JFM theory of the imaginal

13 Oct 2023 01:57 - 19 Oct 2023 02:44
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    • What it is: a dualistic metaphysics, the natural, material, causal world on one hand, and the imaginal, supernatural, acausal world on the other. Calling these "worlds" may be misleading, they are obviously closely connected.
    • Oh a sudden revelation, he's trying to repair his mind-body dualism, machines may not be quite what we thought they are.
    • The material world is dead, the imaginal world is also the world of life, of spirit, of mind.
    • In short it presupposes dualism or vitalism
    • Machines are not merely physical but imaginal
      • He seems more surprised by this than I am.
    • Related
    • His thing on Reductionism and Holism really pissed me off.
    • That's what the imaginal is, the power of things to exist onm its own as a whole
      • And this "trnascends its existence as part of a causal system"
      • "the power of cheese"
    • Draft of a post
      • I've been having some trouble with JFM's theory of the imaginal. To the first order, I think I agree with it, at least as in terms of general values – the imaginal is real, and important. But what it is, how it works, how it relates to the non-imaginal, whether it is somehow more foundational than its opposite – on that, I get confused, or disagree, or resist, more often than not. I haven't quite figured out how to process this. This is my attempt, and I apologize in advance if I oversimplify or distort JFs views. Also, apologize in advance if I come off as argumentative. I don't want to do that! JF is, I believe, attempting to describe the universe as he sees it, and if I see it differently, that is interesting (to me at least) but doesn't make either of us wrong.
        • [trim] Part of me wants to have an argument, but I don't really think there is the basis for one. JFM is trying to sketch out how reality appears to him, and who am I to say he's wrong? I don't actually want to say that, just that it appears differently to me, at least in some aspects.
      • The root of these difference is probably background. I'm a techie and I spend my life working with machines (well, sort of. Computers are pretty different from traditional machines, and working with them is not quite the same thing as designing carburetors or operating a lathe). I have different intuitions about what it means for something to be mechanical, or digital. That there is something imaginal about them is pretty obvious – any engineer spends his days trying to get the material world to fulfill an imaginal vision. Like humans, they have both material and immaterial aspects. I think on this point I am in agreement with JF, although maybe we draw different consequences.
      • I have different feelings about reductionism – which would probably require a separate post, but I don't think it's quite as bad as it sounds, to put it in crude terms. I'm marinated in a scientific naturalism which holds that minds are not supernatural intrusions into the material from a higher realm, but products of evolution like any other part of a living system. I think this view, properly understood is perfectly compatible with the imaginal and the weird, and I would like to develop that idea. OTOH I acknowledge that reductionism can't be the be-all and end-all of thinking, there is a place for holism, and I'm trying to figure that out for myself.
      • My main objection to JF's theory of the imaginal is that it comes in the form of a dualism – there is the material world on one hand, and the imaginal world on the other. The first is causal, mechanical, meaningless, and kind of dead and grim. The other is acausal, overflowing with meaning and life, the seat of consciousness, mentation, and soul itself. This is probably a drastic oversimplification, and I'm sure these worlds are meant to be tightly connected, but the metaphor of separateness is pretty strong, as is the priority or higher status of the imaginal.
      • To me this registers as a form of mind/body dualism, and my training and biases say that that is always wrong, a mistake. The founding mistake of Western thought, perhaps, but a mistake nonetheless. It may be an inescapable mistake – cybernetics and computationalism were supposed to wash that mistake out of our thought and replace it with more powerful ways to think, ones that do not suffer from this fatal split. In actuality they pretty much replicated the mistake, because it is very difficult to escape this kind of dualism, it is so basic to our conception of reality.
      • So we have two separate worlds, like it or not. The imaginal world is made up of wholes, and in it things exist as that which they are, rather than as conglomerations of parts like physical entities. The example of a block of cheese in its material reality and a mental image of cheese – clearly very different sorts of things, and they belong to different parts of reality. The physical cheese is composed of parts, the ideal cheese is not composed, it just is what it is in itself. The physical cheese lives in material space, the ideal cheese lives in an imaginal realm, which is the same as Plato's world of forms. The form-world is acausal and atemporal, the platonic ideal of cheese is part of eternity and unchanging. Whereas material cheese (I almost said real but that would be begging the question) is composed and eventually disintegrates (and in between has to be aged, its a particularly good example of an object in time)
      • I don't think JF is guilty of any kind of simple-minded dualism, but I also don't quite grasp his model of how the imaginal and the natural world interact. Sometimes when I think I am getting it it veers away – for example, in the recent office hours there was some allusion made to Gibsonian affordances, which are sort of a simple-minded ethological version of Fundierung (as I understand it). To me, this is great, because it suggests how human imagination can be built out of mechanistic biological processes. The simple perceptions of animals are evolutionary precursors to our more capable minds. But Jacob and JF were at pains to indicate that their notion of the imaginal was not based on affordances, but something quite different, something beyond mundane mechanism. This threw me, although, yes, humans do seem to be qualitatively different and have something angelic along with their bestial and mechanical aspects. I think the question is whether you want to emphasize the separateness of these realms and capabilities, or look for connections.
      • Well this is way too long but I have to mention one other problem I have with JF's imaginal – the idea that it includes all possible worlds or ideas. The problem with that is that that is semantically useless, almost nihilistically meaningless, in the manner of Borge's Library of Babel. The imaginal is useful to us because certain ideas seem to have more power or sway or attractiveness or salience or something. A Manticore has a lot of that, which is why it has a wikipedia page, but the imaginal also contains a mythc creature with the head of a poodle and the body of a praying mantis which I just thought up (or pulled from the pre-existing imaginal), and every other combination of animal parts anybody could think up. But having all possibilities on tap doesn't help me pick one, it doesn't explain why some ideas have staying power or artistic power.
      • Scrap unsent

        • (Argh no Marvin won't let me say that)
        • Imaginal as containing all possibility, imagination is finite human thought.
        • There are lots of philosophical theories for how these two worlds interact with each other, none of them seem very satisfactory to me. Including the ones offered by
        • Well, that may not have exactly worked out.
        • Reductionism – well I want to quote me on Minsky, but that wouldn't fly would it.
        • Relation of the imaginal to AI – I have a feeling you are trying to convince us and perhaps yourself that machines and tools are part of the imaginal world – the bone-weapon from 2001 is a constant touchpoint. In the film, rude apes are transformed into tool-users through the intercession of something from outside of ordinary reality, a kind of transcendental Mind represented by the monolith.
          • Hm, want to say that it is wrong. That is not how mind happened, it doesn't explain anything to say that aliens gave it to us. Huh wonder what Marvin would say about it...oh please let their be a video clip
          • he does mention the monolith and that it used to be a tetrahedron. Oh wow he tried to talk Kubick into doing a film of Moon is a Harsh Mistress...and he mentioned Art Bell! (reminder that Marvin was usually funny as hell)
        • These worlds aren't entirely separated, in fact they are obviously intimately connected, but I don't quite get how that is supposed to work.
          • Um anyway...I was going to say something like, mind was not a gift from outside, but a product of sustained evolution and growth – not supernatural, natural. But – do I really believe that? I'm ideologically committed to it, but I have to admit, the other story makes more sense. And even if mind evolved, it seems like it was evolving towards something...the order pre-exists even if the actual material realization doesn;t. Hm.
      • POP ok I am being a dumbshit atheist. Or close enough.
    • Response from JF

      • This is great, Michael Travers. Thanks for your deep engagement. I think that some of your comments come down to a misunderstanding. No doubt this is my fault. I hope the following clarifications are helpful.
      • First, my view is that the "priory and higher status" goes to the material, not the imaginal. When I read that passage from Ligotti's "Mrs Rinaldi's Angel," suggesting that the imaginality of our techno-fetishism is luring towards the "Old Time" of utter, meaningless chaos, I was trying to suggest that an overvaluation of the imaginal at the expense of material embodiment was a dangerous path to go down.
      • The acausality of the imaginal makes it completely immoral and meaningless. For things to matter, you need matter. So if it has to go anywhere, the moral high ground must to the material, hands down. At the same time, unless we conceive ourselves as CCTV cameras that simply register what is in front of us without imagination having its share in perception and cognition, we can't possibly conceive of the material without relating it to the imaginal. A material world without imaginal reach would be as meaningless as an imaginal chaos. Meaning occurs in the interplay between these two aspects of reality: what is the case and what may be the case. This is obviously true for an individual person. I'm arguing that it is also true of nature as a whole.
      • I don't consider any of this to be dualistic, at least not any more than any other conceptual model. Here it may be helpful to replace the terms "material" and "imaginal" with their temporal correlates: actual and possible. If I were to tell you that there is a fundamental difference between what is actually the case and what may be the case (elsewhere or in the future), would you consider this to be dualism? That is really all I mean by the shared reality of the material and the imaginal. It's realism, and it's monistic if by that that term we mean the positing of a single world (of infinite possibility).
      • Again, the imaginal is simply the meaningless and chaotic totality of all possible worlds. On its own, it is meaningless. On this, we agree. It is the material organization of nature that makes certain possibilities more likely or more meaningful than others. That said, the human imagination can range pretty widely in the imaginal, and this power is constitutive of our creativity. I don't believe that this creative power is explainable on purely deterministic terms, if only because any such explanation would itself constitute an imaginal construct which, by its very expressibility, presupposes an imaginal realm that is not bound by causal laws. Believing otherwise is like saying that the theory of evolution is itself an accident of evolution rather than an accurate description of how natural selection operates and shapes the diversity of life over time.
    • And a reply

      • Thanks for the response, and if there are misunderstandings in what I wrote I'm sure most of the fault is mine. You are generally very clear in your presentation, and if I am confused it is probably because I am mapping your ideas onto my own obsessions, and distorting them in the process.
      • Meaning occurs in the interplay between these two aspects of reality: what is the case and what may be the case. This is obviously true for an individual person. I'm arguing that it is also true of nature as a whole
      • That is intriguing. I'm totally with you on the first (obvious) part, on the second – well, I have to think about that! Maybe evolution can be seen as a process of pulling particular things out of the imaginal, which is why it is (apparently) creative. Evolution is exactly a process of exploring the space of possible organisms, and differentiating between the those that are workable and those that aren't, it instantiates some possibilities in matter and not others. It is an interplay between purely mechanical forces and something else, call it the space of good forms.
      • I guess I am a little unclear on the relationship between the imaginal (which contains every possibility) and the concrete human imagination, which necessarily has to select particular ideas from the imaginal and give them a kind of mental form (before they can be materially realized, if that happens). Hm, to rework my point from before, the imaginal in itself is simply not that interesting (because it contains every possibility), its the process of the imagination selecting and materializing from this realm – that is where the action is. (OK, this is exactly what you said above, so I guess we are in agreement – might be some interesting differences around determinism and causality but maybe we can leave those aside for now).