Tag Archives: sentience

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Adam Robbert bringing the Foucault and Deleuze eco-style: 

For Foucault, then, the nonhuman impresses itself onto anthropic space through the production of laws and regulations, the production of material infrastructures that manipulate human behavior and perception, and the enforcement of practices that condition human beings. In Foucault’s understanding, the human is always born into a larger historical condition that is not of the same kind as any one person’s individual experience, an experience that is, to an indeterminate degree, an effect of historical trends rather a starting point for historical evaluation. 

Similarly, for Deleuze, nonhuman forces already act on the inside of human experience. Here all knowing is an inter-species effort; multiple species are always on the inside of anthropomorphic space, undermining it from within. The Kantian transcendental subject is for Deleuze a complex and multiple collective of diverging syntheses of cognition and perception. If Foucault initiates a move from the transcendental a priori to the historical a priori then Deleuze initiates a similar movement—from an historical a priori to an ecological a priori. Crucially, the enfolding of divergent species into human cognition marks not just an ecological basis for all human thought—a mark that suggests that all human thought is dependent on a multiplicity of nonhumans living and dying on the inside of human subjectivity—but more cosmically that human cognition is a higher dimensional enfolding of spacetime itself, a synthesis that makes the vastness of the cosmos thinkable to the human mind.

What I like about Adam’s framing of F & D here is his seemless demonstration of how each of these Frenchies are already thinking ecologically in their appeals to structure and materiality, without having explicitly stated as such. Reading Adam’s post (here) reminds me exactly why the work of these two gents is so near and dear to me: each attempts to think about the structural dynamics embodied in material relations of power, subjectivity and episteme in an ecological manner.

I cannot stress enough how important it seems to me to find ways of operationalizing the insight that nonhuman forces always already act on the “inside” of human experience, as the non-human-in-human – the dark flesh conditioning and positioning hominid experience. Experiencing bodies are complex multiplicities of synthesizing assemblage – higher dimensional enfoldings of space-time…

“[M]an and nature are not like two opposite terms confronting each other – not even in the sense of bipolar opposites within a relationship of causation, ideation, or expression (cause and effect, subject and object, etc); rather they are one and the same essential reality, the producer-product” (Anti-Oedipus, p. 4-5).

“Where does the mind stop and the rest of the world begin? The question invites two standard replies. Some accept the demarcations of skin and skull, and say that what is outside the body is outside the mind. Others are impressed by arguments suggesting that the meaning of our words “just ain’t in the head”, and hold that this externalism about meaning carries over into an externalism about mind. We propose to pursue a third position. We advocate a very different sort of externalism: an active externalism, based on the active role of the environment in driving cognitive processes.” – Chalmers & Clark (1998)


In this paper, Clark and Chalmers present the idea of active externalism (similar to semantic or “content” externalism), in which objects within the environment function as a part of the mind. They argue that it is arbitrary to say that the mind is contained only within the boundaries of the skull. The separation between the mind, the body, and the environment is seen as an unprincipled distinction. Because external objects play a significant role in aiding cognitive processes, the mind and the environment act as a “coupled system”. This coupled system can be seen as a complete cognitive system of its own. In this manner, the mind is extended into the external world. The main criterion that Clark and Chalmers list for classifying the use of external objects during cognitive tasks as a part of an extended cognitive system is that the external objects must function with the same purpose as the internal processes. The authors present a thought experiment to further illustrate the environment’s role in connection to the mind.

From “Ontogenesis and the Ethics of Becoming“:

KY: In terms of the Stoics, how might their approach to “dying well” offer us some resources for thinking amidst our current scene of ecological reorganisation that is named the Anthropocene?

EG: The Stoic concept of ‘dying well’ is immensely important not only when we consider the effects of imminent social collapse on each of us and our possible responses, but also when we consider that we are placed in an immensely vast universe where the call to ‘live well, according to one’s principles’ provides us with a connection to the universe, a fully material universe, as the Stoics understand it, which is nevertheless ordered and framed by an order they call ‘incorporeal’. To live well is to live, not according to the opinions and values of others – what we cannot control – but according to one’s own rational sense of one’s place in the world, according to actions we can control. To live well is to live according to what one can control, one’s own inner states, one’s own bodily behaviour, one’s own principles. This position is fundamentally anti-egoistic: it is directed to a knowledge of the world and one’s place in it. However, as a psychical attitude – perseverance, acceptance, self-reliance – I suspect that Stoicism is perhaps not the best psychology for struggle, as the devastation of many of the earth’s resources draws closer. Nietzsche understood that in times of violence, the Stoics were immensely life-affirming in their fortitude, but that in times of peace and plenty, he prefers the Epicureans (The Gay Science #306). The Stoics affirm that we are the subjects of destiny, which is indifferent to our needs and interests. The task of a reasoned or reflective life, a life lived in according with what is beneficial to one’s nature (according to one’s own understanding) is a life able to fully affirm its destiny, a life that seeks to be worthy of what befalls it, even as it has little or no control of such a destiny.

This is a very similar line of thinking that led me to pick up and start practicing Stoicism in the first place- and what has also led me to look into radical variations of ecopsychology that lead us towards first an acceptance of the situation as it is, devoid of ideological blinkers, and thereby to being able to adapt to it and act within it. At some point soon I hope to have some drafts or outlines up of reflections on these concerns in relation to the questions of suicide, eco-catastrophe, and extinction.

Elsewhere in the interview the above excerpt is taken from Grosz links the Stoics to Spinoza and nietzsche in a philosophical counter-tradition. I would say that this is the tradition of ontological corporealism that I identify with and unsurprisingly with an ethics centred on compassion and care. To this tradition we could add Schopenhauer, Merleau-Ponty, Deleuze, Ernest Becker, Judith Butler and geo/eco-feminists such as Stacey Alaimo and Grosz herself.

Albert Camus wrote that suicide was the only serious philosophical question. Today this must be said of the meanings and the projects of extinction.

Psychologist James J. Gibson originally introduced the term “affordance” in his 1977 article ‘The Theory of Affordances’, which he subsequently elaborated his book The Ecological Approach to Visual Perception in 1979. Gibson defined affordances as all “action possibilities” latent in the environment, objectively measurable and independent of the individual’s ability to recognize them, but always in relation to agents and therefore dependent on their capabilities. For instance, a set of steps which rises four feet high does not afford the act of climbing if the actor is a crawling infant.

An affordance is a relation between an object or an environment and an organism, that affords the opportunity for that organism to perform an action. For example, a knob affords twisting, and perhaps pushing, while a cord affords pulling. As a relation, an affordance exhibits the possibility of some action, and is not a property of either an organism or its environment alone.

“The affordances of the environment are what it offers the animal, what it provides or furnishes, either for good or ill. The verb to afford is found in the dictionary, but the noun affordance is not. I have made it up. I mean by it something that refers to both the environment and the animal in a way that no existing term does. It implies the complementarity of the animal and the environment. The antecedents of the term and the history of the concept will be treated later; for the present, let us consider examples of an affordance…” ~ James J.Gibson (1979)


Seminar introducing John Foster’s new book ‘After Sustainability’

with discussion by Prof Jonathan Wolff, Philosophy, UCL, and Prof Albert Weale, Political Theory and Public Policy, UCL


Dangerous climate change is coming. It has been clear since Copenhagen that the political will to make adequate cuts in global CO2 emissions isn’t going to be generated in any foreseeable future. The international attempt to shift the world by agreement onto a “sustainable” trajectory, always half-hearted, has failed.

But denial is not confined to those who refuse to see the serious environmental damage we are doing; it extends equally to those who refuse to see that we have missed our chance to stop it. The roots of such embedded denial lie in progressivism. Exorbitant resource consumption is the form in which this mindset has caused environmental damage in the first place; latterly, it has manifested itself as wilfully self-blinded technological optimism.

But what if we stopped pretending?

Environmentalism is about what is wrong with us here and now, not only what that might mean for the future. Our environmental situation is tragic in the full sense. Tragedy entails losses which can’t be mitigated or compensated, but it can also reveal us to ourselves in ways from which we may be able to learn.

We can’t really predict what will happen on the ground as global economic and ecological systems unravel. We must build existential as well as economic and social resilience, arming ourselves with recognition, insight and flexibility rather than with plans or blueprints. If we approach what is coming with a realism thus grounded in genuinely non-optimistic life-hope, we may here and there come through it.

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