• StreetlightX
    3.1k
    The question of what counts as 'matter' has been somewhat confusing of late. At a naive level it's often just associated with 'stuff' - the tangible and palpable, composed by atoms and somesuch. But the probing of matter has often left us with, ironically, the immaterial: voids and fields, things that seem to slip away from any intuitive sense of the 'hardness' and 'roughness' of matter. So here's one way I like to think about the material in a way that might hopefully bypass some of the issues involved here: the material as the medial, or as media.

    The medial is the middle. It is what belongs 'in between': from the Greek metaxy, which Plato spoke of as the place between Gods and mortals, and which today commonly designates means of information transmission: the newspaper, the internet, the book: species of media. In this sense, one can say that a basic definition of materialism might be the insistence upon the irreducibility of the medial: the fact that nothing takes place without being shaped and conditioned by the media in (and by) which it occurs.

    To understand this, it helps to reflect on it's opposite: the im-mediate. The immediate has both temporal and spatial connotations - for something to happen 'immediately' is for it to take no time, to encounter no resistance or friction which would cause delay. One also speaks of the immediacy of place, an instantaneity, where, to take a sci-fi example, one would be able to teleport from one place to another without having to traverse the space in-between. To insist on the mediality of all things is to insist that all immidiacy must nonetheless be subject to a minimal medicacy: there is always the traction of time and space, the recalcitrance of matter to have to deal with (the Heraclitian maxim on nature's elusiveness must be read as a materialist maxim par excellence: 'Nature loves to hide').

    To understand matter as medium though, also requires a rethinking of the nature of mediality itself. Although 'mediums' are often understood as a kind of epiphenomenon, a kind of cloth by which the 'real thing' is wrapped up in (the TV as a medium for its content), media studies since McLuhan have long recognized that 'the medium is the message': media has its own substantiality and being, in a way that doesn't just transparently 'facilitate' the passage of things, but in a deep and important way, shapes and defines the very nature of what it is that is being communicated. In a word then, the materialist insists that the world is medial through and through: everything that is, has a density recalcitrant to all ideal(ized) first principles (arche) and immedial fantasies (God being among them).

    To pervert Aristotle: the accidental is the essential (and the essential is the accidental).
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.5k
    This is how the idealist avoids solipsism, by concluding the reality of the medium:
    First principle: all that is real to me, is within my mind.
    Second principle: I communicate with others, and am forced to conclude that there are others in the same situation as me, with realities inside their minds. Therefore there is a multiplicity of realities.
    Third principle: There is a separation between my mind and the minds of others which creates the multiplicity, and this is the medium of material existence.

    We proceed now with science and logic to model the medium, to figure out this separation.
  • SophistiCat
    528
    You seem to be articulating the principle of locality, which says that all interaction is mediated by local, i.e. immediate contact, and Einstein's relativity further puts a speed limit on such interactions. But I am not sure what this has to do with matter specifically.
  • StreetlightX
    3.1k
    You seem to be articulating the principle of locality, which says that all interaction is mediated by local, i.e. immediate contactSophistiCat

    Hmm, this is not quite what I had in mind. A biological example maybe: genes were once thought to be something like blueprints from living organisms. DNA -> Organism. As if a recipe. But more and more, we've come to understand that there's a whole bunch of medial process that work between gene and organism (transcription, translation, protein folding structures and their regulation, feedback loops of all sorts, and lots more) all of which contribute non-trivially to the process of gene expression. In every case, the 'mediums' through which genes are expressed lend their wight of materiality to the process. Bodies are not just hereditary vessels and carriers for genes and their abstract, symbolic code: the fleshly, palpable, damp body plays a irrepressible role in its own unfolding. And not just incidentally, but essentially.

    Or, moving one level up, evolution itself works not merely on a genotype, but on a the whole developmental system (roughly: organism + environment) which supports and non-trivially plays a role in the evolution of a species. With the advent of 'evo-devo' approaches to evolution, the entire developmental context of evolution must be taken into account, and the environment cannot be reduced to a mere holding-chamber in which evolution takes place unaltered by the constitution of that very environment. Again, it's the principle of the irreducibility of the medium that is exemplified here im both examples.

    Or, moving yet another level up, the internet was once touted as a democratic, 'flattened' space where all would get to have their say, and everyone would be able to participate equally and freely. But this didn't pay attention to the specificities of the kind of medium the internet is, which lends itself better to quick, eye-baiting moments of interaction (Twitter, 'comment sections', and 3-10 minute videos are precisely geared to the kind of medium the internet is), which has led the internet to become the widely stratified, uneven network that it is. Elsewhere, there have been arguments made to the effect that it was the postal system that enabled literature to flourish as it did in the 17th century: the medium of transmission being central to it's development.

    Or, in the realm of political theory, the last few years have seen a backlash against conceptions of politics that do not take into account uneven relations of powers across societies (I have in mind Rawls in particular), which do not take into account the medial nature of how politics works (with varying roles played by different institutions, different distributions of money and wealth, access to infrastructure and information, etc etc). One could speak of a difference between an idealist and materialist approach to political theory.

    Anyway, those are just four (three?) examples that come to mind. The list could be expanded indefinitely.
  • SophistiCat
    528
    Reading your examples, I thought of another from the same stock: Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, where he points to material factors, such as climate and biogeography, in order to explain large-scale trends in the development of civilization in different parts of the world

    However, I think that the contrast you are drawing is rather between more and less abstract levels of explanation. Abstraction removes detail, and detail is where your "materiality" is. The more abstract an explanation, the more immaterial it seems, as it were, its ontology consisting of made-up concepts like "genes" and "networks," instead of familiar, immediately perceptible "stuff."
  • StreetlightX
    3.1k
    Reading your examples, I thought of another from the same stock: Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, where he points to material factors, such as climate and biogeography, in order to explain large-scale trends in the development of civilization in different parts of the worldSophistiCat

    Yeah, this would definately be another instance of what I'm referring to.

    However, I think that the contrast you are drawing is rather between more and less abstract levels of explanation. Abstraction removes detail, and detail is where your "materiality" is. The more abstract an explanation, the more immaterial it seems, as it were, its ontology consisting of made-up concepts like "genes" and "networks," instead of familiar, immediately perceptible "stuff."SophistiCat

    This is not a bad way to put it, although I might quibble a bit with 'perceptibiltiy'. That aside, it leads very nicely into Whitehead's dictum that 'the abstract does not explain, but must itself be explained'. Yet another way to look at it is as an anti-hylomorphic stance. Contrary to hylomorphic schemas according to which intelligible form (morphe) descends from on high onto dumb, passive matter (hyle) in order to account for individuation, a materialism is one in which matter itself has powers of individuation, or powers of activity proper to itself. It's a denial of the need - or efficacy - of any abstract, God-descendent animating spirits to account for the richness of the world. Matter as self-in-form-ing, immanent only to itself.

    Its a question of returning to matter its own autonomy and independence, while at the same time insisting upon its irreducibility.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.2k


    Matter behaves. This fuzzy language leads to all kinds of confusion, including the idea of emergence, and ideas of mind.
  • SophistiCat
    528
    That aside, it leads very nicely into Whitehead's dictum that 'the abstract does not explain, but must itself be explained'.StreetlightX

    Of course it does. (Scientific) explanation is nothing other than abstracting a general rule/regularity/model out of concrete material instances. All explanations are abstractions - including those that you hold up as examples of the triumph of materialism. Rather than these fleshier theories being a case of us getting wise to the materiality of the world, they are simply the result of more mature, more elaborate theorizing, which, while still being abstract (as all theories are, by definition), can afford to incorporate more detail.

    As for the question of whether these abstract forms are immanent or transcendent, whether matter possesses its own powers or is animated from without, I am not even convinced that this is something worth asking. In any case, this rarefied metaphysical debate gains no purchase in empirical sciences.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.2k
    Rather than these fleshier theories being a case of us getting wise to the materiality of the world, they are simply the result of more mature, more elaborate theorizing, which, while still being abstract (as all theories are, by definition), can afford to incorporate more detail.

    As for the question of whether these abstract forms are immanent or transcendent, whether matter possesses its own powers or is animated from without, I am not even convinced that this is something worth asking. In any case, this rarefied metaphysical debate gains no purchase in empirical sciences.
    SophistiCat

    Seems to be a more elaborate version of my comment above ;). Nice post.
  • StreetlightX
    3.1k
    Rather than these fleshier theories being a case of us getting wise to the materiality of the world, they are simply the result of more mature, more elaborate theorizing, which, while still being abstract (as all theories are, by definition), can afford to incorporate more detail.SophistiCat

    While I'd like to think that yes, materialism does entail more mature, more elaborate theorizing than the various idealisms which it arrays itself against, I think you're vastly understating the influence and pervasiveness of the latter. If one accepts materialism in the sense outlined here, people like Richard Dawkins and Steven Weinberg become nothing other than arch-Idealists; searches for reductive 'theories of everything', where all the universe follows from a small handful of first principles, turn out to be idealist desiderata par excellence. To say that these debates have no purchase in the sciences is just to leave implicit and untheorized attitudes which pervade them through and through, ones which determine the direction of research projects along with the very questions asked ay the outset.

    From this perspective its no surprise that the completion of the Human Genome Project - for instance - left scientists incredibly underwhelemed regarding its results. And that the concerns there have hardly affected the billions of research dollars being poured into the current Human Brain Project, which will undoutably be of equal a massive disappointment to everyone, everywhere. To think these questions are irrelavent is naivety, and a willful and damaging one at that.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.2k
    While I'd like to think that yes, materialism does entail more mature, more elaborate theorizing than the various idealisms which it arrays itself against, I think you're vastly understating the influence and pervasiveness of the latter. If one accepts materialism in the sense outlined here, people like Richard Dawkins and Steven Weinberg become nothing other than arch-Idealists; searches for reductive 'theories of everything', where all the universe follows from a small handful of first principles, turn out to be idealist desiderata par excellence. To say that these debates have no purchase in the sciences is just to leave implicit and untheorized attitudes which pervade them through and through. It's naivety, and a willful and damaging one at that.StreetlightX

    I read @SophistiCat to be saying, even your seemingly matieralistic-oriented notions are idealist in a way- just a more sophisticated version. As he said here:

    However, I think that the contrast you are drawing is rather between more and less abstract levels of explanation. Abstraction removes detail, and detail is where your "materiality" is. The more abstract an explanation, the more immaterial it seems, as it were, its ontology consisting of made-up concepts like "genes" and "networks," instead of familiar, immediately perceptible "stuff."SophistiCat
  • StreetlightX
    3.1k
    I doubt Cat would make the naive and boorish mistake of identifying abstraction with idealism - especially since he seems to reject the latter term as being of significance - but I'll let him speak for himself.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.2k
    I doubt Cat would make the naive and boorish mistake of identifying abstraction with idealism - especially since he seems to reject the latter term as being of significance - but I'll let him speak for himself.StreetlightX

    I can't speak for SophistiCat, but I don't think he was necessarily equating abstraction with idealism per se. Rather, he was pointing to the fact that "true" materialism would have as little abstraction as possible, as it would merely be the "stuff" at the basis of the discussion. Thus, it can be said that concepts like "genes", "networks," and the like (which I presume you take as central to your position in regards to how material organizes itself and emerges) would even be going a step too far.
  • StreetlightX
    3.1k
    Rather, he was pointing to the fact that "true" materialism would have as little abstraction as possible, as it would merely be the "stuff" at the basis of the discussion.schopenhauer1

    We'll see. This would be very silly though.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.2k
    This would be very silly though.StreetlightX

    Actually no, it would be a valid critique of the inability of materialist conceptions to get to the heart of materialism.
  • StreetlightX
    3.1k
    Critique? It's barely more than a blunt assertion with no grounds provided to give it even the semblance of substance. As it stands it's basically one step above meaningless.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.2k

    True it is not fully elaborated, and I can only speculate for his elaboration, but I think the premise is a strong starting point. Here we are, constantly the Aristotleans, labeling material into elaborate forms. In this particular thread, you say,
    To understand matter as medium though, also requires a rethinking of the nature of mediality itself. Although 'mediums' are often understood as a kind of epiphenomenon, a kind of cloth by which the 'real thing' is wrapped up in (the TV as a medium for its content), media studies since McLuhan have long recognized that 'the medium is the message': media has its own substantiality and being, in a way that doesn't just transparently 'facilitate' the passage of things, but in a deep and important way, shapes and defines the very nature of what it is that is being communicated. In a word then, the materialist insists that the world is medial through and through: everything that is, has a density recalcitrant to all ideal(ized) first principles (arche) and immedial fantasies (God being among them).

    To pervert Aristotle: the accidental is the essential (and the essential is the accidental).
    StreetlightX

    Well, here we are again, idealizing matter into all sorts of superstructures- this time it is the information as material. We do everything we can to get away from the material of the material- networks, information, organization, etc. The material itself gets lost in these abstractions of what is the case. You have already crossed the boundary into meaning but have not explained the content. Emergence is put in the picture, yet the material is lost. Emergence is gotten through fiat, and the term "information" is its spooky crutch that magically lets the "materialist" theorizer to get from point the substrate to the emergent scenario with ease. This is what I meant when I said "matter behaves", as it is the start of all this fiat. Matter is matter is matter. Matter doesn't matter to matter. As soon as you start abstracting from that, you have already put something other than matter in the equation.
  • StreetlightX
    3.1k
    We do everything we can to get away from the material of the material ... Matter is matter is matter. Matter doesn't matter to matter.schopenhauer1

    This is just warmed over mysterian trash. Not worth engaging.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.2k
    This is just warmed over mysterian trash. Not worth engaging.StreetlightX

    Typical response fromsomeone who doesn't have a good answer. If you had something interesting to say you would not need to resort to these tools of rhetoric. But instead you hide behind the shroud of superiority you want to project on this forum.
  • StreetlightX
    3.1k
    I'm not the one who expects tautology to be taken seriously as a point of discussion.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.2k
    I'm not the one who expects tautology to be taken seriously as a point of discourse.StreetlightX

    C'mon. Because I said "matter is matter is matter"? You realize that was to point to the idea that to assert emergence and information, is to already put something other than the material in the picture. It's almost an illegal move, if you will. Sure it seems to be the case that things are emerging into hierarchical structures that then influence the bottom structures, let's say, but then what are these formal structures themselves but abstractions of the matter? These are placeholder concepts, abstractions, for what the matter itself is or is doing.
  • StreetlightX
    3.1k
    I spoke of neither emergence nor information - I haven't used the former word even once in this thread so far, and the latter only appeared once in the OP in a not very central way. So I have very little time for your projections, tautologies, and lack of basic comprehension ability.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.2k
    I spoke of neither emergence nor information - I didn't even use the former word, and the latter only appeared once in the OP in a not very central way. So I have very little time for your two-bit projections.StreetlightX

    You are good at the rhetorical devices. This is just handwaving and parsing of terms so you don't have to deal with the central issue. No, you didn't say emergence and technically only mentioned the term information once. However, these type of concepts are central to what you are discussing. For example, you mention the idea of "being shaped by and conditioned by the media in (and by) which it occurs." You also mentioned "immediacy of transmission". This is very much in the realm of information. The information is shaped by its materiality. You also discuss "transversing" and "passage of things". Sure this can be strictly material substrate, but words like transmission, media, passage of things, and transversing strongly hint at a kind of theory of information via the emergence from material substrate. Form created through material. Yet, the form can become magically "information" on its own, which is the illegal move I describe.
  • StreetlightX
    3.1k
    It's not my job to address connections that you're making and not explicating. 'In the realm of information'; 'hint at a kind of theory of information' - this is imprecise blather, and it's nothing but thick irony to accuse me of 'avoiding the central issue' when you're literally making things up and projecting connotations whose significance to the OP you can only hint at with half-baked allusions to vague semantic connotations. Don't mistake your own analytic inadequacy for that of the OP.
  • schopenhauer1
    2.2k
    It's not my job to address connections that you're making and not explicating. 'In the realm of information'; 'hint at a kind of theory of information' - this is imprecise blather, and it's nothing but thick irony to accuse me of 'avoiding the central issue' when you're literally making things up and projecting connotations whose significance to the OP you can only hint at with half-baked allusions to semantic connotations. Don't mistake your own analytic inadequacy for that of the OP.StreetlightX

    If you're OP wasn't even about information and simply that matter shapes things.. then it wasn't worth commenting on anyways. My original point was that abstractions from the "matter" at hand in materialism are removed from the heart of materialism as to what is going on, which is the material itself. Excuse me for seeing a thread-line in your threads. I won't attempt to connect your ideas together, no matter how adjacent. Perhaps you do not have coherent ideas from thread to thread. You discuss many abstractions such as networks, forms, and the like in threads like these: https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/2235/networks-evolution-and-the-question-of-life/p1 https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/3293/intelligence-abstraction-and-monkeys/p1 https://thephilosophyforum.com/discussion/3208/non-organic-evolution-sub-specie-evolutionis/p1
  • StreetlightX
    3.1k
    If you're OP wasn't even about informationschopenhauer1

    No, the OP was not about information, which it barely spoke about - very perceptive of you.
  • WhiteNightScales
    9
    means of information transmissionStreetlightX
    In the philosophical of epistemology the order will have to be what do the people know?
    what is knowledge? or what is THE knowledge and last is How is the knowledge acquired?

    To understand matter as medium though, also requires a rethinking of the nature of mediality itself. Although 'mediums' are often understood as a kind of epiphenomenon, a kind of cloth by which the 'real thing'StreetlightX
    This is a good read Immanuel Kant also argued about space and time but his view was of geometric
    patterns His readings are not very clear but I can see what he is really forming
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.5k
    This is what I meant when I said "matter behaves", as it is the start of all this fiat. Matter is matter is matter.schopenhauer1

    This is just warmed over mysterian trash.StreetlightX

    Actually schopenhauer1 is right here. StreetlightX assigns to matter the capacity to act, (behave), and this is what is contrary to the pure concept of matter as passive, and is a display of classical mysticism.

    If we proceed in Streetlight's vein of mysticism, we ought to assign to the behaviour of matter the adverb of "evil". That is what this line of thinking leads to, the notion that the activity of matter, by its very nature, is evil, and this activity must be brought under the control of the mind which seeks the good.
  • Gilliatt
    21
    Well, I really dont know what you are talking about.

    things likes "the sky are happy" dont atract me.

    Good Luck!
  • frank
    1.7k
    Actually schopenhauer1 is right here. StreetlightX assigns to matter the capacity to act, (behave), and this is what is contrary to the pure concept of matter as passive, and is a display of classical mysticism.Metaphysician Undercover

    Idealism is in the shadows only because the OP is using ancient idealistic language: Matter as the grand companion of Form. Add some phenomenology to it, and it becomes respectable philosophy, except for the part where we try to say that matter as medium is all there is, that doesn't make sense. Better to think of it as a yin/yang situation.

    Physics basically is an attempt to describe the behavior of the material world. Various forms of energy are part of the material world (which, per Chomsky, means that materialism can't be identical to physicalism).
  • Metaphysician Undercover
    4.5k
    Add some phenomenology to it, and it becomes respectable philosophy, except for the part where we try to say that matter as medium is all there is, that doesn't make sense.frank

    I don't see the problem with matter as medium. All that separates two points, space, time, physical existence, can all be rolled into the concept "matter". It only becomes a problem under a monist guise, because those non-dimensional points which are separated by matter must be given some real existence, as other than matter, otherwise "medium' has no meaning here. So, to say the medium is "all there is" is really contradictory, because "medium" implies the middle, between that which is not the medium.
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