PROLEGOMENA TO THE PROLEGOMENA (5): A Johnstonian Rejoinder

Context: I have not been defending Johnston’s particular views, but rather the value of a speculative ontological approach in general, a question of principle. I actually agree with Bakker that there is something suspicious about ontologising epistemological or general methodological ideas, but I don’t yet know just how ontological Johnston’s idea of weak nature is. If it’s just a regulative  (i.e. heuristic) idea it’s fine by me, but as such it cannot rule out other regulative ideas.

Nor is this idea of Nature new. When I arrived in France in 1980 I met Michel Serres, and he presented me with essentially the same idea of Nature, only without all the marxist and lacanian wrapping that Johnston feels he has to go through: a dis-unified heterogeneous set of archipelagos floating on top of a sea of noise and of chaos. Serres expounded this pluralist image of Nature in “Hermes IV: La Distribution” (1977) and “Hermes V: Passage au Nord-Ouest” (1980). It is also substantially the same image of Nature that Deleuze and Guattari elaborate in their collaborative works.

In his attempt to invalidate ontological projects such as Johnston’s Bakker imagines what he calls a “naturalist”, in fact the context makes clear that he means a scientific materialist convinced of the virtues of mechanistic explanations, who objects to Johnston’s project:

Look, Johnston, why should anyone buy into “heterogeneous ensembles of less-than-fully synthesized material beings, internally conflicted, hodgepodge jumbles of elements-in-tension”?

I do not presume to know what Johnston would actually say in reply to Bakker’s question, but in the light of the preceding discussion I can give Johnston’s possible answer:

Look Bakker, why should anyone buy into your homogeneous unified nature that you don’t even know you presuppose?

He could continue:

You use findings cherry-picked from the cognitive sciences to prove our theoretical incompetence, but cognitive science is not limited to just showing the causes of cognitive error, it also studies instances of successful cognition. You remind me of a cognitive witch-doctor who refuses to help a patient afflicted with Alzheimer on the pretext that the phenomenon that he exhibits is just another example of failed cognition, and so he is no different than anyone else.

And what good is a cognitive science that can’t explain the nature and characteristics of qualitatively different types of cognition, where is your cogsci account of Galileo’s cognition or of Einstein’s or of Prigogine’s? And don’t get me started on the other relevant sciences. What about social studies of science, what let’s you make cognitive science steal the show? And the brain is not just the object of science, it’s the subject of cinema, as Deleuze showed. The lived brain is at least as important as the objectivated brain. You talk about the science of cognition, but you are surreptitiously selective, you talk about mechanistic explanation but that is an anachronism, mechanism is no longer the hegemonic paradigm in the sciences.

He could conclude:

You ask ‘Does ‘radical heterogeneity’ lie at the root of reality? Who the hell knows? You certainly don’t. Well, tell me, does your unconsciously presupposed radical homogeneity lie at the root of reality? I think not, and I have given my reasons. But you can’t give your own reasons, because you don’t know you’re presupposing a unified homogeneous Nature. Agnostic my foot Bakker, only you believe that you are metaphysically agnostic.

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