A Tutorial

Part Five

Kent Palmer, Ph.D.

copyright 1996 Kent Palmer, all rights reserved

published on the email list on 960120

1. The final step

You may have noticed that each step gets harder to think about as we scale the ladder of ontological meta-levels. And one might even wonder if it is possible to go any higher. In fact, it was Merleau-Ponty that first reasoned that after Nothingness and Process Being cancel each other out by annihilation of these antinomies into Hyper-Being that there must be something else beyond the cancellation. He called this possibility Wild Being, as he was influenced by the work of Levi Strauss' THE SAVAGE MIND. What he was referring to was something similar to what the American philosopher Ballard more recently called the 'archaic'. In other words, there must be a 'primitive' or 'archaic' state prior to or more primordial than the antinomies that cancel, because the self-destruction of the ideational antinomies do not destroy the world. There is still the perceptual world that continues to function beneath the self-destructing ideational canopy. Merleau-Ponty in THE VISIBLE AND THE INVISIBLE called this 'Flesh.' And he was the first to explore the strange characteristics of this highest meta-level of Being. He pointed out that the major attribute of this level is that what appears as dualisms in the ideational canopy that exists before cancellation within Wild Being appear as chiasms or nexus of reversibility. A chiasm is a point where dualities join and become one, like the chiasm of the nerves of the eye that meld and then split to go to each side of the brain. The chiasms of dualities give us our first hint of the existence of non-duality beneath all the manifest dualities of our culture.

One way to understand the chiasms is to look at the interval that is fundamental to relativity theory. In relativity theory multiple observers depending on their inertial frames will see different proportions of space and time within an spatiotemporal interval. Relativity theory give us an absolute means of translating between these different inertial viewpoints. So in the interval there can be different proportions of the space and time phases with a reversibility between those phases that can appear differently to different observers in different inertial frames. This is an excellent picture of what is meant by the chiasm. The dualities that appear in the ideational canopy above the point of antinomic collapse are the limits of the interval. Those limits encapsulate phases associated with each of the limit dualites and between those phases there is a point of reversibility that can appear different depending on one's point of view. The flesh is the pair of phases and nexus of reversibility. Just prior to collapse into complete non-duality there is this chiasmic point where the difference between the dualities begins to separate but have not yet gained the necessary escape velocity to tear apart. It is this thin space between the collapse of the antinomic opposites and the arrival at complete non-duality that Wild Being directs our attention toward.

Wild Being is as strange to us of the Western Tradition as Quantum Mechanics and Relativity were to those who inhabited the Newtonian world. We are so used to thinking in terms of dualities that it is almost impossible for us to think of the chiasmic fusion of dualities just prior to their entry into complete non-duality. When we speak of complete non-duality we have in mind what David Loy calls NONDUALITY in his book on the relation between Asian philosophies and Western philosophies. Non-dual states of thought, perception, and action are the ground from which Asian religion and philosophy begins. In the Western Tradition we have done our best to ignore and repudiate these non-dual states, except in some forms of mysticism which we subsequently devalued. Therefore we do not have the tools in our culture to talk about these non-dual states that have been so important to other cultures. Thus when the meta-levels of Being lead us back toward this common ground it is difficult think about the implications of the unthinkability of the fifth meta-level of Being and it is even more difficult in some ways to think about the partial non-duality of Wild Being (the fourth meta-level of Being).

However, recently there have been some attempts to enter this arena and construct a philosophical system at this level. The most famous of these is the Nihilistic philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari expressed in ANTI-OEDIPUS and A THOUSAND PLATEAUS. That book solves one of the fundamental problems standing in the way of anyone philosophizing at the level of Wild Being. The problem is that all antinomies cancel, and it is difficult to talk when all of your concepts have canceled out. Deleuze and Guattari solve this problems by picking two disciplines they do not care about like Marxist Economics and Psychoanalysis and allow these two antinomic disciplines cancel leaving them the realm of philosophy in which to continue to attempt to talk non-dually. Their way of signifying this non-duality is by identifying man with the machine. In this way they make the same choice of reduction of the organism to the machine as autopoietic theory. They go on to deny the reality of the individual. The individual is reduced to sub-individual level called desiring machines which appear in the field of the social. One of the great advances of this theory is the realization that any truly unconscious material must in fact be orthogonal within consciousness. In other words if material within consciousness has any relations to each other then it cannot have come from the unconscious. Desiring machines are seen as manifestations directly from the unconscious that arises in consciousness. Since they have no relation to each other it is impossible to ask what they mean in relation to each other. Thus one is reduced to asking only how they work together. Thus desiring machines are very similar to the nodes of the autopoietic system. Desiring machines form a network called a rhizome by Deleuze and Guattari. The network exists in the social field called the socius. The unity of the individual is an illusion. The individual is an artificial boundary set up within the social field by cultural convention. Deleuze and Guattari propose that the ground state of culture is schizophrenia. They call their discipline schizoanalysis because it attempts to look at the tremendous variety that is produced as desiring machines well up within the field of the socius which has an underlying schizophrenic character. Society attempts suppress this this schizoprenic welling up of variety that underlies all social forms. Part of that suppression is the social construction of the individual as the locus of repression. In ANTI-OEDIPUS the history of this repression is given in the arising of three eras in the development of the dominate western culture. These are called the savage, barbaric, and capitalistic phases. These phases represent the movement through the other meta-levels of Being. For instance in the savage era there is writing on the body as a means of social domination. This represents the movement through the third meta-level of Being where writing of traces dominate. Then in the Barbaric era tyrants set them selves up as the center of society. The social body becomes the same as the body of the tyrant. In this era there is a domination of the flows of resources in the name of the tyrant. Here we get a parody of the name of the Father from Lacan. But the emphasis is on the control of flows of processes which indicate a connection to Process Being. Finally we get the creation of capitalism that reorganizes the flows controlled centrally in the Barbaric era so that everything is coded and reinscribed in terms of the values projected by Capitalism. This recording of everything is the sign of the entry into Pure Presence. In that first meta-level the sign of the thing substitutes for the thing. Instead of real wealth we have only signs of wealth which are manipulated and reconfigured by the capitalist system. Deleuze and Guattari do not talk about what comes before the Savage. But what is prior to the savage is the idyllic form of pure upwelling, pure schizophrenia. This is their image of Wild Being where the desiring machines appear upon the body-without-organs and organize themselves according the the field of the socius without being controlled by the writing of Savage society. This vision is very similar to the self-organization of the autopoietic system, but is much more vibrant a vision than that of autopoietic theory because it has tremendous social and psychological implications that autopoietic theory lacks. However, the nihilism of the theory of Deleuze and Guattari is almost overwhelming. By discarding the what and focusing only on the level of "how they work" Deleuze and Guattari's philosophy becomes utterly nihilistic. In other words anything that works is ok, values mean nothing.

A less nihilistic philosophy posed at the level of Wild Being is that of John S. Hans in the PLAY OF THE WORLD. He begins with the viewpoint of Deleuze and Guattari but concentrates on Play as a non-dual activity prior to all other activities and introduces values via aesthetics. This book is an excellent example of what a non-dual philosophy posed at the fourth meta-level of being might be like. Another completely different attempt to build a philosophy at this level appears in the work of Arkady Plotnitsky. His books COMPLEMENTARITY, IN THE SHADOW OF HEGEL, and RECONFIGURATIONS take a completely different tact which builds upon the work of the physicist Bohr as well as Derrida and Bataille. But he cites Deleuze and Guattari and shows the weakness of their attempt to build a philosophy of Wild Being. His attempt is much stronger as it begins to redress the dualism inscribed in our tradition between Logos and Physus by building a philosophy based on complementarities such as those found in quantum physics and relativity theory.

These philosophies posed at the fourth meta-level of Being are very important to us since they attempt in various ways to think what is almost unthinkable. The difficulty of posing a philosophy at this level is extreme, because all our normal conceptual tools are disarmed, and because such a philosophy goes against the predominate dualistic trends in our culture. However, it is very valuable to have examples of such philosophies because it is precisely at this level that we need to think if we are going to have any deep ontology of phenomena such as that we try to describe in autopoietic theory. At this level we discover that there is something beyond the essencing and the eventity. At the last level our attention was turned to a particular kind of essencing forth of the evenity called emergence of the novum that produces the epochs within our tradition. Now at this level we discover the integra beyond the essence and we discover the holon which is simultaneously whole and part between the extremes of the epoch and the eventity. The essence is a series of constraints upon noematic nucli (the appearing things) which make them the same despite the changes that occur with different viewpoints on them. But by establishing the kinds of things we tend to overlook individual differences. The integra is the inner coherence of the individual thing within the constraints laid down by the essence that establishes kind. The holonic nature of the thing is a chiasm between the view of the thing from the outside as evenity and from the inside as epoch. We can think of the holon as establishing the chiasm between inside and outside and the integra as establishing the reversibility between different viewpoints on the same thing. These two approaches toward the thing together establish the 'flesh,' or 'play,' or 'schizoid,' or the 'interactive heterogeneity and heterogeneous interactivity' by which the various philosophies of Wild Being describe the world.

At this fourth meta-level of Being essence and existence again transmute. The essence becomes the integra of the holon as we go beyond outer coherences that indicate kindness to the inner coherences of the individual. The existent becomes the holon that has integrity. In other words essence goes beyond the kindness to discover the thing within the constraints of kindness. And the thing that is existent with its inward and outward horizons becomes the balance between these horizons as the holon that has integrity. So at this level it is difficult to tell existence from essence because they become chiasmic like all other dualisms. It is precisely at this level that we must pose our autopoietic theory for it to have what Plotnitsky calls 'efficacity' (the peculiar kind of efficacy that appears at the level of Wild Being). It is at this level we realize what the melding of the cognitive and the living that is implicit in autopoietic theory must mean. From the outside the autopoietic unity is seen by observers from various viewpoints. They cannot tell what is happening with the operationally closed autopoietic system because the different viewpoints view the reversibility of the phases within the autopoietic system as having different strengths. Therefore the autopoietic system cannot be understood by an outside observer, and at the same time we cannot separate the living nature of the system from its inherent intelligence. Life and cognition becomes fused within the closed autopoietic system. This fusion is the non-duality of the reversible phases of life and cognition. The autopoietic system is a holon which is balanced between its closed inward and its open outward horizon. The autopoietic system is an individual organism with its own particular homeostatic balance which is integral to it. This integrity that gives viability to the autopoietic system is specific to the individual organism and goes beyond the constraints set up by the species and its evolution.

But merely characterizing the autopoietic system at the level of Wild Being is not enough. It is necessary to realize that the autopoietic system functions within the whole context of the kinds of Being, not just at one level. But it draws its ability to transcend paradoxes that arise a the level of theoretical ideation from this highest level of Being. In order to understand the ontological foundations of autopoietic theory it is not enough to merely peg it to a particular meta-level of Being but we must more generally understand how posing the theory at that level functions in relation to all the other meta-levels, especially the fifth meta-level that points toward the emptiness of all things.