: “Every thing fits into its own shape.” At the same time we look at a thing and imagine that there was a blank left for it, and that now it fits into it exactly.)

Now to re-mark the grounds for Quine’s correlated citation, we would simply substitute “a man” for “a thing”—but the return volley would find Wittgenstein (re)bound(ed) to his own nutshell by his on-again off-again relationship with solipsism—an unhappy marriage in reference to which Stanley Cavell (1979) retrofits his own imaginary blank: “If I take the space I am in to be outer, I have to imagine for the other an inner space which I could not possibly enter. Which nobody could enter; for he didn’t enter it.”).

Solipsism—having once travelled as ‘subjective idealism’ (e.g., in Berkeley, Fichte, Schopenhauer)—continues to find its voice in the guise of one “ism” or another (representationalism, constructivism, internalism, etc.) by claiming that insofar as you can only have knowledge of your own mind’s (re?)constructed (re?)presentations, you are condemned to haunt a grand clockwork illusion in the manner of (or inverse to) Ryle’s “ghost in the machine”—or again, to update the jargon, that you are strictly bound by “auto-epistemic closure.”

To return volley, we might generalize Wittgenstein’s “play of the imagination” by way of Quine—but then we find ourselves wondering if “Ralph” is sufficient to “fit into [the] shape” of “the man who mows the lawn”—or failing that, if the substantively “rigid designator” (Kripke) of “Ralph” is fit to ‘supervene upon’ his accidental lawnmowermanhood (if not ride it around the block). Are we now carting the horse—or is the cart horsing us? Perhaps we’re getting ahead of ourselves. One step forward, three steps back?

duck, duck, platypus

Words are instruments, and their vagueness is tolerated where it does not impair their utility. The continuing identity of a person over the years is predicated not on his retention of substance, but on the continuity of replacement of substance, and the continuity of change in his shape, mass, and habits. Continuity also of his memory is expected, but occasionally a lapse in this quarter is taken in stride. How far back to place a person’s beginning...

—W. V. Quine, 1986

The conception of substantial identity with varying properties is embedded in language, in common sense, and in metaphysics. To my mind, it is useful in practice, but harmful in theory. It is harmful, I mean, if taken as metaphysically ultimate: what appears as one substance with changing states should, I maintain, be conceived as a series of occurrences linked together in some important way.

—Betrand Russell, 1927

Where number is concerned, matter and substance are eternal, underlying an eternal movement and, with regard to the composite bodies produced, an eternal vicissitude. The form of this same matter never was nor ever will be the same in number, as it is not possible to affirm with any truth at all that it remains the same in two different moments. [...] Everything that changes always differs either from itself, in two successive moments, or from everything else, in every moment.

—Giordano Bruno, 1588

The only odd duck in that goose chase is the term “substance.” That is, Bruno’s entire proceeding nullifies traditional notions of “substance” in favor of formative flux in the manner of modern particle physics. To put it another way, in light of this rejection—which is now, in scientistic terms, ‘non-controversial’—for you to claim substantial and/or substantive (persistent, unchanging, continuous, invariant) personage—whether your claim be in the singular, the particular, or the universal (“me”, “them”, “people”)—requires a sustained Juridical Fiat to legitimate the Category of ‘Substance-in-Personhood’ in the manner of the Cartesian Cogito.

Conversely, if you are (in-)substantially (dis-)adapted to (un-)being a non-person, odds are you aren’t galavanting about Nominating yourself as an Atheist, Sir Bertrand notwithstanding. “That dog won’t hunt”? To remix a metaphor, being mad at Santa Claus doesn’t make you an Atheist any more than saying “I Think I Am” makes you a Cogitating Substance (or, in plainer terms, “the same Person” you thought you were yesterday). That is to say, flipping fideism back to fallibilism, to believe in the Substance of one’s own Self requires the same fiat as belief in any Supernatural Subject. Such is the Cartesian legacy. While we shall, to the best of our abilities, dismantle the cloak of mystery under which such mechanisms huddle, we shan’t play it off as a Quinean triviality. And why not?

It is rather striking that a dimension that is felt to be that of Something-Other in so many of the experiences men have—not at all without thinking about them, rather in thinking about them, but without thinking that they are thinking—has never been thought out to the point of being suitably stated by those whom the idea of thought assures that they are thinking. Desire, boredom, confinement, revolt, prayer, wakefulness, and panic are evidence of the dimension of this Elsewhere and draw our attention to it, not as mere moods that deadpan thinkers can put in their place, but much more so as permanent principles of collective organizations, without which it does not seem human life can maintain itself for long.

—Jacques Lacan, 1955

the most thinkable one who thinks-about-thinking

Given the ambivalent limn along which any and every instance of a “who?” can slip to a “what?” (and vice-versa) with but the slightest push, the would-be self-identity of any particular Whom (Ralph) qua What (Lawnmower-Man) is strictly contingent to the Fiat Nomination of whichever universal Class (for its instance), Type (for its token), Super (for its sub), Sort or Kind of Category allows us to “identify Ralph with the man who mows the lawn.” While modern natural science and philosophy (in large part, would purport to have) revoked the unsubstantiated substance of “substance”, as a self-substantiating notion it continues to buttress the folk-metaphysical basis (or onto-epistemic rationale) by which (A) we name things on account of their appearances, and by which (B) we entitle persons on account of their vocations, but as Russell’s “occurrences” suggest, not necessarily that by which (C) we attribute actants on account of their activities.

Where (A) purports substance to things, and (C) purports process to events, (B) short-circuits (C) to (A) with a pair of pliers in one hand and crossed fingers on the other—for all (B) generic en-Title-ments are granted to Actors vis-à-vis their Activity (e.g., ‘Science’ was practiced as adjunct to ‘Natural Philosophy’ long before Coleridge coined the term ‘Scientist’) and each (C) particular appellation—be it carpenter, Psychologist, confidant, or Father—serves as a genetic index (indication, implication, imbrication) of ‘actancy’ specified by way of interrelation (composition, complication, configuration) among distributed (instantiated, accidental, actual) properties (characteristics, attributes, aspects). Abacus clacks.

This may be quite a bit of accounting, but it need not necessitate double books—that is, unless we are forced by circumstance to legitimate the moralistic maneuver on which modern jurisprudence is grounded, namely, the redoubled reversion of ontological contingency into deontological necessity after the fashion of Kant’s Categorical Imperative. Are we not? As we chase after Lacan chasing after Freud, we won’t waste our breath on a so-called “theological reading” of either, as such pleonasm cannot but miss the thrust of his work—namely, that by operating under the aegis (or auspices) of a(ny) Master Signifier, reading (writing, speech, symbolization) is theological from the get-go. Or again, if Lacan’s arguments are ‘metapsychological’ they are a fortiori ‘metatheological’—with or without his catechetical recourse to Pascal, to Aquinas, to Paul . . . to wit, he continues:

It is probably not out of the question that the most thinkable one who thinks-about-thinking, thinking that he himself is this Other-Thing, may have always been unable to tolerate this possible competition. But this aversion becomes perfectly clear once the conceptual connection, which nobody had yet thought of, was made between this Elsewhere and the locus, present for all of us and closed to each of us, in which Freud discovered that, without thinking about it, and thus without anyone being able to think he thinks about it better than anyone else, It thinks. It thinks rather badly, but it thinks steadily.

From our habit of reciprocal reckoning, it follows that for every (B) singular short-circuit (every “Ralph, Lawnmowerman”), any fool’s errand of methodological subtraction (negation, nullification, evacuation) of ‘accidental’ properties from ‘essential’ personages (by shuttling through ‘bundle theory’ or ‘schizoanalysis’ or ‘disidentification’ or some other unraveling lunatic loom) is apt either to (Ø) resolve into pro-drop depersonalization/derealisation, be it qualified post-facto as ‘pathological’ or ‘philosophical’ or ‘religious’—for on the etiological account, it matters not one whit which writ—or to (P(s)) absolve under a Pronominal Bulwark, no doubt shored up by stacks of Big Books and Black Boxes, complete with bona fide populist props, from the Index Prohibitorum to Oprah’s ‘Reading List’ to your choice of peer-reviewed pay-per-posit periodicals.

“There is a ghost in your head, and you are crazy.”

Or so says Max Stirner, the erstwhile ‘Young Hegelian’ whose provocations were sufficiently monstrous to inflame the likes of Marx and Nietzsche before vanishing into the dialectical dustbin of revisionist history. We digress. If, in the interest of forward progress, we set aside the Ralph/Lawnmowerman distinction, how then do we account for the immediate interaction of man and mower—and furthermore, for the mediate non-interaction of Ralph-the-man and whosever lawn it is (or, to whom said lawn ‘belongs’) that, as it were, ‘gets mowed’? This moves the problem from what you may be quick to dismiss as ontotheological/psycholinguistic equivocation to a question of brute mechanical causation. In this (dis)regard, Bruno’s univocally applicable bonding/binding agent was perhaps best (re)formulated in more modern terms by Greimas, who deployed his ‘actant’ to designate every identifiable motive force—be it a person, thing, event, or condition—in any dynamically changing scenario.

While the term was originally applied to narrative analysis (‘narratology’), it extended to schematize real-world situations with a fidelity lacking in other literary-theoretic sociological frameworks issued from notoriously sketchy modi operandi. How? In part, Greimas tested the predictability (if not the predicability) of actant interrelations by adapting Aristotle’s (Logical) Square of Opposition, transforming the ‘LSO’ from a categorical instrument of propositional implication to a modal instrument of semiotic induction. While both forms give short shrift to relativistic valuation, neither form boxes in the causally absolutized ‘closed system’ of which physicists phantasize. Why—or, why not?

“the topology of a four-corners game”

—whether we play it out, as above, by the rules of Aristotle’s LSO, Greimas’s Semiotic Square, Lacan’s Schema L, or any number of other quaternary ABCD schemas—tends to explicate three determinate positions and one indeterminate exception. As such, should we take it to govern our mythic quest for the complete, coherent, consistent, decidable determination, we are liable either (1) to go around in circles (by which we mean: “in squares”) perpetually (thus inscribing an angular coil), or (2) to cross our own tracks, at risk of (or in order to guarantee) disorientation, or (3) to zig-zag into one dead end or (4) another. In order to situate the sticking point on this exceedingly slippery slope, we will attempt to present the (fourfold) quantitative invariants of discursive form without necessarily having to re-present any one of the (innumerable) qualitative variables of discursive content.

While this may sound easier said than done, it will doubtless turn out to be more easily done than said; if at this particular game we cannot hope to compete with Lacan’s rhetoric, if nothing else we have better graphics. For an anthropomorphic example, we’ll take the classic ‘Good Cop/Bad Cop’ scenario. While it may be a tired allegorical model, it can serve present purposes—by virtue of being a meta-discursive form in itself—as either a narratological analogy or a structural-linguistic homology. First of all, can we agree upon the number and the nature of the players? Yes, these are two very different questions.

So, first—a strictly analogous example: in the typical Hollywood treatment, #1, the Good Cop and #2, the Bad Cop take turns assailing and assuaging #3, the Interrogated—not for the benefit of those present, but rather as to the means, motives, and mechanisms of an obscure #4—the criminal accomplice, innocent victim, missing person, superior of either party, or Hitchcockian “MacGuffin”—a desired object of which the particulars bear nil upon the proceedings, which as such may either be concrete (the hidden loot) or abstract (the secret code). By virtue of its crucial ambiguity, this Greimasian actant par excellence moves us from the strictly determinate ‘whom(s)’ of #1 and #2, via the mediation of #3—being a subtype of the “unreliable narrator”—to the indeterminate ‘what’ of #4, in regard to which if each party possessed all knowledge, we would be watching one very dull movie indeed.

Second—an essentially homologous example: to set an appropriately semi-academic tone, the standard single-author popular-market science or philosophy book proceeds by (1) Good Cop speaking for the “quote me on this” body copy (culled in large part from the author’s previously published papers) while (2) Bad Cop sticks ad hominem jabs and humorous jibes in footnotes, endnotes, and parenthetical asides—not to mention paralipsis (lest it slip to parapraxis). For good measure, while we should expect an orderly sequence of rigorous critiques aimed at (3) the competing theorist, weaker dialecticians resort to setting the “Straw Man” in a pseudo-argumentative pose, the hasty unstuffing and ceremonious incineration of which presumably reveals the unassailable truth (or at least the “warrantable assertion”) of (4) whatever argument (or counter-argument) the author purports (or ripostes). Again, by dint of ambiguity, the actants move from the determinate ‘whom’ of (1) and (2), via the unreliable mediation of (3), to the indeterminate ‘what’ of (4).

publish XNOR perish

Should we derive amusement from playing ‘my Library can out-Babel your Library’ (an ignoble game for the ages, the pitch of which is lit by the pathetic-superlative glow of our Memento Mori on the infernal horizon of Alexandria, lo, those many boo-hoos ago), we could either hound the dog-eared “Who’s Who” of the Western Canon to flex playbook and spine against the onslaught of barbaric philistines (read: whoever publicly disagrees agree with you), or we could rifle its corner marginalia in an effort to reanimate what’s what, if only to perform a raving puppet-show to reviews without peer. To revoke the former and provoke the latter, our virtual orators (1) and (2) take recourse to such (3) virtuous oracles (or anti-straw-men) as Quine (or his in Wittgenstein), Lacan (or his in Freud), and Bruno (or his in Cusanus). Of these, we find Bruno (“the Nolan”, the mendicant mnemoniac, the Faustian footnote) by far the most intriguing, if not always the most intelligible.

Having been incinerated both actually (thanks to the Papal Inquisition) and virtually (thanks to the Index Probihitorum), Bruno left two hot pokers in a smoldering corpus to be picked clean across the seventeenth century by Galileo, Descartes, Leibniz, Newton, Spinoza, Malebranche, et alii—a wake of vultures sufficiently perspicuous to have left for Hegel but a bag of bones to puppet in the stead of (4) by way of the dummy (Fr. mort ) “cadaverized” in Lacan’s lectern (“Hegel’s error lies in his rigor” and other bons mot ). As a tribute to Bruno’s hyperbole, factoring his techné as prescient to the point of absurdity, we remain singularly unimpressed by the last four centuries of fancy penmanship posed as swordplay—for despite that his statue is turned against the Vatican, his semblable in Prudence has his eyes in the back of her head.

Hence, it would obviously be stupid to think that we are affected and injured only by those visible forms which generate clear awareness in the senses and the soul. That wouldn’t be much different from someone who thinks that he is injured more or less only by blows of which he is more or less conscious. [...] So, indeed, there are many things which stealthily pass through the eyes and capture and continuously intrude upon the spirit up to the point of the death of the soul, even thought they do not cause as much awareness as do less significant things. For example, seeing certain gestures or emotions or actions can move us to tears. And the souls of some faint at the sight of the spilling of another’s blood or in observing the dissection of a cadaver. There is no other cause of this than a feeling which binds through vision.

—Giordano Bruno, 1591

Should you judge our own stratagem to amount to no more than a language game on the order of Good Cop/Babbling Cop, we shall plead guilty—on two conditions. Firstly, we would qualify it not as an analogy through which we represent this-and-that by way of thus-and-such, but rather as a homology through which our (or ‘the’) three (or four) positions of enunciation present themselves formally eo ipso irrespective of our (‘its’ or ‘their’) enunciated content. Or, in other words, this semi-absurdist demonstration is in fact not a metaphoric emblem sealed in the stead of something else, but rather a metonymic instance instating itself. What’s the difference? Who’s the same. Secondly, we assume that (being language fetishists) you will have seen Corneliu Porumboiu’s 2009 film Police, Adjective—for here we are playing by rules peculiar to the ‘Naïve-Realist-Detective/Totalitarian-Nominalist-Captain’ routine, wherein (2) the Bad Captain subjects (1) the Good Detective to interrogation as to (3) his personal insufficiency to (4) his Nominal Role:

“You have forgotten what you are.”

Conversely, we should like to recall what we are not. Thus, our own (1) Detective’s case is patiently built in The Model Mind by mounting a point-by-point investigation and proceeding “by the Book” whereas by contrast, our (2) Captain’s agenda captions addenda by judging rigged-jury executions and preceding to throw the Book. Which Book is which? In Porumboiu’s film, #2 turns not to the Criminal Code but to the Dictionary: he makes his case against #1 by recourse across two millennia of semantic drift to uncover three lexemes—CONSCIENCE, LAW, and POLIS—an interlocked triumvirate of the type we must interrogate under harsh lights set at intrusive angles. To that end, we shall attempt to portray a non-anthropomorphic example of the interminable four-corners game by comparing the standard schema for additive (luminescent) color to that of subtractive (reflective) color:

First of all—at (feigned) risk of disappointment (if not umbrage)—we will have dismissed the inverted spectrum of follies that strive in vain to stage and re-stage phenomenologically virginal color-blind Marys in black-box theaters, etc. (sophistical nitpickers can substitute “color space” for “qualia space”; see Paul Churchland 2006). Second—to lift this example fully clear of its representational baggage, you would in fact have to present what we presume to be your screen-backlit image of the additive schema next to a frontally-lit printout of the subtractive schema. Regardless of both conditions, in short: additive color comprises that light of variable wavelength which is transmitted from a source; it is discerned into RGB (red-green-blue) primitives which, conversely, ‘add up’ to the ‘total illumination’ of white; subtractive color comprises that light which is variably absorbed by (i.e. not-reflected-off-of) a surface; it is discerned into CMY (cyan-magenta-yellow) primitives which, conversely, ‘subtract down’ down to the ‘total non-illumination’ of black (the ‘K’ of CMYK).

More light adds up to white, less light subtracts down to black. So far, so good; so what? If we wished to compare slippery-slope angles, we would have to apply this formulation metaphorically to some number of those discourses in which the additive and subtractive modalities are taken to stand for affirmative and negative poles by way of propositional (Aristotelian four-valued or Quine’s “crystalline purity of two-valued”) logic—or, as specified within various doctrines, by which ‘Absolute Light’ and/or ‘Absolute Darkness’ are taken to contrapose the pairwise extrema (termini, end-points, limit-cases) of doctrinaire sociopolitical, theological, or philosophical variables or gradients.

“black and white” or “grey area”? “more or less”? “greater good” than what? Muddled metaphors abound; for a clear and distinct usage from which metaphor can be explicated (or, conversely, to which it can be implicated), take a page from Cusanus: “Light is not seen as it is, but, rather, it is manifested in things visible—not in order to show itself as visible but, rather, in order to manifest itself as invisible, since its clarity cannot be grasped in visible things.” In two short strokes, Cusanus limns a case for the imperceptibility of light ‘in itself’ in contrast to the perceptibility of light by way of its material effects—and as usual, he is careful to avoid anthropomorphizing the causative agent: “to manifest itself as invisible” can scarcely call mind a creature (much less a Patriarch) but for hermeneutic perversion (if not “Pèreversion”) on the part of the reader.

the snape and quale hunt

At the same time, with or without provision for metaphor, such applications do risk inviting superstitious (idolatrous, atavistic, animistic) readers (viewers, listeners, orators) to draw illegitimate inferences to and from the antipodes—that is, to take the termini of an absolutely transparent whiteness (“Light Itself = Good”) and an absolutely opaque blackness (“Darkness Itself = Evil”) as rhetorical anthropomorphs that hypostatize a hulking two-headed three-for-fourfold schematic monstrosity. This would be the “some trouble” of which Lacan forewarned. Should we wish to pull back from the edge of an illuminated leap into the ineffable, we would have to re-capture our re-presentation of the (unattainable, undecidable, equivocal,) ambivalent fourth position(s) by way of the paradigmatic non-metaphor:

Despite that Eco specs “the normal mirror [as] a prosthesis which does not deceive”, its surface appears at once entirely transparent, in that you can see through it, by way of its reflective non-visibility, and entirely opaque, in that you cannot see through it to what-or-whomever might occupy the adjacent room. Now here we are, once again facing the conspicuously absent fourth/nth party—kin to Quine’s self-indiscernible man/thing—who/which, presumably ensconced in the distinction of darkness, passes clear-headed judgment through a unilateral mirror on our smoke-enhanced interrogation.

Thus, what may start as simple explication quickly reverses into complex implication: what started as our anthropomorphic example slipped from a determinate ‘who’ to an indeterminate ‘what?’ and conversely, what started as our non-anthropomorphic example slipped from a determinate ‘what’ to an indeterminate ‘who?—and so, from metaphor to metamorph: the book folds this way, it folds that way; it folds together, it folds apart. That said, we shall unfold our own books such that you may judge their degree of duplicity for yourselves.

role to fill or folderol

In addition to drawing upon hierarchic lexical schemas per which X-is-a-type-of-Y, a type of monotonic subordination, the Archemind Intelligent Artifice schema draws upon ontologies per which X-is-also-a-type-of-Z, by which its objects (terms, parts, lemmas, lexemes,) enjoy multiple inheritance—which is a deceptively transparent bit of taxontonomic jargon. How deceptive? If it looks like a duck, walks like a duck, and quacks like a duck—by which cursory inventory, emboldened by empiricism, you call it “a duck”—it had best not nurse its young, for if it does, what you have a hold of there is some sort of monotreme.

New genome research proves platypus DNA is an equally cobbled-together array of avian, reptilian and mammalian lineages that may hold clues for human disease prevention. The male platypus has venomous spurs on his hind feet with poison very similar to that of reptiles. The female lays eggs like birds and lactates to feed their young just like mammals. [...] The ancient, patchworked platypus is a relatively unchanged animal that may be a scientific boon for researchers, who are learning a lot from its recently decoded genome about mammalian gene regulation and immune systems, which could have huge implications for human disease susceptibility research.

—National Science Foundation, 2008

Here we may have to pause to consider that—it must be said—this rhetorical framework is typical of popular science writing: in vacillating between retrojection and teleology (or between past futurity and future anteriority), it cannot but disorient and thereby misinform its intended readers, who (needless to say?) are already disinclined from, if not outright prejudiced against considering, much less comprehending such empirical findings as they pertain to evolution. In particular, compare the figurative uses of “cobbled-together” and “relatively unchanged.” Well, which is it? This “research proves” what, exactly? Are we to flip whatever worn coin we have on hand, or shall we consult an author who shows a bit more finesse with the coinage?

In debt as I am to Borges for many ideas in the course of my previous activities, I had been consoling myself for the fact that Borges had talked of everything, except the platypus, therefore I was overjoyed at having escaped the anxiety of influence, but just as I was about to hand these essays over to the printers, Stefano Bartezzaghi pointed out to me that Borges, at least orally, in a conversation with Domenico Porzio, in explaining why (perhaps) he had never gone to Australia, has spoken of the platypus: “Apart from the kangaroo and the platypus, which is a horrible animal, made from the pieces of other animals, now there are camels too.” I had already dealt with with the camel, when working on the Aristotelian classifications. In this book I explain why the platypus is not horrible but prodigious and providential, if we are to put a theory of knowledge to the test. By the way, given the platypus’s very early appearance in the development of the species, I insinuate that it was not made from the pieces of other animals, but that the other animals were made from pieces of the platypus.

—Umberto Eco, 1997

We might broadly circumscribe the material (and/or ‘natural’) sciences as those hypothetico-deductive practices by which reciprocally implicated onto-epistemic theories are reducible via chemistry to physics as applied mathematics (but no further, lest one be tempted to prattle on about “God Particles” and the like). So defined, the material sciences produce (generate, reckon, yield, net, proffer) a wealth of robust data (i.e., data with strong explanatory power ), the referents of which are necessarily anterior not only to human life but anterior to the four-billion-year evolutionary trajectories of life on earth. Faced with so long a view, if, in the broadly anthropological (and/or ‘social’) sciences, we are concerned with bracketing our metamodels, from the (pre)historic(al) evolutions of culture (the termini a quo,) to the seemingly interminable de-evolution of popular discourse (ad quem ), how then are we to assimilate these materially abstracted data of which all criteria are resolutely non-anthropomorphic at every scale? Otherwise, failing (or repudiating) said assimilation, how could we justify the (self-)appellation of “science” to our practices?

Until mid-twentieth-century, this question would have been put to ‘philosophy of science’ as propounded by a Kuhn, Popper, or Quine. Today, however, we would have some difficulty coordinating their answers with the interim shifts in gravitation—where (to risk a meta-obscurantism), at the ‘top-down’ north pole, social science rhetoric has been drawn into an oscillatory constructivist/deconstructionist multiculturalism held fast by an asymptotic supra-rationalized objectivism—and where (to risk an overcooked metaphor), at the ‘bottom-up’ south pole, natural science rhetoric has slipped into a stone soup of precritical naïve realism, folk-psychology, and pseudo-theology—summing to an ignominious ignotum per ignotius. As such, the question has been thrown as far “up for grabs” as the question of “how far back to place a person’s beginning”—indeed, it generalizes the very same problematic from Quine’s in utero abstention to our in vivo abduction.

vestigial vincula versus viviparous vicissitudes

Should you wish to dismiss this entire problematic as a pointless sophistical osculation, you would have to maintain that human life and its culture (sociality, behavior, language, intersubjectivity, etc.) is not simply (A) made manifest in the ipso facto privilege enjoyed by instrumental reason, but moreover (B) enjoys an ‘immaterial’ or ‘unnatural’ exemption from the vicissitudes of material nature. If you have sworn [fill-in-the-blank] vows to that effect, far be it from us to question your vows—a fortiori, we would be remiss in our duties were we to admit your voice to any public political discourse of material consequence: in short, you will have opted out. If, however, we do not wish to maintain such an exemption as (B), we must somehow ‘level the playing field’ in such a way that we may address the question of (A) coherently (if not completely) and consistently (if not decidably).

Should you wish to maintain an ulterior exemption, e.g., an inviolable demarcation between ‘natural science’ and ‘social science’, or between science and philosophy—or even, as Quine dares, despite Heidegger’s etymological excavations, between “the alethic” and “the aesthetic”—in short, to enforce an exemption underwritten by ideology, be it onto-theological or socio-political or economico-cutural in substance, for it matters not one whit which writ—odds are you would simply be unable to participate in discourse of the kind we would propound or promote. But then on one hand, as Cusanus purports in Latin, “everyone who is able [posse] presupposes that possibility is so necessary that nothing at all can possibly occur if possibility is not presupposed.” Can do. On the other hand, as Quine notes of English, “We have no pat suffix for ability.”

As to the small matter of accounting for our can-do-it-ive-ness: Despite discursive contention about (and reflexive abstraction into) said data, their (and our) concrete referents—as remains, fossils, traces, signatures—are, in a word, vestiges, a term put to fully ambivalent use by Bruno—e.g., that “vestiges are the things in themselves or what vestiges are in things.” In either case, vestiges are not irretrievably anterior (given Peircean abduction, if not Platonistic anamnesis,) to human in-vestig-ation—indeed, they provide the very scope.

Lest this strike you as needlessly cryptic, we might do well to briefly contrast Bruno’s conception of vestigia to that of vincula (bonds): where we take the latter to describe causal transforms, the former describe effected figurations. Or again: bonds are energetic, vestiges are material. Or again: bonds are (grammatically) verbal, vestiges are (grammatically) substantive. However we put it, such a bimodal contrast is still insufficient to our purposes. We may do better by working backwards—from Peirce’s best-known (interim) schema of sign types (1906), typically explicated in nominal form—or better yet, described as semiotic modalities in adverbial form:

Icon(ic), Index(ical), Symbol(ic)

1. the Iconic modality describes a perceived resemblance of this to that, or this and that;

2. the Indexical modality describes a causal attribution of this from that, or this towards that;

3. the Symbolic modality describes a conventional substitution of this for that, or this as that.

1, 2, 3. Provided we aside Peirce’s later multiplication of typologies (which we shall address in TMM Chapter 4), we can locate a comparable triadic schema in Bruno (1592), where he deploys (2) the Vestigial modality to intermediate the two reformulated post-Platonist antipodes of (3) the Ideal modality of archetypal forms and (1) the Umbral modality of artificial/phantasmic images. So correlated, Bruno’s vestiges are, in Peircean terms, indexical—that is to say, they indicate causal relations among (A) present entities and past forces, as well as (B) current events and future effects. This summary comparison may even shed some light on how our workaday usage of the term “investigate” underwrites itself recursively (but not, we should hope, unto the dreaded infinite regress).

By way of mundane (if not “providential”) example: from the fact (or, if you prefer, experimental indications sufficient to satisfy Feynman qua skeptic, whom we shall insist on holding over Feyerabend, poised with a glass of ice-water, if not an overtaxed O-ring,) that our heavier metals are forged via supernova nucleosynthesis, we cannot but surmise that our humbly twirling orb, and every (actual, real) thing—including our own (concrete, spatiotemporal) bodies and transient (virtual, ideal) abstractions—in it, on it, and of it (while precariously excising the Merleau-Ponteanistic “for it”) is composed, so to speak, of 100% recycled materials. As such, posits as to material constitution within (scilicet, in being constitutive of ) our grasp (i.e., the surmises we take to define metaphysics proper, irrespective of “New Age” wingnuttery) find their horizon not at four billion years, with the origin of our life, but at fourteen billion years, with the origin of our (particular, local, demonstrable) universe. This is not too shabby a purview, but it does impose certain shutters.

Take, for example, the work of contemporary portraitist Chuck Close, whose work quite evidently bridges the purported gap separating so-called ‘abstract’ from so-called ‘representational’ painting, and as such enjoys a well-deserved popularity among sophisticated critics and unsophisticated patrons alike. From where we stand, his work serves a fortiori as a bridge from the so-called ‘empiricism’ of neurophysiological phenomenology to the so-called ‘rationalism’ of mathematical modeling. In short—Close ‘suffers’ (so to speak) from the “face blindness” of prosopagnosia (one of many the many diagnostic terms affixed to Freud’s Greek hijack agnosia, ‘ignorance’, or better, ‘non-knowledge’). In practice (or if you prefer, ‘symptomatically’), Close cannot recognize, e.g., this particular man named “Lucas” by the overall disposition of Lucas’s face, nor in general can he recognize faces as such but for assemblages of stoicheia presenting so-and-so chrominance and luminance.

Prosopagnosia in general is attributable not to a malformation of the modularized neural ensembles in the visual cortex that handle low-level brute-force processing, but to a disruption in higher-order distributed co-activation and coherence that depends in no small part on categorial (conceptual) segmentation of a (perceptual) continuum. What does this say about his work? What would you like it to say? Chuck Close is a man, an adult of the Homo Sapiens species, a bipedal primate, etc., etc., who carries an inarguably unique genetic legacy (as does each and every creature, save clones,) whose entire organism, irrespective of transient configurations at ordinarily uninteresting levels of neurophysiology, paints extraordinary portraits like that. On one hand, you might like to say that obviously if he were ‘wired’ differently, he wouldn’t paint like that (cue Wittgensteinian foil: “what would it look like if he were, yet he did?”); on the other hand, inaslittle as counterfactual wagers are a dime a dozen, you would be left holding an illegitimately snatched two-bit surmise.

The course of organic evolution can be portrayed properly as a tree of life, as Darwin has called it, with trunk, limbs, branches and twigs. The course of development of human culture in history cannot be so described, even metaphorically. There is a constant branching-out, but the branches also grow together again, wholly or partially, all the time. Culture diverges, but it syncretizes and anastomoses too. Life really does nothing but diverge: its occasional convergences are superficial resemblances, not a joining or a reabsorption. A branch on the tree of life may approach another branch; it will not normally coalesce with it. The tree of culture, on the contrary, is a ramification of such coalescences, assimilations, or acculturations. This schematic diagram visualizes this contrast.

—Alfred Kroeber, 1948

So it does—and so this can, and that may, this is, and that cannot, or in any case, does not. While Kroeber revokes his own metaphor just as he voices it, we may yet have to rein it in—from the whole of cultural convolution, on the timescale of bio-evolutionary adaptation, to the vicissitudes of language, on the timescale of revisionist historicization. To wit: in contrast to branches, which grow outward to “diverge”, channels (or conduits) flow around to “converge” like rivulets, “anastomose” like vessels, and “coalesce” like pools. As such, in computational linguistics we should prefer hydrodynamical models to phytomorphological metaphors. As for historical linguistics? We should freely warrant the “Shakespeare did it” defense of Sarah Palin’s handily pedantic foot-in-mouth—for, as per cognitive linguistics, the portmanteau precisely purported her intent. (we’re not sure what to make of her latest—“squirmish”—deployed as a noun? maybe not; but, as an adjective? we do feel a bit.)

Should we wish to avoid tumbling in tarpitfalls of metalanguage, lest we be prematurely mired with the mastodons and mammoths, we might take hold of a few concrete comparisons sufficient not only to discern metonym from metaphor, but—as a more prevalent rhetorical problem—to discern analogy from homology (and if necessary, homology from homomorphism). We can simplify the former (of the two latter) distinctions of reference by recourse to their biological senses. Yes, that noun phrase is fraught with ambiguity—how about “biomorphic definitions”? Well, that’s just as ambiguous. Nevertheless:

(1) The eye of a human is analogous to the eye of a fly, in that they serve the same basic suite of functions for the environmentally embedded sensate organism—namely, visuospatial orientation and navigation—irrespective of the fact that they evolved from unrelated pieces and parts. (2) The flippers of a whale are homologous to the hands of a human, in that they evolved from the same parts, irrespective of the fact that they serve a very different (albeit not totally unrelated) suite of functions for the organism—namely, locomotion for the former, manipulation for the latter.

In assessing a “theory of knowledge” (and/or of “being qua being”), independently or by comparison (we would like to say “in absolute or correlative terms”), the investigative line of inquiry then becomes: are the inferences from which the theory is built, and the plications by which critical blows are parried, predicated upon well-formed analogies, or homologies, or a coherent selection of each, or an incoherent mish-mash of both? For example, we might double back to our previous example, fold it and hammer it into:

(3) The flippers of a whale are analogous to the wings of a fly, in that they serve the same basic suite of functions for the environmentally embedded sensate organism—namely, locomotion through a volumetric (three-dimensional) environment. This analogy rests upon—what? At first glance, it seems to rest upon (3A) another analogy, one that is drawn between the aerial Umwelt of the fly and the aquatic Umwelt of the whale. On second glance, (3B) we shore up the analogy on the basis of dynamical systems behavior—viz., both organisms propel themselves through analogous volumes by analogous displacements, attended by computation-challenging turbulence, etc.

On third glance, we reassess (3B) to a codicil: (3C) From the perspective of fluid mechanics (aerodynamics, hydrodynamics), the volumes are strictly non-analogous, insofar as they exhibit calculably comparable properties—irrespective of whichever analogical animals may accidentally happen through them. Rather—and this is where we dip into terminological tango—rather than qualify them as homologous we might quantify them as—contingent to metamathematical mystification by bastard back-formation—either homomorphic or homeomorphic (or perhaps, if less accurately,) isomorphic.

Whence a meta-correlative conundrum; but is it ‘ontological’ or ‘epistemological’ in origin?—to say “in origin” makes it ontological; to say “conundrum” makes it epistemological—so, let’s say “onto-epistemic” and move along, to: (4) The apparent disjoint between disjoints either resides in (4A) the application of such terms as “analogy” and “homology” by the discourse of evolutionary biology (in zoosemiotics, ethology, etc.) versus the discourse of mechanics (applied physics, large and small)—in which case, it reduces to a semantic confusion (or conflation) of different differences, or (4B) between perspectives relativized to disjoint timescales (time-scales, timeframes, etc.)—viz., the bio-evolutionary timescale versus the geological (or cosmological) timescale—in which case, it reduces to a convergence of calculi by difference and differential. Meanwhile, somewhere between wing and flipper, we have allowed the object of investigation to slip through our spindly little fingers.

idiot-box channel-surfing boob-tube merry-go-round

CNN [“Q”]: What’s the greatest remaining mystery about evolution?

Richard Dawkins [¬“A”]: How the evolution of the brain gave rise to the emergent property we call subjective consciousness.

Pace Dawkins, (as we resort to the rhetorical stratagem supposed to elide the facetious drift accrued by “with all due respect” which yet—or rather, which thereby raises low pedestrian sarcasm to pedantic haute snobisme,) to rise to such a challenge (trivial though it may be), a natural scientist—or perhaps even a scientifically-minded philosopher such as Paul Churchland (being a tad more politic than Patricia,) might respond with something on the order of “I wouldn’t say that we have a remaining mystery about, but rather an as-yet insufficiently fine-grained image of (etc., etc.)” Yeah but, you may protest, such nuance would sail over the heads of a popular audience. Would it? Do our hypothetical television viewers (or otherwise, hypothetical purchasers of televisions, laptops, smart-phones,) not know the meaning of “fine-grained image”?

While his rhetorical maneuver may strike the laity as too clever by half, Dawkins makes the (all too common) fatal error of confusing “how” with ‘why’ to cover over the conflation of “emergent” with ‘miraculous’ (just ask Hume). That is to say, we already know the “how” under contention—by recursive mutation over billions of years—but if you want a ‘why’ you simply have to make one up. More precisely: so long as Dawkins claims adherence to phylogenetic mechanics and the accompanying ontogenic metaphysics from which obtains the analytic framework of Darwinism, he must either (1) have (already) presupposed (by affirming the consequent) as veridical either (1.1) Autopoiesis (per e.g. Francisco Varela) or (1.2) Vitalism (per e.g. Henri Bergson) in order to legitimate his nomination of “subjective consciousness” as an “emergent property”—or, (2) subserve his “property we call” proviso with any nominalistic caveat other than said emergentism—e.g., by way of neurolinguistics, something like (2.1) “the recursive articulatory circuit which, as environmentally embedded organisms, affords us—in addition to phonological speech and manual dexterity—an evidently unique capacity for sophisticated action-planning”—or, (2.2) purport apsychism—that is to say, repudiate “consciousness” tout court (cf. Churchlands) while qualifying empirical observation as “nemocentric” (Metzinger) in place of “subjective.”

As such, given that Dawkins acknowledges none of the above, his (simultaneous!) shrill petition for “militant atheism”—whatever that’s supposed to mean—can amount to little more than a precritical mantle cast to shroud his own ego in “remaining mystery” sufficient to get up in the morning and make it on set in time for tea and puff pastries. Of course, this last riposte—as an example of psychologizing the opponent in excess of what argument is necessary to delegitimate his position—could hardly be said to rise above its target. Nevertheless, the philosopher Owen Flanagan aptly termed the po-mo cog-sci a-pisteme (in particular, as purported by Colin McGinn,) “Mysterianism”—which, in pleading the Black-Box jargon of ‘auto-epistemic closure’, cannot be consistently and coherently purported in conjunction with atheism. Logic forbids. This is not to say that a purport of athiesm cannot be coherently or consistently argued, should you wish to so purport—only that we do not find an argument for such in Dawkins’s memetic mystification. Despite mass-media being starved for incisive critique (how likely are we to see the Churchlands chatting up talk-show hosts?), so long as the caveat mantra of “correlation is not causation” holds, we may never know our capacity for fine-grained explanations—but then again, as Stephen Colbert is fond of parroting out one side of his satirical beak, “the market has spoken.” So, we inflate our televisions to match our swollen heads; as the kids say, “big whoop.”

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