You Are Nothing but a Little Engine and Everything is Great

You are not you. You are a mechanism of processing the world — of taking in, making sense, digesting, and playing back. This takes many forms — your skin, hair, liver, thoughts, fears, anxieties, burps, dreams, blood pressure, fetishes. You take in the sun, for instance, and your engine makes all sorts of things — sun spots, lighter hair, good mood. You take in Heidegger or pasta or a Jennifer Aniston movie and suddenly you can't shit right.  Everything you take in is processed and played back in multiple ways.

Your mode of taking in is called perception. The world enters you through the various openings of your mechanism — your eyes, skin, mouth, ears, nose. However, these are not just openings but filters. This is obvious when you see the nasal hairs peeking out of your nostrils.

But these openings function as filters in other ways such as when you look at one thing and not another. In this case, the eye is the tip of a more elaborate filtering system driven by mechanisms of appetite. The little engine that is you needs certain things to make it go. Some cars need diesel, some higher or lower octane gas. You need "American Idol" while he needs JL Godard. Different engines need different things. 

But isn't this decision making to look at one thing and not another the "me" that is not a mechanism? How do I choose such things?

Well, that assumes there is a you that is somehow untouched by the world. But what part is that, exactly? You are a product of engineering as one engine's protrusion found itself in another engine — or via any of a number of other mechanistic configurations. You were made. And you are continually being made, and making yourself, by all the other stuff you take in — food, books, people, air, Funyuns.

The world is awash in things both visible and invisible. You are one of these things. What distinguishes one thing from another are the mechanisms of its engine. When many things seem to have similar engines, we create a category: that is a rock, that is a human being, that is an idea. But if your engine were to move very, very slowly; if it were, in many ways, quite stubborn, only taking things in rarely — well, you might be a rock and not a human being.  And if you never seemed to be quite present and yet left by a strong sense; if you were always abstracting your body — well, you might be part idea. 

There are all sorts of mechanisms. Some people do use rock mechanisms just as some rocks use certain human mechanisms. What makes a rock a rock and a human being a human being is not essential or absolute. It is a moving thing defined by its mechanisms. So when mechanisms are used by different kinds of things, the categories-that-were-never-true-categories bleed. Some people retain lots of water, like a camel. Others have water pass right through, like a river. The line between this and this — between, say, human being and rock being — is not always so sure as neither are beings and both are engines.

Please note that I am not supposing a mechanistic determined world — although, were you God, you might be able to determine all actions based on a single flap of a butterfly's wings (or so says Leibniz). But as there is no god, or you are not this god, what we're left with is not a world that is always known but, on the contrary, a world that is never known. Because everything is engines — that is, activities as distinct from beings — we only know the world through actions. Hence, we can't know the world beforehand; we know it by what, and how, it makes.

All right, all right but who cares? What does this do for us?  Well, for me, it changes the very way I approach my world. Rather than always thinking something is wrong with me, I think something is wrong with my engine and I try to engineer a better outcome. Am I taking in the wrong things — books, porn, gluten, meat? Am I doing something funny with what I've taken in? Is output the problem? Where in the system lies the problem and how can it be adjusted?

And it changes the very way we approach knowledge. Rather than classifying things by their beings, we can classify things by the mechanisms of their engines. This creates whole new and ever shifting categories of things. And introduces the human to the non-human. Which can be quite useful as rocks and things have a lot of keen mechanisms we can use.


TomG said...

When it comes to the input side of the "engine," the word "perception" makes me wince. It obscures the way such inputs are defined by what the engine requires.

For instance, I was listening to your lecture beginning with Sprigley's photo waiting for someone in the class to say it's a soccer field, and in general to identify the inputs to that "engine" (the photo) more specifically. No one did; it stayed pretty abstract. An objective interpretation needs "common sense" as to just what it involves in order to make a "good sense" interpretation. I realize that's a bit disjointed and brief, but I'm thinking of taking it up on my own blog (http://diagrammaticthinking.blogspot.com/) if you don't mind.

Meanwhile, though, I guess I feel like we need to pay more detailed attention to the inputs each engine requires as well as to the outputs it can then produce from specific kinds of inputs before attempting to look at how it and other engines might evolve thru time and/or interact with each other.

Daniel Coffeen said...

Hmn. I thought I'd addressed that, at least from a certain angle: different engines require different things. And our perceptive sensors are components within more complex mechanistic functions. My goal in using the word "perception" was to try and transform our perception of perception.

No doubt, our health turns on refining our system requirements. This is what Nietzsche means, I believe, when he discusses discipline and his version of asceticism: refining/redefining one's instincts so we need, and reach for, things that make us healthy. The mechanisms of other things, like rocks, can be quite useful in this discipline process. I, for one, learned quite a bit from the saguaro cactus.

I feel like I'm missing something from your comments...not sure I follow your second paragraph. So I'd love it if you took it up on your blog. Thanks, as always.

TomG said...

I posted my take on this (http://diagrammaticthinking.blogspot.com/2012/06/from-metaphor-to-diagram.html), at least one angle on it.

By the way, I thought you did a good job of making sense of Nietzche's "will to power" in one of your lectures, and that view seems to fit well with your comments above.

Daniel Coffeen said...

@ Tom: I just posted a comment to your blog. And my argument is Nietzschean through and through: all is metaphor, always and already.