http://lists.tmttlt.com/listinfo.cgi/transdisciplinarystudies-tmttlt.com This is the list for the book series ‘transdisciplinary studies’ which is seeking scholars interested in discussing transdisciplinary research and book proposals for transdisciplinary research
nodes, or actors, or networks. This is a response to jeremy's comments on actor construction? and a response entry (June 30, 2003) in his blog regarding the relationship of actors and networks as used/presented by the actor-network theory and methodology. Jeremy: “i replied to this on his blog too, but ultimately my position is to… [infoSophy: Socio-technological Rendering of Information]
I continued this conversation on his blog. it is interesting how different people can come to the same theory in different ways. I wrote some of one of the answers to one of my prelim questions on actor-network theory. I think i have a different position than most people on this topic. It is heavily informed by sts literature and continental philosophy.
(i) the opposing perceptions and views of the world which characterize different species: “For how could one say, with regard to touch [for example], that animals are similarly affected whether their surfaces consist of shell, flesh, needles, feathers or scales? And, as regards hearing, how could one say that perceptions are alike in animals with a very narrow auditory canal and in those with a very wide one, or in those with hairy ears and those with ears that are hairless… [P]erfume seems very pleasant to human beings but intolerable to dung beetles and bees, and the application of olive oil is beneficial to human beings but kills wasps and bees.” (PH 1.50, 55, Mates) (ii) the opposing perceptions and views of the world which characterize different individuals: “…the greatest indication of the vast and limitless difference in the intellect of human beings is the inconsistency of the various statements of the Dogmatists concerning what may be appropriately chosen, what avoided, and so on.” (PH 1.85-86, Mates)
(iii) the opposing perceptions and views of the world which characterize different sense organs: “Pictures seem to the sense of sight to have concavities and convexities,” for example, “but not to the touch,” and “Let us imagine someone who from birth has …lacked hearing and sight. He will start out believing in the existence of nothing visible or audible, but only of the three kinds of quality he can register. It is therefore a possibility that we too, having only our five senses, only register from the qualities belonging to the apple those which we are capable of registering. But it may be that there objectively exist other qualities” (PH 1.92, 96-7, Mates).
(iv) the opposing perceptions and views of the world which characterize different circumstances: “Thus, things affect us in dissimilar ways depending on whether we are in a natural or unnatural condition, as when people who are delirious or possessed by a god seem to hear spirits but we do not…. And the same water that seems to us to be lukewarm seems boiling hot when poured on an inflamed place…. Further, if someone says that an intermingling of certain humors produces, in persons who are in an unnatural condition, odd phantasiai [impressions] of the external objects, it must be replied that since healthy people, too, have intermingled humors, it is possible that the external objects are in nature such as they appear to those persons who are said to be in an unnatural state, but that these humors are making the external objects appear to the healthy in a natural people other than they are. (PH 1.101-2, Mates).
(v) the opposing perceptions and views of the world that characterize different positions and distances and places: for example, “lamplight appears dim in sunlight but bright in the dark. The same oar appears bent in water but straight when out of it” (PH 1.119, Mates).
(vi) the opposing perceptions and views of the world that characterize mixtures: “[W]e deduce that since no object strikes us entirely by itself, but along with something, it may perhaps be possible to say what the mixture compounded out of the external object and the thing perceived with it is like, but we would not be able to say what the external object is like by itself… The same sound appears one way when accompanied by a rarefied atmosphere, another way when accompanied by a dense atmosphere” (PH 1.124, 125, Mates).
(vii) the opposing perceptions and views of the world due to different quantities and structures: “[I]ndividual filings of a piece of silver appear black, but when united with the whole they affect us as white… And wine, when drunk in moderation, strengthens us, but when taken in excess, disables the body…” (PH 1.129, 131, Mates).
(viii) the opposing views possible because of the relativity of all things: “…since all things are relative, we will suspend judgment about what things exist absolutely and in nature… This has two senses. One is in relation to the judging subject [different subjects perceiving differently]… The other in relation to the conceptions perceived with it…” (PH 1.135, Mates).
(ix) the opposing perceptions and views of the world due to constancy or rarity of occurrence: “The sun is certainly a much more marvelous thing than a comet. But since we see the sun all the time but the comet only infrequently, we marvel at the comet so much as even to suppose it a divine portent, but we do nothing like that for the sun. If, however, we thought of the sun as appearing infrequently and setting infrequently, and as illuminating everything all at once and then suddenly being eclipsed, we sould find much to marvel at in the matter.” (PH 1.141, Mates). And
(x) the opposing perceptions and views of what is right and wrong which characterize different ways of life, laws, myths and “dogmatic suppositions”: “among the Persians sodomy is customary but among the Romans it is prohibited by law; and with us adultery is prohibited, but among the Massagetae it is by custom treated as a matter of indifference, as Eudoxus of Cnidos reports… and with us it is forbidden to have intercourse with one’s mother, whereas with the Persians this sort of marriage is very much the custom. And among the Egyptians men marry their sisters, which for us is prohibited by law. (PH 1.152, Mates).
Long, A.A. & D. N. Sedley. The Hellenistic Philosophers. 2 Vols. New York: Cambridge University Press, 1987. Mates, Benson. The Skeptic Way: Sextus Empricus’s Outlines of Pyrrhonism. New York: Oxford University Press, 1996.
When people search for something, the likely outcome is that either they find it or, not finding it, they accept that it cannot be found, or they continue to search. So also in the case of what is sought in philosophy, I think, some people have claimed to have found the truth, others have asserted that it cannot be apprehended, and others are still searching. Those who think that they have found it are the Dogmatists, properly so called — for example, the followers of Aristotle and Epicurus, the Stoics, and certain others. The followers of Clitomachus and Carneades, as well as other Academics, have asserted that it cannot be apprehended. The Skeptics [skeptikoi] continue to search [i.e., investigate]. (PH 1.1-3, Mates)
Broadly speaking, this [suspension of judgement about all things] comes about because of the setting of things in opposition. We oppose either appearances to appearances, or ideas to ideas, or appearances to ideas. We oppose appearances to appearances when we say “The same tower seems round from a distance but square from near by.” We oppose ideas to ideas when someone establishes the existence of providence from the orderliness of the things in the heavens and we oppose to this the frequency with which the good fare badly and the bad prosper, thereby deducing the non-existence of providence. We oppose ideas to appearances in the way in which Anaxagoras opposed to snow’s being white the consideration: snow is water, and water is black, therefore snow is black too. On a different scheme, we oppose sometimes present things to present things, but sometimes present things to past and future things… (PH 1.31-5, Long & Sedley)
He [Pyrrho] himself has left nothing in writing, but this pupil Timon says that whoever wants to be happy must consider these three questions: first, how are things by nature? Secondly, what attitude should we adopt towards them? Thirdly, what will be the outcome for those who have such an attitude? According to Timon, Pyrrho declared that things are equally indifferent, unmeasurable and inarbitrable. For this reason neither our sensations nor our opinions tell us truths or falsehoods. Therefore for this reason we should not put our trust in them one bit, but should be unopinionated, uncommitted and unwavering, saying concerning each individual thing that it no more is than is not, or both is and is not, or neither is nor is not. The outcome for those who actually adopt this attitude, says Timon, will be first speechlessness [aphasia], and then freedom from disturbance; and Aenesidemus says pleasure. (Eusebius, Prep. Ev. 14.18.2-5, Long & Sedley)
Modes of Skepticism are supposed to force you to suspend judgement because you cannot know or cannot be certain.
These are variations on Pyrrhonism:
- based on the variety in animals;
- on the differences in human beings;
- on the different structures of the organs of sense;
- on the circumstantial conditions;
- on positions and intervals and locations;
- on intermixtures;
- on the quantities and formations of the underlying objects;
- on the fact of relativity;
- on the frequency or rarity of occurrence;
- on the disciplines and customs and laws, the legendary beliefs and the dogmatic convictions.
These are from Aenesidemus:
- The feelings and perceptions of all living beings differ.
- People have physical and mental differences, which make things appear different to them.
- The different senses give different impressions of things.
- Our perceptions depend on our physical and intellectual conditions at the time of perception.
- Things appear different in different positions, and at different distances.
- Perception is never direct, but always through a medium. For example, we see things through the air.
- Things appear different according to variations in their quantity, color, motion, and temperature.
- A thing impresses us differently when it is familiar and when it is unfamiliar.
- All supposed knowledge is predication. All predicates give us only the relation of things to other things or to ourselves; they never tell us what the thing in itself is.
- The opinions and customs of people are different in different countries.
Culture in virtual worlds? Critiquing the complexities and our assumptions
Granted this model of culture makes things more complex and clouded than many current ideological strands of the cultural sciences and humanities might prefer, but in virtual worlds, where the environment is constructed either through fixed programmed interfaces or the through the results of genetic algorithms, the construction of subjects and objects as different in any knowable sense is speculative at best. The assumption that many cultural scientists, and humanities scholars make that if it seems to talk and act like a subject or like them’ then it is a subject very much depends on the environment. People have been simulating conversation in virtual worlds for years, and simulating actions just as long, beyond that people have been designing these virtual world for cultural effects that frequently do not come to fruition.
Consider the possibility of a virtual world developed to support natural and cultural sciences. In this world, the humans interface with the world is intended to simulate nature, such as pseudorandom distribution of wind or water flows over abradable media such as sandstone, or the bifurcations of tree roots as they interact with the soil. The purpose of such a world would be to see to what extent artifacts found in nature are likely man-made or man-influenced or not. In this game, individual actions add up to a part of the simulation, thus an ‘avatar’ would be the combination of forces over time as mixed with the forces and the fun would be had by influencing and changing the additive and multiplicative efforts of many people over time. The actions ‘avatar’, as a natural forces, is a combination of many possible people’s influences over time where time is one of the variables that consensus can effect and the interface can model, so that some people may slow down to a bacteriological time, or speed up to human time onward to the geological times of redwoods, and onto that of mountains. One possible sub-game may be to produce objects that might be confused with archeological artifacts, such as the Sphinx. Another sub-game that would surely arise is the design and or defacement of areas of the world for artistic or other purposes. We can see from such a game, that the ‘avatar’, or that which acts on cultural objects in the world may in fact be plural, and may produce things that are not considered artifacts as much as terrain. This possibility, the dissociation of the avatar from the individual and the dissociation of the products of the avatar from the culture is an extreme example of the reality of what people already do in virtual worlds today.
This dissociation of cultural subject and cultural production problematizes much of the scholarship being done in virtual worlds which depends on the assumptions that subject/s create or exist in relation to objects, but in the messiness of programmable systems, the mixing of subjects/objects into quasi-subjects, quasi-objects, and the pluralization of the relationship between a persons interface and their ‘avatar’, causes one to be immediately skeptical of the reported experiences of people acting through their interfaces in the virtual world. Even their reports should be colored by the researcher’s inability to discern the authenticity of the persons reporting given that the world they experienced through their screens, speakers, and haptic devices could be entirely different from that world experienced by a person using different devices, having different proficiencies, or living in different cultures. This is not to say that we cannot make assumptions about world, subjects, and objects, but it is to say that the assumptions that we rely on in the f2f world that ground our research may not be, and frequently are not valid assumptions. In short, when exploring culture in virtual worlds, we need to take care in our methodological choices and their assumptions for even the most basic assumptions such as, “my student in my virtual classroom had the same experience as my other students” is likely to be false in ways that are profoundly different than the ways it may be false in a f2f classroom. Similarly, our assumptions about the causes of behavior, social, economic, and cultural, must account for the new forms of re/mediation in their models, else they will likely end up describing less a model of subjects in a virtual world, then describing the base assumptions of their observations or experiments yet again.
Delanda, M. (2006). A new philosophy of society: Assemblage theory And social complexity. Continuum.
Guattari, F. (2000). The three ecologies (G. Genosko, Trans.). London: Athlone Press.
Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social : An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford University Press, USA.
Latour, B. (1993). We have never been modern. Harvard Univ Pr.
Latour, B., & Porter, C. (2004). Politics of nature: How to bring the sciences into democracy. Harvard Univ Pr.
Law, J. (2004). After method: Mess in social science research. Routledge.
Maltzahn, K. E. V. (1994). Nature as landscape: Dwelling and uderstanding. McGill-Queen’s University Press.
Suarez, D. (2009). Daemon. Dutton Adult.
Veblen, T. (1990). The evolution of the scientific point of view. In The Place of science in modern civilization. Transaction Publishers.
Crisis in the meaning of meaning:
Meaning was the once-natural sequence of being, knowing, interpreting, judging, willing and acting . It is this sequence which no longer operates as it did in earlier times.
Sean has some thoughts that inspired me to respond a bit.
What is Actor-Network Theory: various ANT definitions. The possibility of applying the actor-network theory and its methodology to different disciplines and fields of study is evident by the many senses in which it has been used. The What is Actor-Network Theory? site provides various definitions. These and many other colors and flavors of ANT represent a very… [infoSophy: Socio-technological Rendering of Information]
however, the fixation on the actor is still present. get rid of it, stop thinking about it, think about networks, only networks, and then think about how it constructs the actor, then i think you have a theoretically interesting actor-network theory.
i've had two hits from it from Mentor's blog. as some people know, i'm less a proponent of normal actor-network theory, than radical de-objectified actor-network theory, where the nodes are just new networks in which the differences between nodes and networks is the categories of analysis of the flows. nodes are just networks operating in different ontological categories, and thus so are actors comprised of networks, and in fact, actors and nodes sort of disappear for the version that i perpetrate on the world:) it is informed by a guattarian ontology.
Mentor has a great explanation of actor-network theory here. it is well worth reading.