Monday, March 14, 2011

A Device That Kills With Gravity

So, I decided that queerness, idealism, Plato’s world of essential forms, but also the transcendent, the conscious mind, intelligence, love, math, self-awareness, God, could all be collapsed under the term “artificial.” Sexuality, materialism, physics, death, catastrophe, the Spinoza substance, all these things can be collapsed as “natural.” Noah found this fairly grandiose and sloppy, but I still like it.


All intelligence is artificial. That is the prime religious frustration. Also why aspects of Christian poststructuraslism are less annoying than New Age pantheist poststructuralism. But I probably never would have started attending church if it wasn't for the gay utopia.


Isn't the Christian idea that intelligence is primary — the one thing that's not artificial? In the beginning was the word, etc.?


Artificial, as in always already constructed, and in opposition to all things that function in obedience to forces of inertia. The Word was in the beginning. Artificiality exists without and previous to nature.


Yeah, I'm not following that. God's intelligence is before the world; it's the most natural thing. It's what creates everything else. So intellect isn't artificial, or at least God's isn't.

Or you're saying it's artificial precisely because it's previous to nature? That the Word is artificial? It seems bizarre to call god artificial...shouldn't he be the one thing that's natural if anything is?


no, see- God as nature is pantheism. that's the transcendence thing.


There's a difference between saying it's transcendent and saying it's artificial though, surely. If anything it should be reversed, I'd think. Transcendence means god is natural and nothing else is. Push that far enough and you get gnosticism, I guess, but gnosticism is a christian heresy...


Heresy is heresy. Nature is trees. God is distinct from trees, although hardly irrelevant to trees.


I deny that nature is trees. Trees come from nature. But nature isn't necessarily the natural. It could be artificial. Like in Solaris.


Not trees. So... nature is laws of nature? Deep math? Whatever you call it, it's a process, an aggregate of force vectors, something that we are intimately part of at all times. Not our intelligence, our awareness of ourselves, which makes everything strange and secondary and reducible to deep math. The possibility of an absolute that creates nature comes from an absolute that perceives nature, which is our intelligence. Giant brains, weird bodies, straining at the surface of the shrink wrap around totality, totality itself starts to change as it is perceived and understood, and an outside seems as clear as the fact that somehow the space in our heads has become a space outside.


Nature is Bacchus, like in C.S. Lewis. But Aslan is natural.

I was just reading Hume, who argues that procreation creates intelligence rather than the other way around. Our intelligence is as much a part of nature as our loins, surely. If we make a watch, that's artificial. If God made nature, then that's artificial. Artificial is what's built, not the builder. I guess you could say our intelligence is not part of nature since it's connected to God...but I don't think that makes God artificial still...


Brains and loins (and lions) are natural. But, in fact, so is a watch. Metal and glass (or sand) are natural. The concept of its purpose is what even makes it a watch.

There is no outside to nature, unless you are aware of yourself, or of God.


But putting metal and sand together into a watch is different than having just metal and sand. A watch is metal and sand plus artifice. Reading Kristeva, who seems to agree with you re consciousness being un-natural. She doesn't call it artificial though....


Right-- the watch is natural, except for the artifice. Same with the brain.

Kristeva is writing in a different language (perhaps), but she's also an atheist. If you want to say that "artificiality" is somehow an anthropomorphic fallacy, you need to explain what the difference between "artificial" and "unnatural" might be. I certainly have no problem with de-anthropomorphizing the term "artificial." Birds' nests are artificial. Footprints are artificial. But the simple cause-and-effect logic is not enough to sustain a distinction between nature and artifice.


So you're saying the brain is different than the rest of the world becausethe brain is the only bit that has been created using artifice?

That doesn't seem right...?


The brain is natural, except for the artifice. The intelligence itself, that you could call a property or effect of the brain, I call artifice. It puts a hole in reality through which reality can operate upon itself. It inaugurates the possibility of a world. That's why it's like God.

Kirkegaard said "I choose the absolute than chooses me. I posit the absolute that posits me." That was my Facebook post a couple days ago.


Hmm. Artifice still seems like the wrong word. Transcendence works better I think. Or noumenal.

Yeah, I think material and noumenal or material and transcendent is much better here than natural and artificial. The latter have too many other connotations; it ends up being confusing.


Sometimes being confused is worth it. I'm proposing a concept, not just a definition. God and Not-God is too vague-- because either everything is one or the other. God is everything and there's no Not-God, or, well, God is just dead.

I'm talking about something that involves not cutting off spirituality from the "normal" world. That's the whole point. The cross is artificial. It's a device that kills with gravity, and spreads fear among people, and then a symbol allegedly repudiating those things. The Word (as you point out) is artificial. Language is technology. It's not spiritual, as such, when you call someone an asshole or order a latte. What makes it transcendent is the artificiality, the outside-reality. This possibility allows for a much more complicated environment that doesn't let the "numinous" be mistaken for indigestion and subsumed in DNA.


I knew it wouldn't be that easy.

You should use whatever concepts you like...but it's just very hard for me to see how the Word which is the base of everything isn't more natural than the tree that it makes. Artifiice may make the world, but the artificer isn't artificial.

I think...maybe paradox would help? Neibuhr's idea that love is both the fulfillment of the law and the antithesis of the law...perhaps what you need is to see the Word as both the fulfillment of nature and the antithesis of nature? It's both outside nature and the definition of nature. Neither gnosticism nor pantheism but holding them in tension.


I have fears about cozying up to paradox. William Desmond and betweenness and the metaxological. It makes me think of wholeness and wonder and following your bliss. It's as if God could only exist when you're satisfied and happy and warm-- but of course God matters most when you're desperate and hungry and crazy and sick. Balance is a supremely pantheistic notion in the first place. If you're that balanced, though, how can you move or change or think or act?


Neibuhr's notion of paradox isn't a static whole, though. It's not between and balance, but both and tension.

For love and the law, it's the idea that love is the thorn in the heart of the law; the thing that denies the system and fulfills it. The need to satisfy love through the law is impossible and imperative. It's not a pantheistic everything is happy. It's more like Cioran; religion as unendurable ache.

For intelligence as the basis of nature and as the beyond of nature it could work somewhat similarly I think. The need to reach God and get beyond nature/the material is the impossible fulfillment an denial of our nature. It's a description of fallenness; nature holds us, but intelligence (like love) demands we wrest ourselves from it.



Sure. I mean, Christ announces Himself as the fulfillment of the Law. And he is love, and of course he goes around defying the Law and ticking off the Pharisees and Saducees all day, and gets killed for it. Love is Other and irruptive and disruptive, true, and it allows healing and defies death.

What happens both in the Eden story and on the cross is that the artifice that arose from within the universe doesn't just bump into but spills over into the artifice from which the universe arose. The intelligence, which I maintain is not "false" but denies mundane ideas of reality and authenticity that are bogus precisely because they are based on phenomena that arise and dissipate, is a wound, or a thorn... love is not obviously the same thing to me, although it does work quite well as a superior substitute for "balance."

Or it's just that I'm talking about ontology and Niebuhr is talking about ethics. It may be a fine analogy.


"The intelligence, which I maintain is not "false" but denies mundane ideas of reality and authenticity that are bogus precisely because they are based on phenomena that arise and dissipate, is a wound, or a thorn..."

This is why I think calling it artificial is a problem. You're not saying it's artificial, but that it's more real than real. It is the gnostic thing; the world is a transitory veil; the thing that is solid is god.

I'm not saying that reality is love (though that's not an unChristian idea, come to think of it...) but that the way Neibuhr put together the ethical paradox might work ontologically as well.

Maybe thinking about Eden would work? Eden is both "really" real and outside reality; it's the platonic ideal. What causes the loss of Eden is the knowledge of good and evil — so intelligence both casts you into the real (material) and causes you to lose the real (Eden).

It seems like that should sync up with intelligence specifically as well. The knowledge of good and evil is why you exit Eden; intelligence tosses you out of reality, though it is also your link to it — or at the same time intelligence hooks you to reality, though it is also your passage out of it.....


Nature is still nature. It is what really is. That's why it's different than you saying God is natural and nothing else is. We are divided between our natural and artificial aspects, and God is as well. Nature is tangible but not immortal. God is an idea but not mortal. I'm not saying one is more real than the other.

Eden is a great example, as is the proto-semiotic state before language. Love exists naturally before language, but then must be reconstructed, artificially, both through and in spite of ethics.

Intelligence destroys us, it destroys everything around us, it is clearly not in harmony with nature. It also makes us free like nothing else around us, and capable of experiencing destruction, violation, and suffering like nothing else around us.


Intelligence is natural though. It's what makes us mortal, first of all, if you accept the Eden story. And it's natural to us; it evolved. Our intelligence isn't *that* much different from a chimpanzees'. They can even talk to us.

And surely God is supposed to be what really is. Moreso than nature even, which is why he'd be more natural than nature, and why in C.S. Lewis the wood between the worlds is a wood.

Intelligence here is kind of becoming free will, isn't it? The thing that separates us from nature and requires from us ethics. It certainly makes us free like nothing else. I think it's maybe presumptuous to say that it makes us more capable of suffering...?


Using Eden AND evolution against me. How diabolical. And, according to you, natural.

Evolution is natural. Creation is artificial. Brains (to reiterate) are natural. Consciousness (which still seems like something bugs might have) is perhaps also natural. Intelligence is something else, whether humans or robots or dolphins or aliens or chimpanzees have it.

And it includes free will, but that's hardly everything it means. It means limitless desire, language, problem-solving, and two big aspects of the Eden story, shame and the awareness of death. There is a site that is a subject, a space that should not be a space, that violates conservation of matter-- if it was actually matter and not just thought.

And this is not to devalue nature. The importance of wilderness as that which we are somehow in an undeclared war with, that overwhelms and envelops and, tamed or not, sustains us-- extends to our own bodies. We are not in any way better than our bodies. But we are not at one with them.


I'm not using them against you. I am helping you clarify your ideas. Naturally.

Evolution is natural. Creating an ant hill is natural. Creating a toupee is natural (though the toupee itself is not exactly.) Creating the universe seems like it should be natural as well.

We may not be at one with out bodies, but is the disjunction there well-described by saying that our mind is artificial and our bodies natural? We're not a calculator chained to a dying tree. We're an angel chained to a dying animal. Both angels and animals have minds; just different kinds; and while you could argue that an angel isn't natural, I don't think you'd usually call it artificial.

Eden is a metaphor for the world before intelligence; prelapsarian infantinnocence. It's also a metaphor for a world outside nature. Intelligence shackles us to the world and cuts us off from it — neither of which is whole oneness happiness, both of which are crucifixion/castration. I don't deny your being in the world and not of it as our tragedy, but I think our tragedy is also being in the world and of it. We're natural and not, but that includes our minds. The binary isn't mind/body and isn't nature/artificial. God's natural but not nature, and we are too, though less naturally.


Paul says, "If anyone be in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away. all things have become new." i can expand more later. but my goal is to deal with atheist materialism on one hand, and Zizek and Eckhart on the other, who insist that God needs us as we need Him.


"New" isn't artificial, though. Surely the metaphor there is a
rebirth, not being smelted out of plastic....

What does the "need" consist of? Parents need children...


Rebirth is not natural. Resurrection is not natural. You can have some issue with calling it artificial, but the whole zombie/cyborg as Messiah totally works for me-- it is a thing that should not be, except that it must be.

It also comes down to a queer thing. Not that homosexuality is unnatural (although the term itself is weird), but its very natural-ness throws off the way we equate natural with real-- and heterosexuality with procreation.

Artificial is not false. Angels are perhaps the only intelligence that is artificial, so far-- God is divided between natural and artificial, as are we, as I have stated previously.


Yeah; zombies don't seem artificial. Unnatural, yes.

I think your terms don't really work for you if you don't want artificial to be false, is what I'm saying. Artificial really does mean false in most ways it is used.

If it comes down to a queer thing, maybe you should use natural/queer?


I think it's perfectly fine to alternate terms sometimes-- "queer" is a pretty good synonym, insofar as "all sexuality is artificial sexuality" seems equally valid to "all sexuality is quer sexuality," and for basically the same reasons.

"Queer" is also properly a term meant to designate a specifically marginalized community, and I sort of think honoring that community from a Christian standpoint should also mean acknowledging siblinghood without wholesale appropriation.

But I do think "artificial," especially post-Warhol, post-Terminator, is just as ripe as "queer" for rehabilitation as a term. Christians should be allowed some divergence of opinion on sexuality (although that's ethically uneasy, it seems as valid a discussion to permit as the one over abortion), but by no means should Christians be comfortable with the eliding of all differences between nature, reality, and truth.


  1. I’m wondering if a phenomenology of what we normally mark off as “artificial” might be in order here in order to find an ontological Archimedean point, which Bert seems to refer to as the “Natural” and Noah aligns with the Gnostic “more Natural than Natural” (correct me if I’m wrong). The rub is, whatever The Natural is, it alone defines the paths that Artifice and Falsehood alike can trod (maybe the two are equivalent, like Plotinus might suggest). One of my profs midwifed my realization that even (metaphysical) Idealists must be Naturalists – though they locate the ontological locus within the mind, that Naturality constituted by experience is nonetheless the totality of Naturality. The rules of The Natural constitute the only game in town. However, to wearyingly cite Kierkegaard’s riff about life being lived forward but only being understood in reverse, I think we have to first embrace the fact that whatever the Natural may be, we are not privy to it – our lives are thrown in and amid vast structures of Artifice. Certainly the Natural still pervades our ecologies, but we can’t distinguish it with certainty without tracing what’s obviously Artificial back to its source.

  2. [As a side note, I think the vagueness of terminology lies not with the notion “artificial” but instead with “natural”: the history of philosophy may offer more unacknowledged connotations of the concept “natural” than of any other term: anthropological teleology, physical reality, biological determinism, the Stoic/Deistic fountain head of reason and ethics, etc. I think it might be more helpful to follow Noah’s suggestion at using a term more evocative of permanence and stability, such as “transcendence.” But I’ll keep rolling with your terms.]

  3. Bert claims that the Natural resides in all things (or vice versa, perhaps), and The Artifice washes over some of them (“the watch is natural, except for the artifice”)…however, The Artifice is more of an acid bath than a paint job (The Artificial “puts a hole in Naturality through which Naturality can operate upon itself”). That means that Artificiality is inherently recursive – out of and back toward the Natural. Noah, I love the association of the tragically enlightening Fall with the intelligence’s artificiality – is it fair to say that the Artificial is the Natural’s self-reproving gaze into the mirror? But I don’t think you go far enough in that direction, Bert – yes, Artificiality is the recursion of the Natural, but this is a temporally-compounded event. Back to that in a moment.

  4. For instance, I just finished watching the Banksy documentary “Exit Through the Gift Shop”, where a street artist-turned-gallery-hack called Mr. Brainwash produces (among myriad simulacral exhibits) a gigantic spray can of (of course) Campbell’s Soup. A mildly amusing derivative of Warhol’s ubiquitous rainbow soupcan. But when I call the work “artificial”, I’m not simply saying that the spray can is mechanically produced, mixing labour and resources – the same could also be said of any normal can of soup. Of course both types might then legitimately be called “artificial”. But it’s also not entirely correct to attribute the artifice at work in the fact that the giant can is a humongous likeness of an actual product, albeit updated for the age of aerosol. It certainly is artificial in this sense as well, because it lacks the function of a regular soup can – but at this level of thinking, the regular-sized functional soup can can’t be referred to as “artificial” with regard to the giant caricature, because it embodies some Naturality which the “artwork” mocks. At a third meta-level, however, the full artificiality of the piece comes into view, because it is more than an assembled painted-metal object and more than a bastardized grocery item – it is an “artistic” take-off on an artistic take-off (namely, Warhol’s painting). The piece is now, by my reckoning (admittedly arbitrary), three meta-levels away from being “natural” (in the sense of being found as natural resources):

  5. 1. Cultural – turning resources into a product (tin-->can, wood-->paper label, plant-->dyes for label ink, etc.)
    2. Economic – Commodifying, marketing and selling said product
    3. Artistic – Ironically noting and playing with various features of the product and its cultural context.

    (I understand that you're delving into realms more metaphysical than this, but I think that the "meta" aspect of these level-leaps can rightly be categorized as Artificial in the same sense as many of the other topics you've employed.)

  6. The spray can piece leaves the orbit of even the third level, leaving no doubt in my mind as to its status as “artificial”. If we work backwards, then, maybe we can recover the threshold of “the Natural”. (Baudrillard is thrashing in his grave, no doubt). Of course, the Andy Warhol soup can painting was once considered artificial in several respects, but with the advent of the Mr. Brainwash soup spray can, its source material (vis-à-vis Brainwash) must be considered Natural in some manner. The only alternative is to imagine a gigantic superstructure of Artifice, growing through time: but this doesn’t seem to envelope the essence of Bert’s definition of Artificial connoting construction, God, idealism, intelligence, reflexivity, distortion.

    Well, I’m sure I bungled some of your definitions and ideas…Thoughts?

  7. I think pointing out the way that artificial often denotes copying is useful. That's part of the idea of God's naturalness for me, I think; he's the first thing, not a copy of a thing. You can see humans as artificial (made in the image of god,) but god himself would be the soup can, not the picture of the soup can.

    Bert was talking about liking the idea of Christ as zombie or cyborg...and you can sort of see Christ as a copy of man, I suppose, though the copy in this case is supposed to be more perfect than the original.

  8. Dang, Drew!! Thanks for commenting! I would have been at work not seeing this one-man thread, but instead I was sick in bed (that rhymed).

    I'll talk about the Warhol thing. I've managed to avoid the Banksy movie thus far, but I get the concept. There's a lot to say about why the Campbell's spray can is such a relatively uninspired piece (at least Shephard Fairey would have written "Obey" in the Campobell's font or something), but the main problem is that it misses what Warhol did that was so amazing, which was essentially to translate Duchamp to a mass-culture context. The image of the soup can is art for the same reason an image of a tree or a sunset could be art-- without it being a particularly unusual tree or sunset, or putting Greek myths in front of it. But now the epic sublime inhuman scale of natural beauty can be subsumed by the epic sublime inhuman scale of human production.

    So, it's not that artificial things have replaced nature, but rather, in effect, the artificial element that always made nature possible (accessible to intelligence) is tangible in a new way.

    The key points of artificiality to keep in mind are God, intelligence, and... language. Language does not create new levels or grow exponentially, like Drew suggests, through layers of reference. Instead it operates like the unconscious, collapsing in a vacuum of infinite deferral. Nature is kind of the "leftover" that really actually is expanding-- entropy!

    Noah also commented on his son learning language, and how it seemed like the most natural thing imaginable. Julia Kristeva thinks that children are sad about learning language, but he thinks that's wrong.

    I don't think there's anything necessarily pessimistic about the artificial. In fact, the poststructuralist nominalists who lament the end of nature and reality, and everything just being about language and play, are really the ones who don't think it's possible to escape from the natural totality. But if God isn't dead, there's no reason to feel alienated and abandoned when realizing you're separate from the nature that surrounds you.

  9. Emerson, from "Nominalist and Realist:"

    The magnetism which arranges tribes and races in one polarity, is alone to be respected; the men are steel-filings. Yet we unjustly select a particle, and say, `O steel-filing number one! what heart-drawings I feel to thee! what prodigious virtues are these of thine! how constitutional to thee, and incommunicable.' Whilst we speak, the loadstone is withdrawn; down falls our filing in a heap with the rest, and we continue our mummery to the wretched shaving. Let us go for universals; for the magnetism, not for the needles.

  10. And also this:

    Nature will not be Buddhist: she resents generalizing, and insults the philosopher in every moment with a million of fresh particulars. It is all idle talking: as much as a man is a whole, so is he also a part; and it were partial not to see it.

  11. Okay, last one:

    We fancy men are individuals; so are pumpkins; but every pumpkin in the field, goes through every point of pumpkin history.

  12. None of that suggests that men are artificial, though. Isn't it generalizing to say that men are pumpkins? Attempting to derive systematic binaries (God artificial/nature natrual) from Emerson is like trying to nail water to the wall with a pumpkin.

    Separating God and nature is, divine and material, is basic to Christianity. The question is whether it makes sense to define nature as natural and God as artificial. It still seems like a weird division to me.

    In some ways it seems like you should switch it; make nature the artificial bit. It's the mechanism that runs and runs according to its rules, the planets clicking into their orbits like grinding gears. Intelligence is then our one way out; the self-reflective bit that pulls us out of the clanking of fate and allows us to move naturally or freely. It also opens up the possibility of behaving *unnaturally*, as opposed to artificially — the knowledge of good and evil means we are no longer pumpkins. Or not just pumpkins, anyway.

    This keeps your cyborg/zombie christ. Christ is both bound to the wheel (nailed to the cross) like a pumpkin, and heir to a natural freedom (walking on water, for example.)

    Intelligence gives us the option to be natural/unnatural, rather than (in addition to) being artificial. The Buddhist error (from a Christian perspective) would be in conflating the artificial with the natural.

  13. I can nail water with pumpkins till the cows come home-- or any variation on those three items (water, pumpkins, cows). The real challenge is lighting a pumpkin on fire with melted ice cream.

    Every variation on my systematic binary, however, stops being compelling once you think about it for a minute. Trees really are nature-- otherwise you end up with trees as a aspect or effect or result of consciousnes, which really is Buddhist. But we don't create trees; trees create trees. Our bodies don't exist as a creation of our mind; our minds exist as a result of having bodies. No mind creates tsunamis and earthquakes; movements in the earth's crust create those things. And everyone knows that when most machines break, nature is usually to blame. That's what Emerson is talking about with the unpredictability of nature. And yet, unlike God, all of these things can be objectively discerned-- the facts of materiality or decay or vibration or combustion are clear to any sensible being, intelligent or otherwise. But purpose is something that must be guessed at, whether in the cosmic meaning of a terrible epidemic, or a piece of ancient technology.

    God must be found behind everything that can be objectively discerned. Intelligence is like Emerson's generalized magnetism that causes there to be any hope of making sense of anything, but the intelligence itself will not suffer being made sense of.

    Jesus was not only a zombie cyborg, he was THE zombie cyborg. Every other zombie and every other cyborg exists in his shadow, and is reassuringly transparent. We see in the zombie and the cyborg a poignant reflection of ourselves, but it's a reflection of an apocalyptic and optimistic future that was revealed two millenia ago.