The Politics of Mind and Agency, Research Time, 27/05/2014

I have sometimes discussed how I left philosophy of mind as a major discipline for my writing of philosophy. One of the many issues that I have with this sub-discipline was that too many conceptions of mind used a template that was rather like the human model. In the environmentalist philosophical discourses that I delved into after leaving mind circles, anthropomorphism in thinking was considered a dangerous thing.

I agree in the case of mind and consciousness. Sean Smith's presentation was on the rudimentary versions of consciousness that one can discover through analysis of the evolutionary ancestors of modern animals. My own account of rudimentary consciousness is in the fifth chapter of my Ecophilosophy project, which understands such rudimentary consciousness as the basic ability to perceive the world and constitute differential relations in that world through one's movements.  I think my own philosophical ideas on this are already more radical than Smith's because this most rudimentary form of consciousness is common to all forms of life and objects able to move by means of metabolic chemical activity.

This is a very slippery issue because we're all so accustomed to thinking of mind and consciousness in terms of the human model. I personally prefer using a more neutral term, like perceptual subjectivity or fundamental agency, precisely because these terms are a little less loaded. But it is part of a larger point that I develop throughout the project that amounts to a radical conception of agency, that foregrounds the capacity for bodies in motion and interaction as the primary producers of new complexities and new bodies or systems in the world.

This is also my contribution to the environmentalist critique of anthropocentrism in an ontological context. It is a conception of the world where a notion of agency can apply to all developments of new physical structures. Environmentalist theorists want a vision of the world where humans are one peculiar part of a massively complex world that is fascinating and beautiful in all the fractally complicated majesty of its assembly.

Such vision, where humans, and a single conception of what humanity is, are not the measure of all that the world can be, is common across contemporary forms of radical political thinking. One of my favourite sessions today was by Kristin Rodier, who, broadly speaking, focussed on the feminist notion of transforming your own subjectivity through coming to know how the world has constructed you, and your feedback relationships in how forces in your environment transforms you. While this concept is firmly rooted in political practice, there are similar political aspects in other genes of philosophical thinking that are less obviously so.

Like the ontology of complexity and assemblage in my own manuscript, or the redefinition of the mind away from human models in the evolutionary investigation of conscience. I think pretty much all philosophy, no matter the explicit context, has these political implications if you let them inform the wider conception and practice of your life.

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