Harman on Hume/Whitehead in Prince of Networks, Final Section
Now that I’ve presented my attempt to understand the final sections of Graham’s Prince of Networks, here’s some areas we disagree. First, in regard to how he reads other philosophers, and the potential implications for OOO:
HUME (PN p.197-8): When he discusses Hume and the ‘bundle of qualities’ thesis, he’s totally on that ‘we’ never experience bundles of qualities, but rather, objects. But what about babies, or humans who have just had their sight restored by surgery? Those who recently have their sight restored, but have never been able to see before due to physical problems, have a period in which they’ve reported seeing ‘splotches’ not unlike described by Hume. Only after training their BRAIN to read those splotches do they start to see objects, and this is done by time and experience. Many scientists have argued this is the same with babies. Of course, Graham is right to argue that most adult humans and animals perceive objects, not splotches of qualities.
But then Graham argues in the section on ‘speculative psychology’ (p. 213) that we can therefore assume that things in the world experience not splotches, but unified objects: “For so-called inanimate objects do not encounter disembodied qualities alone, but encounter other objects . . . it [an inanimate object] encounters a unified object swirling with accidents . . .”(213). That is, that a mailbox relates to the ground it is planted in, not ‘green’ or ‘hardness’ beyond unified objects. But if we argue that babies and surgery patients have to LEARN to see objects, my sense is that ‘things’ in the world do not possess objects. Rather, my sense is that they necessarily lack the ability to localize, discriminate, etc. What agency would do this for them? I do think, in a Whiteheadian manner, that entities in the world encounter limits aspects or sides of each other. But here I’d agree with Whitehead’s approach over Graham.
WHITEHEAD: Graham argues (p.152) that there are only fundamental particles in Whitehead, and no way to discuss enduring objects which exist as wholes. But in fact, Whitehead spends a lot of time in Process and Reality talking about Nexus (aggregates of these fundamental particles which change in a connected manner and therefore function as slices of becoming over a ‘duration of spacetime’) and Societies (organized Nexus, like organisms).
Also, as Steve Shaviro has cogently argued, Whitehead does argue for what he sometimes calls ‘event-particles’, other times ‘actual occasions’ or ‘actual objects’, but in a process based system, we can’t read these as objects in any traditional sense. Like Peirce, Whitehead is at great pains to show that any sense in which we atomize process, we get moments, not objects, and these are actually different.
I’m not sure why Graham misses the existence of Nexus and Societies in Whitehead. But I think the ramifications are potentially profound. One of the sources of novelty in the universe, the ways in which objects ‘exceed their relations’ in Whitehead is precisely because things don’t quite line up within a hermetically sealed whole. When Whitehead discusses the light-cone and its relation to Nexus in Process and Reality, it really does show us how the entire universe is relational but not a hermetically sealed hall of mirrors. Each entity prehends the whole of what is differently, and its not possible for all these to simply be reflections of the same, for all the reasons that make relativity theory bend people’s minds. There is no way in relativity theory to answer absolutely whether certain events are before or after another (the famous ‘simultaneity’ problem). And since absolute time and simultaneity go out in the window in favor of many local times (known as ‘proper times’) and orderings of events, this shows that the whole has excess built into it, locally, in the incompssible manner in which actual occasions/events prehend each other. This is just the START of the manner in which excess to ‘relational internalism’ develops in Whitehead, and which only snowballs as Whitehead develops his Nexus and Societies, each of which amplifies the freedom of actual occasions by means of their more complex structure. For its only if you have a hand that you imagine sign language, quantum ‘particles’ don’t have that sort of freedom.
Ok, next post will get to stuff related directly to OOO, to lay out where I think networkological relationalism differs, etc. And from there, hopefully a hibernation period to finish up my own manuscripts.