I spent a good chunk of Friday involved with two Latour-ian events -- one, where I was presenting a slice of my paper (with a hefty Latour section) to a seminar at work, to a bunch of straight techie types who were not very sympathetic, and two, where I went as a spectator to an event devoted to "speculative realism" and "object-oriented ontology" at the California Institute for Integral Studies. I felt roughly equally out-of-place at both -- well, no, not really, I am far closer to the hardnosed engineers at work than I am to the ethereal scholars of "philosophy, cosmology, and consciousness".
During the talks, I had to suppress my internal voice saying this was all nonsense, and appreciate that these people, like me, are just trying to frame an understanding of the world in which they find themselves, and if it suits them to do it through reference to dead Germans (Schelling) and live Frenchmen and Buddhism and Wordsworth and I don't know what all -- then it deserves to be appreciated for what it is.
But for a great deal of the program I could not for the life of my figure out what the fuck they were going on about, all this stuff about noumenon and phenomenon and withdrawal and primary vs secondary sense data and apodicity and on and on. I have spent some of my energy critiquing cognitive science and mechanistic theories of mind, but that's because I have internalized their ideas, which are built on science. These people seem to have not a clue or the slightest interest in, say, what's known about the physiology and computational structure of vision that could contribute to an understanding of what goes on when we perceive something, preferring instead to natter on about what Schelling thought about what Kant thought about what Plato thought "red" meant. Not only are they uninformed by science or mathematics, indeed, they seem to be deliberately avoiding it.
Another hint of what might separate me from these beautiful souls -- I sensed that all this philosophizing was based around a hidden assumption that the universe revolved around humanity and the human mind -- hence the attraction of idealist philosophy. The appeal of speculative realism, in fact, is that it starts to hint that the universe may just not be all about us. That's a good trend in philosophy, but my starting assumptions -- based on personality and training -- are quite the opposite, I'm perfectly comfortable with the idea that the universe is a soulless and uncaring machine that happens to have accidentally coughed up some self-regarding chunks of protoplasm out on the edge of an obscure solar system. Not these scholars of consciousness -- for them, the mind is more primal than anything else and the problem is reconciling the rest of the world with it. Hence the whole program seemed devoted to simply teetering on the brink of allowing that objects might have a reality in their own right, separate from the mind. Well, duh.
These humanists are no doubt nicer, better adjusted, perhaps saner people than me. Mechanism has some serious flaws; the image of the universe as a mindless machine is not really all that attractive or life-supporting, which is why I seem to be constantly looking for ways to modify or enhance it. The intent of the philosophies on display last night is to try to bridge the gap between mind and world, ideal and real. I want to do that too, these people are just coming at it from the opposite side.