Bubbles, Live Conversation #5 – 6/22 – Return to the Womb Edition




[mp3 download]

###Machine transcript
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Marco V Morelli
Michael Schwartz
John Davis
Wendy Ronitz-Baker
Ed Mahood
Dona Abbadi

##Previous Announcement

Dear @spheres readers:

A reminder that our next live conversation will take place this Thursday, June 22nd at 12 pm MDT (time-zone conversion).

We’ll be discussing Chapter 4, along with the following Excursi, pps. 269–342

  • Ch. 4: The Retreat Within the Mother – Groundwork for a Negative Gynecology
  • Excursus 2: Nobjects and Un-Relationships
  • Excursus 3: The Egg PrincipleInternalization and Encasement
  • Excursus 4: “In Dasein There Lies an Essential Tendency toward Closeness.” – Heidegger’s Doctrine of Existential Place

Here’s a link to the Zoom video conference registration and call-in instructions (if you still need this)


I look forward to our time together!

Sorry I had terrible internet connection today and my connection towards the end was unstable.

Looking forward to our next meeting.

That’s OK, Dona. We were just finishing up. See you next time :slight_smile:

It is never too late to become an Old Child.

After watching the video and feeling confused by my own pubic speech, with all of its’ ins and outs and odd pop ups, with a sense of relief, I went out to my fire escape ( on the fifth floor) and looked out on the tall trees, which have grown a few feet this last year and which creates the wierd effect of floating above a forest. I anticipate that continued growth will create a bower of shady trees around my firescape and that I can return to this spot in the months and years to come and relax my boundaries.

I do my breath work and enjoy the sensations of the prana flowing and allow the pleasant sensations to take over and expand. I feel the flow of the energy is gentle and re-connects me through this bit of plant life, in my own courtyard, to a larger nature. The sky is blue, the breeze mild and a mourning dove lands a few feet from me and grooms himself. He is a he because he is a little larger, with stronger markings, than his elegant mate, for she comes around my firescape too. A cardinal, dashes past me like a furious red bullet, that flash of red, with a sharp pointed helmet on, intent on getting somewhere. Birds and animals have memory and desire…

Below I hear a door open and see a man put garbage in the can and walk back to the apartment house. He is with a woman and I hear their treble voices but not the words. I wonder if they are aware that above them a man can watch them and above me there may be a satellite looking down at the top of my head. Out of the big pipe a belch of smoke, but luckily the breeze carries the foul smoke in the opposite direction, so the toxic waste is evaded, and my reverie continues. An empty black hefty bag floats, gracefully, from the roof of the building.

I feel that I am being looked at. I notice across the courtyard from the window of an apartment a gray cat with a white spot at the neck is observing me. In another apartment next door is a white cat with a yellow spot who is looking down at the courtyard, transfixed no doubt upon a mouse, scampering about in the damp shrubs, far below.

“What keeps a civilization going ,” says Jane Jacobs, the great urban planner," is the sidewalk. There are a thousand eyes on the street. They are watching. They keep order, they are aware of strangers." The danger is that without sidewalks we just look at people through car windows and get out of touch with the sense of human rhythms, of the polite forms of address, the smile, the nod, the courtesy, the kindness of strangers.

What will it take for us to become a companion species? They are watching us, participant/observers, curious, open to new information, coming through our affects and gestures and sounds. The animals, as Rilke noted, are aware that we are not happy in our man made world.

I am a sign among other signs, a communication system, within a vast communication system, myriad messages and meta-messages, doing my best to pay attention,to what my neighbors, the cats, the birds, the trees are paying attention to, looking for the pattern that connects, for the difference that makes a difference.

And if this is delusion? I hear a voice, an ancient voice, from within my sensorium, who says," It is a harmless delusion."

It is the voice of the OLD CHILD.


Nicely expressed!

So… the view from page 342 according to Philosophy for Idiots named TJ

(Human) Being precedes thinking - or hearing or imagining/dreaming, etc.

(Human) Being assumes community.

Communal links, relationships, or collectivities are, at least metaphorically speaking, spherical in nature. They are ‘containers’ of various size, durability, and definition for the Beings inside. Reciprocity makes them “round” [in what I’ll call a kind of ‘orbital’ dynamic]. Time limits their existence.

Older, “unscientific” ways of expressing these links and relationships were on to something, if not in themselves “correct”.

The womb represents the “primal” human experience of sphere. That this experience normally happens prior to the development of sense of self is less important than that it is close to ‘universal’ (in the sense of development rather than methods of birth or other varying individual results). It is reasonable to assume some effect on later life, even if as subconscious underlining of some widespread drives and impulses.

The Modern Age is generally based on rejections of the above.

Am I anywhere close to what anyone else is getting here?


What you call a sphere, TJ, I expressed rather clumsily in the video as a container. A kind of family resemblance.The container motif is pervasive and we project it onto everything no doubt produced by the experience of the womb. What are cognitive frameworks but efforts to put lots of things into boxes and try to make them stay there?

Reports about pre-natal experience is sketchy but I have had such experiences and have read the reports of many others and am open to consider that we may not have a good model for this. Certainly the reductive models are not going to sanction pre-natal psychology.

Grof is a great researcher and has much to say about what is beyond the brain. He speaks of a mosaic of traumas.


As with so many things, what we mean by those words we use to label things can make a lot of difference in how they are understood.

Working in reverse order, it would seem that you are using the term “Modern Age” to mean our current state of being/knowing/understanding/… . If that is the case, even a “generally” probably needs some closer specification, especially in determining how the womb-phenomena you describe are to be understood:

It may be that Sloterdijk is postulating that birth has some universal significance (meaning?) that is not universally accepted. If one is a strict, monistic materialist, one who denies the reality of consciousness as such and who views it as an epiphenomenon that needs to be explained away not accounted for per se, then whatever occurs at or through the process of birth is nothing other than natural, physical-material phenomena that has physical effects later on. If one accepts that consciousness is a real phenomenon that must be dealt with on its own terms, then the process of birth could have effects later on that are not strictly limited to the physical-material domain.

As I understand him, psychoanalysis was the first real attempt to deal with the effects of birth in a scientific, albeit non-physical-material, way. They granted that the experiences were pre-self (however we decide to understand what we mean by that) but that through proper methods at least negative effects could be identified and possibly remedied. I also understand Sloterdijk as saying that these folks got it all wrong anyhow. It’s not like they thought, rather we can better understand what is really going on there by approaching the phenomenon “sphereologically”.

Here, of course, we bump again on the notion of “sphere”, which we early on in our discussions more or less agreed was not ontological (not a necessary condition of being) but a metaphor to help us grasp the togetherness that one can imagine in various human (at least) situations, for, it would seem, that Sloterdijk is predisposed toward presuming that human beings are social animals. Social, like the word “communal” which you use, may be too broad in scope, for I get the impression that he is maintaining that all human experience is essentially, or at least initially, dyadic: there are always at least two of something involved, even when we are not conscious of that.

This would explain, perhaps only in part, his excursions into heart-centerer intimacy and faciality, for there was always an “other” involved. In the previous section he expanded his considerations to include some kind of unspecified, not-clearly-defined effect over distance between at least two subjects as well. Alleging that mesmerism was in fact the precursor of psychoanalysis allows him then to plunge a bit deeper into an area that psychoanalysis at least appears to claim as its purview (and provides the set-up for making clear that they are insufficient to the task). (If my conjecture is correct, the next step is to assert that from the very beginning of human being (which for Sloterdijk is conception), there is another that enables the formation of a “sphere”, namely the placenta. I can hardly wait.)

The question of when human beingness begins is non-trivial. There are some (Sloterdijk, fundamentalist Christians, others I’m sure) who maintain that conception is when it starts, but we then have to ask what we mean by “conception”. Is it physical (egg impregnation? nidation?) or, perhaps, mental (let’s try to have kids). For those for whom it does not start perhaps at conception, however conceived, when does it start? Do we have to, or are we ready to, or is there a case to be made for reinstituting the “soul” into the discussion, or can we get by with just “consciousness” (pre-self, of course)? Or is birth rather than conception the start, as it would seem is the currently accepted model, though for very different reasons, and it is the traditional model, if I can call it that, as well.

This is why I think you have touched upon a very important (and still unclassified) aspect of his argument, namely all of this is pre-natality is pre-self, pre-individual consciousness as we normally understand it. @johnnydavis54 is right in pointing out that some people have “gone back” to “relive” some of those experiences, and this all may be perfectly valid, even if it is uncorroborated and unverified (in the scientific sense), because science, as we generally understand it, is ill-equipped to deal with phenomena such as these. I would take his very politely formulated statement and state categorically that we have absolutely no reasonable model for pre-natal psychology, but primarily for the reasons I stated above. Depending on how you thought about the last paragraph, you will no doubt come to a different conclusion in regard to the implications of this one and whether a pre-natal psychology even makes sense.

Nevertheless, it appears, to me at least, that Mr. Sloterdijk thinks there’s so much there that we need to go even a step further. I would feel less queasy about that if he were making clear that he’s thought through the consequences of his own model, but as was made clear in the last online session, this model is not completely clear to any of us, so there’s no way to really know what he’s thought through and what he’s merely throwing out there, as idea or provocation (I don’t always know which).

Now, I’m not sure all of this really addressed your very important question, TJ, but it’s helped me get a few things somewhat sorted in my own mind.


O day and night, but this is wondrous strange!
And therefore as a stranger give it welcome.
There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio,
Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.


Yes, and I used the word generally because totally would certainly be too strong. I would put the “closer specification” (and all of this presumes I have an inkling of what Sloterdijk is telling me - more on that in a minute… LOL) as the counterpoints (at knowing risk of caricature) to my list above:

  1. Cogito ergo sum.
  2. (Human) Being is essentially individual.
  3. Collectivities are not warm, intimate ‘spheres’ but systems. (And, true to form, our current metaphor would be ‘networks’ or ‘webs’ - which I personally wouldn’t disagree with on the ‘macro-social’ level…)
  4. If it ain’t “scientific” it cannot possibly be “on to” anything.
  5. In connection with #4, a pre-linguistic “experience” cannot possibly be of any use to us (i.e, womb schomb, “life” begins the first time I look up at Mom or Dad and say ‘NO!’…)


Exactly. For a book that flows so well (in English), I am still feeling an overall lack of clarity, which I’m still willing to attribute, as I said before, to not knowing the subtexts and contexts well enough to truly make sense of things. (But like you, I had comparatively little problem following the much more information dense Gebser.)

This of course is the core of it, in physical and/or metaphysical terms. When does Sloterdijk think human beingness begins? Where do his thoughts lead him? Of what is he trying to convince me? I have only conjecture at this point.

(I’ve already started. He is so far deliberately avoiding use of the word placenta, I notice…)


As always, sir, very well put … and what is more, ever more stimulating of thought. Hence, a few of my own in return, whereby I will openly admit up front that a few of these comments may drift afield of direct answers. You – nor anyone else – is under any obligation to read all of this, as it ended up much longer than intended (whereby the techology is simply not in a posiion to reflect what you said or my reaction to it: not everything is "item #1, after all, you had a list.

As for your “closer specification”:

Tallis has convinced me, it’s a rocky road. The dualism that has been derived herefrom is shaky, and it starts in many regards way to late (see your own closer-specification #5). Still, a very good place to start, and one upon which anyone who is serious in exploring the matter should be willing to deal with.

I was firmly convinced of this at one time, but the older I get the less certain I am (and, BTW, for all you youngsters out there: this happens a lot when you get older). I don’t think we can begin to think of Being as individual at all; human beingness, well, I can’t help but think there is so much (language, culture, how we have come to organize our human lives, etc.) that may be as irreducible as selves who make up those cultures and ways we have organized our lives. But again, I think this is an excellent starting point for exploring meanings.

Agreed, which is one of the reasons that the “spheres” metaphor feels constricting to me. Yes, spheres can be conceived as encompassing whatever one wants to have them contain, but other metaphors highlight the dynamics of what is happening within them. In that regard, spheres don’t do it for me.

One of the biggest problems I have these days is with the term “scientific”. English speakers are at a distinct disadvantage. You’ve always been open to my “language lessons”, TJ, so indulge me once more:

The German word for “science” is Wissenschaft (whereby, Wissen = knowledge or knowing; and -schaft = denoting certain categories of group, state of being, or activity). We could say, in a manner of speaking, that Wissenschaft is a kind of “knowingness”, a particular “way of knowing”. Granted, the English word “knowledgeship” says nothing, but it gives us a lot to think about.

What this means in the grander scheme of things is that in German, we can have subjects such as Naturwissenschaft (“knowledgeship" about nature, the natural world), but we can also have Humanwissenschaft (“knowledgeship” about humans), or Literaturwissenschaft (“knowledgeship” about literature), and the list goes on an on. In other words, any ordered, orderly, somewhat systematic, focused, based-on-agreed-principles-and-assumptions way of looking at given phenomena is a legitimate way of looking at those phenomena. Karl Popper, an Austrian who ended up being more English than the Anglo-Saxons, pushed this systematic way of looking into the empirically based and, in the end, materialistic oriented, notion that science, if it was to be called a science, had to have concrete (read: numerically expressed) data that could be interpreted. (OK, I’m accusing Popper of things he is not responsible for, but the Anglo-Saxons picked up on his insistence on empiricism and turned it into a notion of science that is, to say the least, inadequate for the purposes for which it was intended. Make your assumptions clear; make your methods transparent; gather data according to your methods, interpret that data in line with the assumption framework you have set, and you have a “science”. Just not in the English-speaking world, for there we have pre-reduced it to absolute-measurable phenomena. That is, for me, a game-breaker when the word “scientific” is used.

The point is, depending on how you understand “scientific”, we may or may not be onto something. There are, as the saying goes, more than one way to skin a cat.

Heh, heh, heh … you hit the proverbial nail smack dab on the proverbial head. Just what does it mean to be a “self”, and your definition is arguably the best one I’ve heard yet.

Which brings me to the real deal: it doesn’t surprise me that the translation is better than the original. Umberto Eco quipped that “Translation is the art of failure.” I’m not sure, to be perfectly honest, that we are reading the same book. (But that is, for the moment, beside the point.) Why is it that you may be having difficulties with the text? I don’t believe that it is because you’re ill-equpped to understand what he is saying.

Regardless of the actual medium, I’ve long used a very simple model of comprehension that is, I believe applicable, irrespective of language, namely, Barrett’s Taxonomy of Reading Comprehension. This is certainly not the be-all-end-all of comprehension models, but it is as pragmatically applicable as it gets. The attached file will show you what I’m talking about.

Here’s the point: substitute “intensities” for “levels” and you’ve got a Gebserian model of reading comprehension. Then, just for fun, take this model and apply it to Sloterdijk. In other words, just try, for the fun of it, to formulate comprehension questions that you would ask in, say, a class which you were holding that was using Sloterdijks book as a text. Questions at the so-called “lower” levels (i.e., recognition, recollection) would be easy to formulate. Questions at the reorganization level would be more difficult, and, truth be told, would probably take up most of our effort: what did he say here as opposed to what he said there; how does he express “intimacy” in different places in the text; how does his apparent meaning of word x here differ (or is comparable to) from his use of the word x there, and so on. If I look at our online and forum-based discussions of the text, we do one helluva lot of this. We haven’t even got to the “level” of interpretation (that is, drawing conclusions from facts/statements made at different places in the text), let alone “judgment” (making an evaluation of what he is actually saying), or even, heaven forbid, “aesthetics" (how well did he he achieve his alleged intent). I’ll admit: that’s why I’m having so much trouble with the text, for too many of these apparently simple questions are rather difficult to answer when it comes to the text itself. (But, others — cf. Richard David Precht — had these problems too. At least I’m not alone.)

This isn’t the only comprehension model “on the market”, but it is, as far as I’m concerned, one of the most effective. There’s a Kabbalistic model, based on literalness, figurativeness, symbology and knowledge that we could also bring in, but neither of these has really anything to do with the current state-of-the-art which is, ultimately, literalness as the reader takes it to be. It is dissatisfying for me to talk about a book in which one person says “I see this” and another says, “it makes me think of that” and yet another says, “It seems to me that …” and even another says, “Perhaps it is …”.

In such cases, the author is being neither “brilliant” not “provocative” nor really anything else: he’s being obscure. Anyone should be able to understand a text at the so-called literal level. The words as they are combined and presented on the page should be enough to make sense of what the author is saying. I don’t even get that impression in our discussions. The rest, the other “levels” of potential comprehension, is beyond me. You don’t need to understand the subtexts and intertexts or any other whatevers that you think may be there. You are an intelligent, insightful human being and you should know what what he is saying. The fact that none of us, apparently, seem to know this raises red flags for me. But, then again, I’m the curmudgeon, and curmudgeons miss a lot in life. I’m only sad that no one can apparently fill in the gaps.

Which brings us to our next reading. I’m not surprised at the author’s avoidance, but I can’t shake the apprehension that what I conjecture may in fact be the case. I’ll start reading the new section as soon as I get up the courage, but I am also going to try a different tactic with this reading. I’m not going to analyse, I’m just going to let it come as it is. Maybe I’ve just been reading him wrong.

I don’t know.


So, the next chapter. I liked this one a lot. The Nobject one in particular. And the Nobjects are the invention of Thomas Macho. I tried to dig up more about Macho - he is clearly an important figure in the field of cultural studies, although it’s hard to found out a lot if you don’t speak German. I want to find more about Macho. The Nobjects raise questions that I think are interesting. In fact, in general, I am more interested in questions than answers. Sloterdijk raises tons of questions, many of which I have never, ever thought about, and I have read quite widely. This, for me, is gold - questions, in my professional life, as a researcher, are what matter. Not answers.

Also, pre-linguistic experiences, just because we couldn’t remember them, or articulate them, don’t mean they are not important. I had several traumatic experiences as a young man that I forgot for many years. So I don’t think that idea that we don’t remember means things weren’t important. Also, hidden experiences can be teased out through research in time. These ideas are too recent to have been investigated much, but I think they could be investigated. I am currently working, here in Australia, at an institute for research into mental health, and I am raising some of these ideas - Sloterdijk/Macho’s ideas - with psychologists in order to try to tease out whether it is possible that pre-linguistic experiences with “nobjects” may have an impact on our lives. Just assuming these things cannot be investigated is overly pessimistic. Now, I do think Sloterdijk goes too far in some of his ideas, but I think that about almost all writers/thinkers that are like dogs with bones, trying to chew out every speck of goodness from the bone, but often go too far. (I looked this up, it was actually in the next chapter… I’ll come back to this later.)

The other thing I have been thinking about Sloterdijk, it is in many ways a mapping more than a history. It looks like a history, but it acts like a map. Maps have reference points that may have origins, but the maps don’t show the origins, they don’t even suggest the references have origins, but they show how different references points relate to each other. I actually admire Sloterdijk’s writing, at least part of the time.

Following John, about bringing in personal stories in relation to the text, I dreamed, well, I had a vision, let’s say, about my conception, about the intrusion involved. Was it a dream, a vision, a memory? None of the above? I think the idea of “imagining” what occurred intra-uterine may be a legitimate way of getting at what may have actually happened. Just as when people “imagine” hidden memories, the imagined elements often reproduce parts of the forgotten experiences, even if we should be careful not to infer that the experience imagined was the experience lived. Also, I think his speculations address the issue of when a “porto-person” begins to emerge from a set of coordinated cells. In a sense, rather than look at the experience of the foetus from the outside, he tries to put us inside, to look outward as it were. I always think that is useful.

In response to Michael, and this issue is whether Sloterdijk is saying something beyond the simple loss of the womb - I think there is indeed. The loss of the womb is something we’ve known about for decades, perhaps centuries. But the particular structure that he speculates occurs is pretty major, even if it is complete fiction as Ed suggests. I don’t think it’s complete fiction, I think what he is talking about makes good sense. It needs to be verified, and not simply accepted uncritically, but what is being proposed is pretty significant… I think. For the mental health issues, I am trying to “think through” how Sloterdijk’s ideas about the intra-uterine experience might affect ongoing research in mental health. Interesting.

By the way, John, I loved the way you talked about the Moebius strip and the Klein Bottle, the inside and the outside which flow into each other, as well as the presentation of image schemas such as the container metaphor, beautifully presented!


I appreciate your points of view, Geoffrey, on some of these delicate thought bubbles we are working with. I looked back at some of this video and am rewarded by the development of some of these themes in a’ cross over’ way between different kinds of discourse.

I have a lot of trouble with the tendency among materialists and reductivists to deny transcendence as just the by-product of the imagination. As if scientific inquiry is above the imagination. . I believe we need to focus on the differences between imaginative rationality and deficient quantitative mentality that seems to use the imagination while denying the imagination is real. Selfish memes and the DNA as top down manager that replicates itself is a product of a hyper-imagination. all kinds of performative contradictions ensue, the reductivists tend to obscure their own foundations. This is becoming less and less tenable and it is also profoundly boring. What we are exploring perhaps is a movement from early Modern to late Modern?

And what about the Imaginal? We have hardly scratched the surface of what this could be. I am quite aware that in Visionary states that many report that what they experience is not remotely produced by the personal imagination but is as objective zone of experience shared with ‘other’ intelligences who can share the experience in inter-objective ways. Fractals is a useful metaphor but there may be others. We are in a self reflective universe. Different levels of description are brought into play which cant be reduced to selfish memes or the battle of the fittest. I hope you can join us in the next live event. I would enjoy hearing more from you about what you are investigating.