Archive for science

On Turns

Posted in Speculation with tags , , , , , , , , , , , on 2014/02/17 by las Pétroleuses

For a thinker, or whatever term you prefer, a fundamental category is “turn.” In 20th century philosophy, the classic example is “the turn” (or, “the Turn”) which occupies so many pages of scholarship about Martin Heidegger. (If you’re unfamiliar, here’s the TL;DR: Heidegger is generally considered the Nazi philosopher, and is best known for his unfinished tome Being and Time, or in the much more epic German, Sein und Zeit.) “The turn” in this context means a number of interrelated things; it is an example of what Slavoj Zizek would call a short-circuit: between Heidegger’s most prominent engagement in the Nazi counter-revolution, and the manifold changes in his philosophy from before to after; for Heidegger himself, between the latter conceived as an injunction into the history of philosophy–more precisely, the shift in analytical perspective from the “Dasein” or existence of humans and the “History of Being” or Seinsgeschichte—and a process within that History, distinguished, in more nuanced Heidegger scholarship/translation, from the previous short-circuit as “turning”. That is, a turn is a lane-change or even an exit ramp on the self-building highway of history, regardless of whether you focus on the initial paver or the more normal automobiles that often follow. A prime example is what’s known as the Linguistic Turn. Continue reading


Posted in Actions with tags , , , , on 2013/07/12 by las Pétroleuses

One of the figures that recurs endlessly in Žižek’s work is the Rabinovitch joke; he uses it to present the way dialectical sublation or “negation of negation” operates as a recognition of success in (an initial) failure. Rabinovitch is a Jew looking to emigrate from the USSR. He informs the immigration official that the reason he wants to leave is his fear that, were the USSR to collapse, Jews would be blamed and rounded up. “But the USSR will never collapse, socialism is here to stay!” responds the official. Rabinovitch responds: “that is my second reason.”

An interesting example of how this process occurs in history is how “Big Bang” came to name the beginning of the universe (or at least, the popular story). Initially, the scientific community was split between the theory of the “primeval atom” and “steady state” theory (that the universe has always existed and will always exist). Fred Hoyle, a proponent of steady state, the story goes, proposed “Big Bang” as a pejorative name of the former theory–to which the scientific community responded as Rabinovitch, “yes, exactly!” (Another good example of this structure from the history of science is the famous thought experiment of Schrodinger’s Cat, which was intended as a reductio ad absurdum of the Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics, and subsequently taken up as a perfect illustration of that interpretation.)

Metaphysics and Science, or, the One and the Not-All

Posted in Speculation with tags , , , , , , , on 2013/03/07 by las Pétroleuses

Here in the US of A, one of the main battlefronts in the ongoing culture war, as our conservatives put it, is the debate over science and religion. The way this debate ostensibly goes, is both sides think one term is subordinated to the other: conservatives that science is subordinated to religion, liberals the reverse. This seems to be how conservatives frame it at least–or, more precisely, religious conservatives. More libertarian conservatives likely decry the teaching of creationism along with secular liberals. New Age liberals likely see the two as mutually interdependent, and religious liberals unsurprisingly sometimes side with religious conservatives. I think this debate can be reduced to the question of the relation between science and metaphysics. Framed in these terms, we–“radical leftists,” let’s say–take the surprising position (analogous to that) of a religious conservative: science is, in the last instance, subordinate to metaphysics.

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