The Metaphysics of Adjacency or: ALMOST IS GOOD ENOUGH




(in a world of thresholds, membranes, touches, links, networks, approximations, teams, relativities, relationships, connections, interludes, partials & plurals, meetings, parallax, short-circuits, crossovers and recontextualization where every Art and Science of Knowing is remade by the deep logic of dynamic proximity.)

Our contemporary age is bringing into popular discussion the Metaphysics of Adjacency under various names -- “post-metaphysics,” “post-correlationism,” “the end of philosophy,” “the death of the subject”.  A major function of these signpost is to reflect the widespread shift in our sense of truth.  It loses its fixity, centrality, independence.  It becomes interactive, contextual, adjacent.  

Adjacency is not new.  The world is obvious with touching, abutting, reaching, nearing, being close -- but in past & classical ages of human thinking it was felt very strongly that all such facts conceal, represent and misrepresent forms of essential unity.  The ancient mind in its “apollonian” mode spoke of each individual being as ONE despite its apparent changes.  In their “dionysian” mode they contemplated the Supreme One with whom we may accomplish a transcendental fusion, merger, unification.  That great unhappy man Schopenhauer thought that of the true world beyond our thoughts and perceptions we could know very little -- except for its fundamental unity.  After all, he reasoned, manyness was just a superficial product of the human mind, an artifact of egoism.  And what is laudable old ethical doctrine of love in all its forms, romantic, institution & mystical, if not an endless attempt of fusing?  But this unification never quite happens...

This noble ancestral attitude, which seems to stand as an alternative to our banal world, is poetic, evocative, stirring.  We feel it very strongly.  Yet in reality we do reach ecstasy through unity but rather by drawing very close, so close, perfectly close until we enter into a teamwork and machinery of pleasurable insight.  This latter notion, true in affairs of life, has begun to become our understanding of the world in its totality.  And its “totality” is among the first things we begin to doubt...

Today’s thoughtful person is suspicious of all unities.  The process of teasing apart, finding gaps, opening up alternatives, uncovering differences is so easy, so universal today.  We are all in various stages of adaptation (including refusal) to an electronically-fuelled planetary realm of humanistic skeptics.  

Today everything is in quotation marks.  

Context has muscled its way onto the stage -- good!  She had been waiting long enough...

Both “quotation marks” and “context” share a common style.  They present edges, they provide frames, they are the presencing of contact surfaces which operate our interpretation of every “thing”.

We talk now as if Reason consisted primarily in deploying the “as if” function of the mind.  Actuality gives way to possibility in our popular philosophies.  We don’t just want to know things anymore, we also want to know how they are being -- held.  Perspectives start to organize our thinking.  All these contextual frames, all these maybe’s, all these also’s, these almost’s whose substance is mediated, these discrete perspectival reality tunnels... proximity is implied by all their edges.

The ancient conversations about how “inside” is related to “outside” provoke, in our age, a challenge or supplementation by a discourse about systems, relationships, networks of enactment, sliding signifiers, interpretive connexions, pluralities of option.  The implication in all this is consistent: adjacency.

Networks of relationships can perform only where component parts are “close enough” to function together -- but never so close that they lose their individual functions.  All relativity, like all teamwork, becomes visible only when there is some adequate proximity among different contexts.  

So the emerging metaphysics of our age, under all its names, deploys adjacency at every turn.  This is true both of its ongoing critique of unity & fixed individuality AND its articulation of relativity, relationality, perspectivism and networking.  

Homogeneity is sacrificed to Connectivity but this costs us nothing.  Any spiritual depression or moral malaise associated with this new worldview is naive or else imported from some other condition of life.  No loss is suggested in the transfer from unitive to adjacent metaphysics.  Skepticism challenges beliefs but subtracts nothing from Faith.  All empowerments previously believed to reside in unification and definite identity have actually always been produced by uniquely optimal proximity.  With our enhanced understanding we are even in a more likely position to successfully nourish ourselves at the fountain of spiritual self-confidence, cultural potency and meaningful benevolent harmony in all areas of life.

The anciently anticipated moment of unity is really like a terminal point, a narrowly clenched fist, a fissure in our feelings.  Its self-annihilating suggestiveness has always been the root of much isolation and desolation and it is this dark quality which may come into our awareness as the clench begins to release.

The continuity of Being -- justly celebrated by mystics of all kinds -- operates just as well, perhaps even better, under the idea of “excessive optimal proximity” as it ever did under the idea of “a Great One”.  The latter has only ever been rhetorical, poetic or pathological.  It has always been greatly or slightly misleading.

Descartes found it impossible to doubt his “I think therefore I am”.  He assumed his first “I” (the ONE of thinking) was identical to his second “I” (the ONE of being).  We vainglorious contemporary people fancy that WE can doubt this -- are they really the same???  But this is only the infancy of the new view.  One it gets its legs under it there is this realization that, either way, those two “I”s are almost the same.  Don’t they meet OUR minimal standard for maximal similarity?  Hasn’t “the same” always only meant “optimally proximal”?  And in this profound turn about our classical feelings are restored and assimilated for the New Age.

Almost IS Good Enough.

An ancient universe of “things” has for centuries been losing ground to flowing visions of energy, information & interpretation.  Flow is activity.  Activity requires Time & Space together.  Activity appears AS locations and durations.  This is dynamic adjacency.  It is the connective or disconnective “room” combined with synchronous or asynchronous durations of occurence precisely in and as this “room”.  

90% is the new 100%.

In our sciences we start to understand every simplicity in a new way.  The “boiling point” of water is a threshold of bifurcating molecular activity at which a quantum jump (sic) occurs in its behavioural regime.  This is a place where steam and water are near, nearest, to each other.

We start to sense something wrong in the gesture of grabbing, identifying, targeting, categorizing, isolating.  We want to replace it with something like reaching forward, deepening contact, showing interest, honoring the Other & the elusive Real.

Our religion stands out to us as the deification of teamwork.  Its well-known skewing into threatening or redemptive forms is accomplished not on the basis of our unity with this or that racial geography but rather by the health of the interactions within the individuals and the sophistication of their collective intelligence protocols among them.  

Social progressives, empowered by their cultivated use of the pre-frontal cortex, advocate “leaning forward”.  This gesture of interest and focus is always a “getting a little closer”.  In our age this “a little closer” receives -- should receive! -- its full ontological dignity.  A little closer -- the key to empathic civilization.  

Draw your hands close together.  Feel the subtle feedback which gives rise to amplified sensation -- micro tingles.  Is this the life-force?  This surplus, this ontological excess, comes to presence as a function of adjacency.  To bask in it, to contemplate it at any level, is already to meditate.  Optimal adjacency induces meditation.  This fact has often been called: love.

Our human reluctance to surrender into nearness creates two opposed attitudes -- either we pull back into the “me” supposedly identical with myself OR we become excessively one-pointed in our need to get “all the way across”, to overwhelm the gap and achieve fusion with the Other one. But the dawn of a new age in which we are all better at touching, at being close, returns us to the functional, meditative, satisfying and universal aspects of sheer proximity.  

Your compass wishes you to travel northward a little while... there is no need to try to get right to the North Pole every time!  Just get a little closer.

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Comment by Layman Pascal on July 31, 2012 at 4:47pm

 re: walking in beauty

I find "coherence" to be eminently useful wording -- especially in terms of optimization.  One the dangers we face is a hair-trigger response from progressive thinkers which seems to function analogously to political correctness (as if any term denoting racial difference were somehow supportive of pathological social prejudice).  Teasing words away from what our new instincts find "off-putting" is an important task. 

Coherence, especially, since it cannot be thought without difference, distance, dynamics & the presence of a more-or-less, a near enough or far enough which distinguishes the virtually unitary functioning of implicitly distinct components.

Coherence is the name of not-same acting indistinctly from sameness.  This is precisely the site at which new thinking is grappling in both its deconstructive and reconstructive modes. 

Comment by Layman Pascal on July 31, 2012 at 4:37pm

>I like it when he talks like that. As we've examined in depth though, and as that very excerpt notes, there is a back door in "pure, groundless Emptiness." As you've noted, that too depends on which way he's framing emptiness at the moment. But as we've also shown, a main frame he uses is that of the timeless, transcendent, Causal realm. It seems this is the way he's still using it in the latest future of spirituality thread. And therein lies the dilemma.

Is it a dilemma or just pragmatism, politics, etc.? 

Comment by Balder on July 31, 2012 at 11:49am

Yes, I see it that way, too: with his most common framing of Emptiness, the problem he is critiquing above seems to slip in through the back door.

Comment by Edward theurj Berge on July 31, 2012 at 11:39am

I like it when he talks like that. As we've examined in depth though, and as that very excerpt notes, there is a back door in "pure, groundless Emptiness." As you've noted, that too depends on which way he's framing emptiness at the moment. But as we've also shown, a main frame he uses is that of the timeless, transcendent, Causal realm. It seems this is the way he's still using it in the latest future of spirituality thread. And therein lies the dilemma.

Comment by Balder on July 31, 2012 at 11:27am

I was re-reading parts of SES today and came across this passage:


Tarski's Theorem and G6del's Incompleteness Theorem placed mathematics in an irreversible, ever-expanding, no-upper-limit universe: "The totality of sets cannot be the terminus of a well-defined generating process, for if it were we could take all of what we had generated so far as a set and continue to generate still larger universes. The totality of sets [mathematical holons] is an 'unconditioned' or absolute totality which for just that reason cannot be adequately conceived by the human mind, since the object of a normal conception can always be incorporated in a more inclusive totality. Moreover, the sets are arranged in a transfinite hierarchy" -- a holarchy that continues upwardly forever, and must continue upwardly forever ("transfinitely"), or mathematics comes to a screeching self-contradictory halt. Even mathematics is set in time's arrow and time's arrow is indefinitely -- "transfinitely" -- holarchical.

This is important for philosophy as well, and particularly for many of the "new age" paradigms that now trumpet "Wholism." "Transfinite" (turtles all the way up) means that the sum toral of all the whole/parts in the universe is not itself a'Whole, because the moment it comes to be (as a "whole"), that totality is merely a part of the very next moment's whole, which in turn is merely a part of the next . . . and so on ad infinitum.

This means that there is no place where we can rest and say, "The universe's basic principle is 'Wholeness" (nor, of course, can we say, "The basic principle is Partness"). This prevents us from ever saying that the principle of the Whole rules the world, for it does not; any whole is a part, indefinitely.

Thus, holons within holons within holons means that the world is without foundation in either wholes or parts (and as for any sort of "absolute reality" in the spiritual sense, we will see that it is neither whole nor part, neither one nor many but pure groundless Emptiness, or radically nondual Spirit).

This is important because it prevents a totalizing and dominating wholeness. "Wholeness" -- this is a very dangerous concept (a point that will accompany us throughout this book) -- dangerous for many reasons, not the least of which is that it is always available to be pushed into ideological ends. Whenever anybody talks of wholeness being the ultimate, then we must be very wary in my opinion, because they are often telling us that we are merely "parts" of their particular version of "wholeness," and so we should be subservient to their vision -- we are merely strands in their wonderful web.

And then, since we are all defined as strands in the web, a totalizing social agenda seems eminently reasonable. It is not beside the point that theorists as diverse as Habermas and Foucault have seen such totalizing agendas as the main modern enemy of the life-world (a point we will return to in chaPter 12).

I belabor this issue because it is extremely important to emphasize the indefiniteness of holarchy, its openness, its dizzifyingly nesting nature -- an actualization holarchy not a dominator holarchy. And a dominator holarchy, recall, occurs precisely whenever any holon is established, not as a whole/part, but as the whole, period.  "Ultimate Wholeness": this is the essence of dominator holarchies, pathological holarchies. "Pure wholeness": this is the totalizing lie.

Comment by Edward theurj Berge on July 30, 2012 at 6:16pm

Which reminds me of the famous quote, with my addition:

"The many become one and are increased by one," thus multiplicity.* Also reminiscent of Roland Faber's article "In the wake of false unifications":

"'Unity' always appears as finite unification of multiple relations.... 'Unification' is always 'multi-pli-cation'--the creation of folds of difference. Any attempt to freeze this movement produces imperialism."

* Hmm, in my forthcoming futuristic postmetaphysical novel that will be the main urban setting, Multipli City. It will of course have not only diverse inhabitants but an even more diverse elite who argue about the legitimacy and superiority of its intergraal meta-paradigms. AQAL will be the imperial bright object, with a/crosscorporeal trans(en)action the rogue object sabotaging, and improving, it from the dark back alleys via guerrilla (blog, forum) tactics.

Comment by Balder on July 30, 2012 at 3:33pm

I hear in this call (adjacent) echoes of several themes that I've been exploring recently, here and elsewhere:  interfaciality (a la Sloterdijk's bipolar bubbles of intimacy and his teeming foam after the popping of the monosphere, or Morrison's "interface philosophy" in SpinbitZ); coherence (a la Laszlo or Swimme); the strange mereology of OOO; evolution as the unfolding of sensitivities (Skolimowski); the fold or pli of multiplicity (Delueze, Polydox theology); the collegial "with" of Nancy's being singular plural; Michel Bitbol's Science as if Situation Mattered; and both embedded and enactive modes of integral/participatory spirituality.  Of course, that hardly dents the list of adjacent references that could be made, but it gives an idea of the current interfaces in my thought, within or alongside which your blog post was received.

I expect there is something about the word coherence that is still slightly off-putting to the emerging culture you have described, primarily because it can be seen as too Apollonian or even as a pretense for subtle totalizing or subjugating gestures, but I mention it because it seems like an aim consonant with optimizing nearness or adjacency.  It differs from unification in an important way: it "leaves room" for the potential ongoing independent activity of every adjacent, flanking partner in whatever dance is manifesting, whereas "unification" suggests agency or "object-hood" is lost or absorbed into a new one (or dissolved into a pre-existing one).

The distinction between embedded and enactive participation might be useful here, too.  Coherence is a kind of achievement, an emergent wholeness or "holon" which may hold for a time, but which is never simply given once and for all.  In this sense, the achievement of aesthetic insight, or relational well-being, or inspired religious "team-work"/fellowship, or refined flow states or exalted states of awareness, are all enacted coherencies.  But not all coherence is the result of conscious human activity.  We are also "embedded" in pre-given, pre-achieved coherencies, from the body to various ecosystems, social systems, etc (the body alone encompassing 70 octaves of coherently coordinated, nearly instantaneously inter-communicating levels of systems and beings).  Coherence extends out to the scale of hyber-objects or hyper-systems, but it does not appear (OOO ecologists argue) that there is any final or overarching "order" or set of unified relations that would constitute the One ancient metaphysics.

For a metaphysics of interfaces, folds, adjacencies, withdrawing objects, realizing the One as good-enough coherence (through the dance of relation and withdrawal) is a postmetaphysical echo of one of my favorite metaphors for the fulfilled life:  walking in beauty.

Comment by Balder on July 29, 2012 at 12:10pm

This is quite well written, Layman.  Good stuff.  Comments to follow soon.

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