The Noise of All Things
16 JUNE 2021
There is a new voice in philosophy when a distinct meaning is introduced to “meaning.” The economics—the relation between the more and the less—of words and meanings, and voice is often discussed in the terms of homology and analogy. The domain where the voice of a higher being is accessed within language such that this being reveals the meaning of the whole world is the domain of metaphysics. In the last century the metaphysical voice was set in suspension by Wittgenstein when he asked philosophers “to say nothing except what can be said” and later by Heidegger who spoke “of a telling silence”. Instead, for philosophy to speak it must open a relation to the background noise of philosophy.
This is the text of the public lecture delivered with Barbara Cassin on 23-10-18 at Institut Français, New Delhi as a part of the conference organised by Divya Dwivedi titled “Present of the Day”. The prologue is a short text written for the occasion of a seminar with Barbara Cassin, Divya Dwivedi, Patrice Maniglier, and Shaj Mohan in Borotalpada, a tribal village in West Bengal, which was distributed as a hand-out for the audience in New Delhi.
Hekate, Maxmilián_Pirner, 1901; Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
here is this world.
We fight for our own little worlds in this world, seeking to build better, faster, just, luxurious, exclusive worlds. But we agree before we learn to speak that it is our world; a world made up of “you” and “I”, of the Milky Way and the fallen stars, of clouds and storms, of stones and streams, of hunters and the hunted, of huts and mansions.
What is maddening is that there is this world. This world does not say anything back to us. Of course there are things in this world which respond to us; in a certain way everything in this world speaks back to us. The stone thrown at a tree returns a mango. The howl in the middle of the night returns the chorus of the dogs. When a hunter sets a trap and returns the next day there is an animal left in it. When scientists make gravitational observatories there are gravitational waves arriving towards them.
And yet, the world itself—all that there is, including us—does not speak. It does not tell us why it is. Whether it is. Whence it moves. Whither it moves. Instead, what it tells us is that it is here and that it moves; it tells by the noise of this reality which we cannot remove. It tells us this much by being here, with us, continuing from the very utterance of these words. And it moves, with our speech and the stars across the sky and the hours beneath it. The business of philosophy is the suffering of this madness, of noise.
But philosophy is not a meditation in silence about the noise. Instead, it is the making of speeches which can prompt the noise to speak. Philosophy is the quest to make noise become the most articulate through the only language there is.
The speech of the philosopher is moved by the madness of noise. The way the philosopher’s speech is moved should be understood differently from the way the washing away of the plains is preceded by floods, the way the arrival of a football at the goal post is preceded by someone kicking it, the way nearly everything in this world moves. Instead, that which moves philosophy is yet to happen, which is the articulation of the noise of all things. When something moves without being present it is called wanting. One wants what is wanting. To move in this world by the wanting of this very world is to move differently. To be moved by what is ahead rather than what is behind is to make the noise articulate.
What makes wishes dangerous is the fact that they are granted.
To wish that the world did not exist is to wish that I, just as I am, may be everything –
Voice acquired a new importance in philosophy with Martin Heidegger and Gilles Deleuze. Voice in their context is to be understood as the possibility of there being a speaker who can summarise the meaning of all things without this speech entering into contradiction — the same voice speaks against itself at the same time. The elementary criterion for it is that the same thing should not be said to be and not to be at the same time. This would be a contradiction, and contradiction itself is the limit of another problem, that is, privation. Privation is the delay or distance between a thing and its entelechy for Aristotle. If something is perfect, complete, nothing is excessive in it; nor will something which should belong to it remain outside it — “there is nothing beyond the end point, nor does that which is complete stand in need of any addition”.(1) Privation is the absence of a perfection which is due. Privation in this context means that words say something incomplete about things. It should be kept in mind that privation also meant a kind of evil for the ancients; there are many ways to think evil. The battles over how someone can speak about all things without contradiction, or with a minimal extent of privation, is fought on the level of elementary concepts such as “the one”, “the same”, “the different”, and “the identical”. These problems are complex, in that each of these terms and theirs distinct directions have had schools and long histories of battles
For Barbara Cassin
Prologue: What Moves
Does anybody know what we are living for?
Simone Weil; Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
We will discuss the implications of this word “voice” with minimal references to its histories. It is not that these histories are unimportant, on the contrary, they are a matter with implications within and outside of philosophy even now. We will also keep aside the different meanings of being a philosopher. But assume for now that the philosopher is someone who is obliged to say something about all things which is as distinct an activity as that of being either a mathematician or physicist. We will soon see that even this definition is not enough. First, we will consider the use of voice again in order to see if there is a limit imposed by it upon philosophy. It might be the case that ontology—the discipline which talks about being as such — could be at such a limit.
This is also a conversation across the past two days. When Barbara Cassin spoke about the difference and the responsible relation between Esti and Khairos, and when Divya Dwivedi was speaking about the difference between precarity and what she calls indestinacy we were already in the same conversation. This is due to the peculiarity of metaphysics, and also mathematics analogously, in that when some little corner of metaphysics is brought into attention the whole of metaphysics (which does not bother about orientations) is summoned, or it comes without being asked. There are metaphysicians, such as Leibniz, who thought of each corner of the world summoning the whole world, a thought which would pass later into physical theories. The practitioners of physical theories are often oblivious to the implications of such a thought.
The Systems of Voice
Systems seem to develop like worms
Voice is etymologically related to the speculative root *wek which could have meant speech. The same speculative family gives us the ancient Greek ὄψ (which could have meant face and to see) and the proto-Iranian wā́kš, from which comes the current awaz which means voice. If we step further from the homological principles towards analogy—or into the domain of the function—the old English “steven” tells us something interesting for our purposes. The word “steven” meant “to order”, “voice”, and “command”. Steven is related to the ancient Greek stoma which meant voice but more consistently “opening”, or an outlet or inlet. This sense is retained in “stomach” and the medical term “anastomosis”. Then, there are the unrelated Dravidian languages where the sound “Vay” means mouth, and also opening, as in “va-thil” which means “door”. It is tempting, and even necessary to, poetically engage with this meaning in the style of Heidegger, but that can be cumbersome for this evening. This meaning of “opening” should be retained as we continue from voice to noise.
When we say voice it means something invisible. It is audible, it can be heard. We can tell someone from their voice. This fact is used to authenticate someone, as when signing into a computational device with one’s own voice. So each voice is distinct. There are as many voices as there are speakers. We also talk about voice analogically when we say that a writer’s voice was taken away by the editors. That is, there is a distinct manner in which language possesses each individual writer where the experience of something like contradiction appears when another voice appears, not in what is being said, but in how it is being said. Lucretius could not have spoken the sentence, “The scientific method as it is practiced today, includes three steps: observation, hypothesis, and experiment”.(2)
What applies to individual philosophers applies to a whole epoch. Reading Hobbes requires a different training — both linguistic and philosophical — than the one needed for reading Locke. An altogether different training is called for when it comes to Whitehead who spoke in a voice from a singular epoch to which he alone belonged. Then, reading and listening should be approached the way the great master Heinrich Wölfflin approached the problem of seeing — “Seeing as such has its own history, and uncovering these ‘optical strata’ has to be considered the most elementary task of art history”.(3) There are epochs of the voice in philosophy.
The unique voice of the same person can alternate according to different emotions, which is when we ask “there is something in her voice, is she ok?”. When we say that someone is equivocal a very different problem appears. Equivocating does not mean that they are lying. Instead, it means that they are using a word ambiguously. We can go to a common example. You ask someone over the phone “where are you” and this person responds by saying “I am at the bank”. The word bank when used for the river and for the monitory institution refers to two different things. Another example would be “bark” as in the bark of a tree and the bark of a dog.
But why do we use the same word for different meanings? Why should not there be an empiricist language such that for each variation of experience a word is assigned? Such assignment of meaning for each difference will imply that each individual speaker utters a word which will never be uttered again, by her or another. If there were words for each variation in meaning there would not have been any language. In such an empirical schema no words will be returned to use and hence obtain regularities. In contrast, in the statement “a rose is a rose is a rose” what we should understand is that “the rose tattoo is not the rose ornament is not the rose water”. In the statement “the rose is without a why” we should understand that it is because “the rose is the varying swaying silhouette of copious whys”.
This experience of the impossibility of a purely empiricist language was discussed many times in the history of philosophy. We should briefly touch upon one of the more interesting of these instances. John Locke considered language to be imperfect, infected with privation, on account that “the very nature of Words, makes it almost unavoidable, for many of them to be doubtful and uncertain in their significations”. (4) In the Book III of his “Essay”, titled “Of Words and Language in General” Locke opened a complex problematic of language which continued to demand engagement for centuries including in the theoretical explorations of language as a system of values made up of “sounds and ideas” and from the later Wittgenstein.(5) Most of the attention was paid to Locke’s assignment of the relation between words, the Ideas they “stand for”, and the harmony between two individual “hearers” when these words are spoken.
His investigation into the origins of the regularities of language are equally interesting for us. His question was, how does language escape the condemnation into being the relentless explosion of unrepeatable words — “It is impossible, that every particular Thing should have a distinct peculiar Name”.(6) This impossibility is not due to chance, for Locke, but due to “Reason and Necessity”. It is Reason which assures that there be language: The minimum of words for the maximum of meanings, or for Ideas, and the complexes of relations amongst the levels of Ideas. Locke would find the beginning of Reason in the mother, because to find the answers we have to “enlarge our Ideas from our first infancy” (7); in other words while anticipating psychoanalysis Locke would make his discovery of the origin of voice and therefore of his metaphysics as well. The very first objects with which a child has the most regular encounters are the nurse and the mother. The names the child assigns to these individuals are at first meant for them alone — “the names Nurse and Mamma” refer to their nurse and mamma alone. Then, when they leave the isolation of “first infancy” and enter the wider world children find the familiar regularity of their relation with their nurse and mamma replicated everywhere. There are many Mammas and Nurses. From this forms the very first discursive concept or idea — “Mamma” — the one which stands for the many.
We do not have to continue this exploration with Locke for obtaining a principle for the evening. There are less words than there are meanings. The principles of metaphysics are founded on this economy. The possibility of this economy, that we can speak with a finite amount of words about all the actual and possible things, and call out to the impossible, is the fact of language. Does it mean that language is a system capable of unlimited complexity given through a finite set of rules, or grammar, or axioms? The notion of a pre-fixed set of rules — the machinic theory of language — is also not correct, because the rules themselves are changed by the poetics of each speaker. Children learn and unlearn these powers very quickly. For example, children are known to say things like “I woke up the light” and “I undressed the banana”. This economy of meaning — between illimitable names for each variations of meaning, and finite rules which prove the sentences formed — is at least analogous to the “voice” in philosophy.
This other of language is assumed by some philosophers to be silence, such as early Wittgenstein, who would later appear to abandon the experience of that something which prompted silence of him. This silence grants the philosopher the excellence which was absent in language and in this silent perfection the philosopher imagines a direct access to being as such as meaning as such. This is an authoritarian discourse which asks us to follow the language of these philosophers on the basis of the authority of their access to silence.
No Ball Games, Banksy; Image Credit: banksy.co.uk
The faculties of voice
Artemis the elevated one,
through her appearing,
lets this ‘contra-diction’ peer into beings as a whole.
There are certain ways in which we can make a relation between the two uses of a word, such as “bank”. One of them is through homology; for example, searching through the etymological lines of a word, we will find, if fortunate, a common meaning shared by all the uses of this word, which is called a speculative origin. The second way is to seek analogy, which suggests a common function in two distinct domains, or a common function obtained through distinct arrangements. In the case of the word “bank” we can think of that from which a flow is accessed; the river is a flow of water and money too is a flow, as in the liquidity of money. That is, the function of accessing a flow is realised under distinct conditions by the two cases and they are expressed by the same term “bank”.
Of course, these ways do not exhaust the economics of words and meaning, which includes syntactic conventions and inventions, the weathering of languages and the voluptuous springs breaking through languages. The economy which makes languages possible relies on the polynomia—the power in the same thing to receive many regularities — of words, meanings, syntax and effects. Whereas, the ideality of univocity will make it impossible to speak, and to even experience a thing since each distinct meaning will require that it be assigned a distinct term by each speaker infinitely.
This problem with the economics of meaning and words is implicated in the quest for the voice of Being. In the discoveries of Heidegger we find that the Voice comprehends (speaks of) new words (spoken for) and lets many of the familiar ones fall off and thereby constitutes a new economy of meaning in accordance with the name (spoken of) we assign to the one speaker of the Voice — Idea, Substance, Subject. Perhaps this is a gesture which humans understand as the morality which extends over all the things around us. That is, all the things around us should be like the words spoken by the same individual, by the same voice.
The grander and the most common name for this one voice is the very equivocal term “truth”. Voice is the oldest analogical transport into system; as we know, system comes from the ancient Greek σῠνῐ́στημῐ which says “I gather into unity”. If things correspond to the utterance of this speaker — which could be the philosopher, or it could be God for some theologians, in which case things are at least analogous to the utterance of the speaker — all things should have a coherence. We demand that this speaker should not lie, that this be an honest speaker of all things. We would like the whole world to be a long speech uttered by a single voice. This is the demand which drives the metaphysician, which has now been carried over into other disciplines including physics and computational theory where metaphysics — often bad metaphysics — is conducted while pretending that it is something else.
Linguistics is the discipline we go to when meaning is discussed in the context of words, meaning, and grammar. But the discipline which is concerned with the meaning of all things is ontology. Ontology is the discipline which studies the language of the speaker — the one voice — who speaks all things, or to borrow from Whitehead, expresses all things. Ontology is the quest that the meaning of all things should mean something, as Heidegger would say.
Do we say meaning in two different senses here? On the one hand, there is meaning as something which tells us about the functional isolation of something through a word. On the other hand there is meaning as something which tells us about the common meaning of all things as intended by the speaker of all things; or the name of the one who voices all things (all things are something still). Wittgenstein was alert to this possibility of a double-speak and he denied it in a peculiar way. The early Wittgenstein would speak about two different senses of the word logic: Logic as a relation between words or terms (we are paraphrasing hastily) which form statements; and, Logic as the relation between the statements we make of the world and the world itself. In a lecture course Wittgenstein would claim that the grammar of languages is distinct from that grammar which relates languages to the world. Grammar in this second sense is for him something we cannot describe in the language of the grammarians such as Joseph Priestly, who was on a quest for this second sense of grammar while writing a book of school grammar. In principle we must remain ignorant of the reality of grammar while continuing to use the ordinary grammar we learn in school. We should hold the significance of the analogy of grammar in the case of a Wittgenstein in transition from the early to the later phase—the world itself is something voiced.
So, we do not designate the same thing, or the same region, when we speak of the meaning of the word “computer” and the meaning of the word “Being”; meaning says two different things in these two cases. In the former case, of the “computer”, the meaning of what it means to be something is already understood. In the latter case it is the very meaning of what it means to be something that is at stake. Heidegger’s experiments with crossing out came from this equivocity which is revealed and necessitated by his project.
Now, what should be kept in mind is that the term “computer” can be used to designate “Being” if you like. If we say that the world is that which computes itself and generates statements it will be a way of giving a meaning to this word “Being”. In fact, this determination of the speaker of the world as the biggest computer is already a popular metaphysical model. Let’s call the tendency to interpret things and their totality as computing machines by the term pan-computationalism (8) which has come still in the lineages of pan-psychism and pan-theism. Pan-computationalism sees the whole world as one computer which generates states after states according to determinate rules of transition. The more recent versions of pan-computationalism asserts that this pan-computer is a quantum machine. The dynamic or logical laws for pancomputers can be specified according to the more recent breakthroughs, while retaining pancomputationalism as a genre. These projects of pan-computationalism are mostly naive metaphysics which mask their naivety by pretending to be something other than metaphysics. Their technique of exacting a sense of novelty is similar to what we find in all domains — novelty is produced through ‘active forgetting’ rather than through reason; for example, if we can ‘actively forget’ what Kant said yesterday then today we can enjoy the novelties of the antinomies of reason. These projects have at least three axes: Information theory as a theory of meaning; computation as the theory what it means to be something for everything in the world; and physics which serves the role of explaining the constructability of this model. The constructability problem follows Von Neumann’s “universal constructor” which follows in turn the ideas of the “universal computer”. Some versions of pan-computationalism generously make room for human freedom — “We are clay, but we are computational clay”. (9)
The leading towards
The haunting obscurity of the question has hardly been illuminated
– Hannah Arendt
But this was not the project of Heidegger. Instead, for him, the Being of all things is the Meaning of all meanings.
Pancomputationalism will be one of the many possible functional isolations of the question of Meaning and therefore of its betrayal. The meaning of being for Heidegger is meaning itself. The question for him is “what does it mean for something to have meaning”? Or, “what does it mean to mean something?” Humans ‘lead’ all the things in the world as long as they are able to act as the function of Meaning and as long as they are able to suspend the question “leading to what?”. This is one of the reasons why Heidegger refused to grant the animal a world. Only humans can have a world for him. In this way Meaning of meaning is really human, and also the other way around, as long as the question of “leading to what” is suspended.
Nobody comes to be the function of meaning spontaneously; the two tables of finite elementary items — Meaning and Man — and the mappings between them are not given at birth, as we found with Locke. Instead, being a function of meaning involves functionally isolating the things and making them part of a world. For example, a stick is functionally isolated as a probe to draw out worms which are edible in a world where a comprehending law gathers this function among the others. The functional isolation of things, and therefore the derivation of meaning through functional isolations show simultaneously the plenitude of functions and regularities in everything, including in meanings themselves. For Heidegger it gave rise to isolated epochs of meaning where one epoch experiences all things as the creatures of the Creator; and, in the other case men appear as the creators and all things existing as the collection of the matter for creation.
The noise of all things is the background against which the voice of philosophy is heard—something like a philosophical background noise. It is not the privation of anything nor is it deprived of anything, for as Aristotle said in another context, in the primordial there is nothing evil.
Midnight philosophy symposium at Borothalpada, 2018; Image Credit: Elodie Guignard.
There are two tendencies in the history of philosophy when confronted by this plenitude indicated by polynomia. On the one hand to posit something like a pre-formal something on to what appears as things which stand there exceeding every functional isolation; on the other hand, to give way to the experience of exhaustion before the inexhaustibility of the regularities of all things (which is not numeric as in the tables of meanings we found above) which insists, obscurely, that its erasure can never be experienced.
Heidegger’s meditations on the nothing takes the latter direction. (10) In Aristotle’s terms the nothing is the experience of the fundamental privation, and it refers to the power which sends man to lead; with the knowledge that it is not a certain something to which the leading reaches over. This non-perfection or the fundamental privation of all things is something essential to all regions of thought — a concept which describes all the possibilities and impossibilities of some thing. This non-perfection tells us that things, including meanings, are capable of altering their ways, being capable of homological and analogical explosions, in accordance with the Meaning of meaning that is comprehending man; or as per the vocal strata and vocal foundations of an epoch of philosophy. It is by being comprehended by a certain Meaning of meaning, while being surrounded by the fundamental privation, that man is the step leader of Being for Heidegger. The angst which corresponds to the experience of the fundamental privation is the origin of the experience of power; that is, it is a power only because no goal can be found for it. Whereas power with a bound would be a mechanism which finds its actions determined in advance; in that it will be a powerless mechanism which awaits to receive its spring, or engine, from outside.
The Meaning of all meanings is dealt with by philosophers and theologians in different ways. We can look at one more case to see the different ways in which this game of voice is played. Duns Scotus is the theologian who gave one single meaning to the Meaning of all meanings. He did this by assigning the simplest of all meanings to the term Being. The simplest of all meanings is an ideal, like the line in geometry, an ideal thing that can never be drawn. This ideal meaning for Scotus was identity which was the Meaning of meaning, or what it means to be something. Identity as an ideal is something proper to all things for Duns Scotus, which means the conception of no thing permits conjunction of its other. That is, if X is a thing it must be X alone and not also Y. Earlier, we mentioned that homologies of things allow them to be more than one; for example, a brick can be a hammer, a paper weight, and revolutionary projectile depending on the functional isolations. Whenever we functionally isolate a regularity from a thing there is a law corresponding to that regularity; the power to give rise to a plurality of regularities which can be specified by laws, we call polynomia. Polynomia exists in nature without which there will not be fields of forces nor life. To exist is to be more than one and to be otherwise than itself. Identity on the other hand is something we impose on things on the basis of the functional isolations we find in them, and from this experience we derive the ideality of identity. The ideality of identity is the primary metaphysical fiction for Duns Scotus and others. (It is another matter that univocity can be explored through other idealities, including difference as Delueze attempted it.)
There are reasons for our historic preference for the ideality of identity. First, it is often forgotten that a logic is founded in an ontology and that most of the present logical organs continue within Aristotelian ontology of substance. Second, it is easier to operate logically with identity than with polynomia. Further, the functional isolation necessary to think mechanically and implement mechanical systems can be formalised in terms of identities and regularities.
The assertion of the ideal of identity allowed Duns Scotus to use the scheme of disjunctive attributes of Being to talk about God (but not enough to know Him “naturally”) and all the things in the world without using analogy. That is, God and the stone both have the same simple meaning of identity. Now, disjunctive attributes are those concepts which come in pairs while only one of them can be applied to a particular thing. The most important pair for him was finite and infinite — “before ‘being’ is divided into the ten categories it is divided into infinite and finite”. This primary division is obeyed and followed by other divisions such as necessity and contingency, and necessary and possible. So, as a theologian he would use these pairs of disjunctive attributes to distinguish between God and the world:
[...] a universal rule by positing the less perfect extreme of some being we can conclude that the more perfect extreme is realised in some other being. Thus it follows that if some being is finite, then some being is infinite. And if some being is contingent, then some being is necessary. (11)
It is a theological principle that God is necessary and everything else is contingent without exception. Even when the disjunctive attributes of Being are deployed, it is as if everything, the Uncreated and the created, were expressed or spoken by the same voice.
But we also find that all philosophers and theologians who work towards obtaining the concept of a single speaker to express the whole world are still disappointed with language. For example, Scotus would admit that we can never sufficiently designate the meaning of God as necessary and infinite being. Wittgenstein would express the disappointment in the privation of language, which can also be called the economics of meaning, as “The sense of the world must be outside it”.
Understanding language through the notion of privation—which means a perfection is imagined for it or a certain excellence is demanded of it—leads one to think of the limit of this privation. When something reaches the limit of a privation it gives us its contrary. Rather it shows its other; and, beyond lies generation and genera. The logic of one and two—the ideality of identity and the couples of differenes — follows from the Aristotelian principle that given a range, there can only be two end points for the gradation of differences. This other of language is assumed by some philosophers to be silence, such as early Wittgenstein, who would later appear to abandon the experience of that something which prompted silence of him. This silence grants the philosopher the excellence which was absent in language and in this silent perfection the philosopher imagines a direct access to being as such as meaning as such. This is an authoritarian discourse which asks us to follow the language of these philosophers on the basis of the authority of their access to silence.
The noise of philosophy
À la source
– Noir Desir
Instead of thinking with silence as something in which we pass over the Meaning of meanings we can think of noise as designating that there is something which does not allow us to pass it over. The domain of things in which we experience actions and responses, questions and answers does not respond to any question about itself; but it never stops reason from being driven to the irremovable approach of the noise of the something. There have been ways to designate this something, including “existence”. Existence has been opposed to essence in most of its history. The exceptional rethinking of “existence” is to be found in Jean-Luc Nancy who writes, “The truth is that the thing names itself properly in such a way that nothing precedes it or subordinates it”. (12) The opposition between essence and existence is analogous to that between word and meaning. That is, existence is understood as that which receives meanings and functions. This should not be the designation of the noise of all things. Instead, the noise designates that there is something. This something includes stones, animals, stars, expectations, pains and all other meanings as well. This fact which imposes equally on everything, including us, is a certitude of which we can do nothing at all; we cannot make it go away. This imposing certitude tells us nothing of itself. It does not respond to us. And yet the noise of all things is the loudest of all experiences.
This certitude of the noise is detected at all times: It is the noise of all things once we pause the games of voice for a moment. Noise is not the voice of anyone. The noise is equal across all things, including the stone whose blindness is not a privation. It is without the Aristotelian range, and the games of one and two. The noise of all things is the background against which the voice of philosophy is heard—something like a philosophical background noise. It is not the privation of anything nor is it deprived of anything, for as Aristotle said in another context, in the primordial there is nothing evil.
Lets call the tendency
to interpret things and their totality as computing machines by the term pan-computationalism which has come still in the lineages of pan-psychism and pan-theism
Untiltled, Aji V. N.: Image credit: ajivn.com
What is noise? The information theoretical meaning of noise concerns the pragmatic solution to an engineering problem, which avoids the question of the ends according to which something that can be called meaningful is enclosed and then encoded. Noise, there, is a pragmatically exchangeable quantity. This meaning of noise as the unwanted and its series — the degenerate, the obscure, the filthy, the intolerable, the refuse, the pointless — exists within philosophy too, frustrating it. But the reality of noise lies elsewhere. In this case etymology can teach us something. Noise comes from ναυσία, which comes from the word naus, meaning ship or boat. The word “nau” still exists in Urdu for boats. However ναυσία is the experience of disorientation when one is in the middle of the sea bereft of meaning — sea sickness. Noise is that which gives nausea to man even when surrounded by meaning, or even when called out seductively by the one-voice.
Heidegger’s meditations on nothing which we mentioned earlier have something to tell us in this regard; it is not that the noise is equivalent to the experience of the nothing, but that there is a fundamental difference between noise and Heidegger’s nothing. To find this difference we have to impose a set of faculties or powers foreign to Heidegger’s system for a moment. The experience of nothing — both as the polynomia of all things, and therefore, as the impossibility of anything to come to be its own completion as it finds itself surrounded by its privation as a voluptuous power dreaming of other regularities — is different from all feelings. One feels sad for the caged animal. One fears the storm. But the unhomeliness experienced before the nothing is angst, “a peculiar perfect calm pervades it”. Angst in Heidegger corresponds, not to the noise, but to the polynomia of all things and words which reveal their voluptuousness in uncertain hours — “the essential impossibility of determining it”. That is, when the polynomia of things is experienced they slip away — “We can get no hold on things”. (13)
The noise and the staggering certitude of the something (its disappearance will not be an event) are distinct from the problems of the voice, or ontologies, in that the noise is not the noise of anyone or anything — it is already there by itself. For Heidegger angst is the experience of things receding from their functional isolations and imposing their polynomia upon us. The noise of philosophy neither imposes nor recedes. It is always there: There is something. We can anticipate all things belonging to the domain of voice and meaning; we can formalise these anticipations the way the mathematical biologist Robert Rosen did using category theory to constitute anticipatory systems. A system which determines within itself a model—which can be in an external object, such as “cloud memory” — through the representations of itself and of the orders of causes which are of its concern, is capable of giving itself future as a cause of its state transitions; that is, the often confused notion of internal milieu.
But we cannot anticipate the disappearance of the noise, it is not a possible thought. Therefore, Rosen’s anticipatory system tells us something about noise as the un-anticipatable beyond of the predictive order. (14) If voice corresponds to the problem of the minimum of words for the maximum of meanings — in other words a range of meanings and things can be encoded in a minimum of words which are always less than what it encodes — noise is the problem of addressing that which is in principle beyond the anticipations, that which cannot be encoded. However, the voice of philosophy opens on to the noise of philosophy. Without attending to the noise philosophy will have no voice. All this can be formalised adequately and the logic appropriate to it can be shown; but this is not the occasion for the furrowing of our brows.
Philosophy as philosophy
The thorns which I have reap’d are of the tree
I planted, —they have torn me, —and I bleed
– Lord Byron
Heidegger’s thought on the meaning of all things, or the meaning of meaning, almost always avoided the problem of noise, even in the turning where he thought the “there is” in terms of a structure. The avoidance of the noise led him towards a style of thinking which was often indistinguishable from an ode to silence — "The utterance of thinking is a telling silence. Such utterance corresponds to the most profound essence of language, which has its origin in silence”. (15) If a philosopher shuts herself away from the noise to the seductive envelopment of silence philosophy will have ended for her. Here we should recall that Wittgenstein too had declared the end of philosophy after writing his Tractatus, because he thought he had completed philosophy by handing it over to silence — ‘that henceforth time shall no longer be’ — and suppressing his encounters with noise in the same book. These are our ruins, in the Kantian sense.
Since Heidegger declared the end of philosophy, nearly everything has come to be ‘philosophical’ — anthropological surveys, television panellists, logical exercise books, media reports of scientific findings, political writings with philosophical quotations, technological prophesies, emotive anthems of social movements. One doesn’t speak of the journalistic report of the findings from CERN as a physical theory nor did those who reported Perelman’s discoveries become mathematicians. Now, if philosophy is a card which must be equally distributed and carried by all as a right and then why should it not be a duty too? Until philosophy as duty is thought in politics, as long as under another name or without a name if the philosophical activity is able to take place these consequences of a mistaken declaration of the end should not matter.
It is often to define themselves out of these situations of confusions that philosophers often say that philosophy creates X, adding a difference to the genera of the domains of human action, where each domain is understood to create its own specific object; this X can then be Idea, distinctions, categories, concept, freedom and so on for philosophy. This is still very different from saying that mathematicians prove theorems: But then so do machines!
We should make this gesture of “philosophy creates ...” for this evening too. When philosophy creates, it does so with the responsibility towards everything — including the ethers of the scientists and the famines advancing in many parts of the world — in such a way that what is created establishes a formal arrangement which accounts for everything in relation to the noise, which cannot be modelled. If the thought of the difference between Being and beings is what led to Heidegger eventually, ambiguously, speaking of the end of metaphysics, we should either read him again carefully — because he followed Duns Scotus on the differences for which no genera can be found (16) — or, we should enquire into that—the noise—which is outside of the order of anticipatory systems, and its relation to voice. It is not philosophy unless a difference, on a minimum, is instituted within the history of the formalisations of these relations: Idea, soul, double recognition; substance, privation, predication; existence, analogy, being; Being, difference, beings; Noise, reason, voice. The sciences, which are themselves historical, need philosophy as its history gives it in order to avoid the pitfalls of bad metaphysics, as Einstein would find eventually.
The angst which corresponds to the experience of the fundamental privation is the origin of the experience of power; that is, it is a power only because no goal can be found for it. Whereas power with a bound would be a mechanism which finds its actions determined in advance; in that it will be a powerless mechanism which awaits to receive its spring, or engine, from outside.
Illustris Project; Image credit: Wikimedia Commons
The noise is the mother of philosophy in the Lockean sense. Philosophy is the science of the formalities of the relation between noise and voice. The end of philosophy will be impossible to think without thinking the end of the noise, which as we found is beyond the orders of anticipations. Philosophy today must attend to the distinction between the series of the thought of ontological difference — which includes differance of Derrida and the difference of Deleuze — and how it avoids what it avoids, the noise. Philosophy proceeds, unlike what was metaphysics, without the desire to overcome the noise, nor to refer it still to a meaning without any meaning. This is not a mere formal exercise, as it never is the case with philosophy. But without philosophy — understood as we found it to be — we will soon be swallowed up by the very privation of all things, which technological corporations mistake for the absolute object of the production of production in an unending loop.
1. Aristotle, Book IOTA, 4, 1055a.
2. Bergson on Lucretius’ poem, p 57, The Philosophy of Poetry: The Genius of Lucretius, Tr. Wade Baskin, The Wisdom Library, NY, 1959.
3. Heinrich Wölfflin, Principles of Art History: The Problem of the Development of Style in Early Modern Art, Tr. Jonathan Blower, The Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, 2005, p. 93
4. John Locke, An Essay concerning Human Understanding, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1975, p. 476.
5. It is possible that the “private language argument” of Logical Investigations was countering a simulation of Locke.
6. Ibid., p. 409.
7. Ibid., p. 411.
8. In a earlier occasion we called its discipline “information theology”. See Mohan and Mohammed, “On Information Metaphysics”, Public Sphere from Outside the West, Bloomsbury Academic, UK.
9. Seth Lloyd, Programming the Universe, Vintage, New York, 2006, p. 210. Leibniz who called for an epoch of computation to resolve all conflicts finds a mention in this work in the context of his invention of the differential calculus. It is another matter that technically and metaphysically what Leibniz meant by computation is different from pancomputanalism which obviously take inspiration from him.
10. See Martin Heidegger, “What Is Metaphysics?”, Pathmarks, Ed. William McNeill, Cambridge University Press, New York, 1998.
11. Duns Scotus, Philosophical Writings, Tr. Allan Wolter, Hacket Publishing Company, Indianapolis, 1987. See C. L. Shircel’s Dissertation The Univocity of the Concept of Being in the Philosophy of John Duns Scotus (1942), for the theories of predication which underlie the establishment of the relation between the ideality of being and its attributes.
12. Jean-Luc Nancy, A Finite Thinking, Stanford University Press, California, 2003, p. 118. Also, see Sense of the World, Tr. J. S. Librett, University of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis, 1997. Interpreters of Nancy since then, while interpreting his corpus in terms of its relation to Derrida, Heidegger, and the Romantics — the search for genealogies, the members of which are radically altered by philosophers, tend to recede from the new explosions of conceptual rigour and logics instituted by philosophers — often missed the possibilities for philosophy beyond Heidegger’s end created by him and simultaneously, due to this fact, failed to recognise his works reticulating contemporary philosophy.
13. Heidegger, 1998, p. 88.
14. Without intending to, because noise in the above discussed sense is not its concern.
15. M. Heidegger, Nietzsche Volumes 1 & 2, Tr. David Farrell Krell, Harper One, New York, 1961, p. 208.
16. But that style of thinking makes a quick exchange of the noise for God.