Oh yes, TJ, your musings make sense, there’s no doubt about that.
The thing that gets me about potential, though, is that it is endless. If it can be anything, then it’s probably nothing.
One of the things that quantum physics, for example, is showing us is that reality as we know it is a kind of realization of potential. Sheldrake glosses over it in his talk, too, when he talks about the collapse of the wave function. Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle tells us that you can know the momentum of a (subatomic) particle or you can know it’s location, but you can’t know both. It’s the observation that makes the difference. So, literally, light, say, can be a wave or a particle depending on how you look at it. I wouldn’t want to generalize the details of this to the macro-world, but I think the principle applies, namely that observing that wave doesn’t produce just anything (though potentially it could be anything, I suppose), it is either a wave or a particle. In other words, there is limited number of actualities that are sensible for a given observation.
I believe that Mr. Sloterdijk recognizes this which is how I understand his insistence on exclusion: the sphere as container (some things are in, everything else is out). Distinction and discernment are the very foundations of any kind of recognition. If you can’t create some kind of contrast, nothing can be seen, for example. But contrast is limited in the range of intensity that makes it contrast (at night, all cats are grey, as the Germans say, but for you there are no cats at all if you’re blinded by the light). Similarly, there may be, as the post-structuralists and postmodernists pointed out, an infinite number of interpretations of a text, but a Jordan Peterson reminds us, only a limited number of them are legitimate; that is, make any real sense. There are limits and it might just be to our advantage to push the envelope, so to speak, but in full awareness of the fact that that is precisely what we are doing. I’m not sure that death and destruction on the “other side”, but the postmodernists have made it perfectly clear, as far as I am concerned, just how much nonsense there is “out there”.
And so, I see the model (if that is what it is) that Mr. Sloterdijk is developing (if that’s what he’s doing) as just that: a model. A model tells us, “this is how it could be”. To me, though, a good model tells us, “this is how is appears to be” and a great model tells us “this is how it most likely is”. My experience has been that good and great models conform to certain criteria that the efficient aspects of all consciousness structures have agreed on: coherence, consistency, parsimony, elegance, explanatory intensity, relevance, to name just the first few that spring to mind.
Any model, then, has the potential to be useful. I think you have done an excellent job of summarizing the primary features of Mr. Sloterdijk’s and I believe that things can be done with that which can be very helpful and useful. I, for example, have never found Freud’s model very helpful because (a) it took too much specialized knowledge to understand (Freudians are always telling you that you didn’t really understand what Freud was saying), (b) it struck me as arbitrary (why three parts, not five, and Sloterdijk has demonstrated that he thinks five is better), (c) it was fragmenting, not integrating (that is, the parts of the model are separate, distinct, and can never unify), and (d) it really didn’t help me in my everyday life (for example, dealing with adolescents at a boarding school).
Well, Freud’s model is not without value. I don’t find it all that exciting, but there have been thousands of Freudian analysts who I don’t doubt for one minute have helped hundreds of thousands of people lead “better” lives (in some sense of the word). One of the problems with Freud’s (or anybody’s model for that matter) is that they tend to be absolutized (one of those deficient mental hang-ups, I suppose), and instead of recognizing a tool for what it is, it becomes the overarching reality itself. The fact that this model has changed so little over the years is evidence, to me at least, of how unscientific it is. New information should inform modification of the model, and while a certain guarded resistance is to be welcomed, that’s not how our modern scientific community operates. And once the materialists became the majority in that community, well, it was possible to simply ignore Freud and move on. Ignoring things doesn’t make them go away, and as @johnnydavis pointed out in our last online conversation, his model is still very much a(n unrecognized and unacknowledged) part of our understanding of ourselves.
So, while I do recognize that Mr. Sloterdijk’s model has potential, I have to ask myself if it is really adding something to my own understanding of who we are. Wobbly ontologies are for me a sign of inconsistency and lack of coherence. The convoluted and often overly obscure paths that he takes to make the simplest of points lacks elegance in my eyes. The fact that he’s got a five-pole model of self that includes poles that are not-self (for at some point who or whatever I am must distinguish itself from what I am not … there’s that distinction and discernment again) and, in my mind, that is not being parsimonious. And, the fact that he’s waging some kind of quixotic fight against a broken-down windmill (Freudian psychoanalysis) simply strikes me as a bit irrelevant for my own life. But, let me repeat, that’s just me. I find that I’m simply investing too much time and energy for too few results.
This is not to say that Mr. Sloterdijk’s ramblings are worthless. If it weren’t for the online conversations and these pre-/post-conversation discussions, I would have tossed in the towel during the first reading. But, the other readers and participants raise issues and topics that are relevant for my own Quest and so I engage them as best I can. They keep me honest and mitigate the hostility born of frustration that I feel when I’m being confronted to too much nonsense, which for me includes apparently essential features of a model that could be excluded or perhaps disregarded or are perhaps not as essential as they first appeared to be. I haven’t penetrated the mystery of why we readers have to be kept guessing.
But, be that as it may, what really prompted me to respond here was this observation:
Nail. Head. Smack. A deep question to be sure, but the addendum is just as deep: connection beyond physical means. For me, then, the short answer is a resounding “Nope!” Digital technology is a tool that can enable connection, of course, but so is a bicycle when I want to go over to my friend’s house to play or the car when I drive south to visit my daughter and our extended family. There are cycling fanatics, to be sure, and there are folks who practically, if not literally, worship their automobiles, but nobody’s thinking about elevating these to the divine levels that we are apparently doing (or allowing to happen) when it comes to digital technology.
Even if we don’t always see things eye-to-eye here in our Sloterdijk discussion group, I, at least for my part, feel a connection to others in the group. We are sharing a common experience, whereby “common” means anything but “the same”. Put differently, we are all experiencing the same phenomenon (our reading of a particular book) and sharing what we are experiencing with each other (and potentially (!) with anyone in the future who watches the recordings or reads these forum postings). That connects. Well, at least I feel connected to everyone involved. What’s important for me in this regard is that this connection does not go away when I turn off my computer or go about my daily business. There are times during the day that something that Marco or Michael said in one of the online conversations floats back into my mind. In addition to the thought itself, there is the feeling of connection that resonates with. Depending on the intensity and afffectivity of any connection, this could also come up months or weeks or even years hence, when I’m talking to someone who was never involved and who doesn’t know any of you others who were involved and they may use a word or phrase or bring up a topic that is connected to what were wrestling with now.
I hate to bring up quantum physics again, but it does provide some very useful metaphors. Bell’s Theorem tells us that if two subatomic particles were once connected, they will always be connected regardless of where they are. If, for example, there are two connected particles each with positive spin, and at some other point in time they happen to be on opposite ends of the universe, if the spin of one of them changes, the spin of the other automatically changes as well. It’s spooky, of course, because it demonstrates non-local causality, which in Newtonian physics simply may not be.
Well, one of the logical consequences of this is as follows: we know that all atoms are made up of subatomic particles (regardless of how we envision these). We also know that every atom in our body is changed out about every seven years. We know that those atoms don’t go away but must go somewhere so they probably end up being part of the new cells, say, in some other organism or whatever. Going back in time, to the Big Bang ultimately, we know that all those billions of stars and galaxies are giving off atoms and particles that are also being used somewhere, and no doubt some of them end up being part of our own physical selves. Since Bell’s Theorem tells us that once-connected-always-connected, we’re all made up of particles that we once part of something else, but we’re connected anyway. So, everything is literally connected to everything else. But then we have to ask the real question: so what?
Obviously, the physical connection, which is no doubt real, is not as a big a deal as the connection we described above in relation to our conversations, etc. What really makes a difference, in my mind, is the awareness of connection, on the one hand, and the affectivity of that awareness, on the other. Being aware of the physical connection increases its intensity (at least to me) and the same applies to non-physical connections as well. These can be technology-mitigated at some point, but Bell’s once-together-always-together still remains. We see this connectivity even more poignantly in other non-technologically mitigated and non-biologically determined groupings like neighborhoods, communities, nations, cultures, religions, or similar constructs, be they mundane, secular, or spiritual.
Now, any materialist worth their salt will simply tell me I’m just confusing the issue with the facts, but in the end, I would argue, it’s really a matter of what you believe. I believe in connections because there is good physical evidence for it and in my own reality that has a non-physical aspect to it as well, the evidence seems to provide further support for the facts, too. So, for the moment, at any rate, for this all depends upon the discovering of new facts and probabilities that may entail a revisioning of those beliefs. But as Sheldrake points out, we need to be open to that, too.