Cautiously Multiplying Unobservable Entities Since 1993
Castoriadis works against ontologists who postulate some ultimate that determines particular beings. He also works against theorists of representation who limit acts of representing to reproduction of particular beings that exist or to reproduction of eternal ideas persisting in some transcendental sphere. Critical realist ontology postulates unbridgeable gaps in existence: Empirical experience occurs during Actual events enabled by Real structures. The Real cannot be experienced or sensed. Actual events cannot be reduced to Empirical experiences some of the involved entities might have. The Real structures relevant to any event, and the constitutents of the Actual event, may be determined through retroduction and abduction, but may not be experienced in sensation. But new structures emerge out of Actual events. There are new Reals that will enable new Actual events and new Empirical experiences will be had. Castoriadis need not seek refuge in semiotics when a dynamic mode of ontology can support his inquiries better than the static ones that were available to him.
What happens when people imagine? People can experiment: they may establish a region in space and time where a very restricted set of Real mechanisms are allowed free play, and can record the Empirical results of this activity. This activity is possible because of the kind of natural being humans, but social institutions like language and skilled practice have to be in place for this agency to be recognized. Is imagining like experimenting? "No" for Castoriadis but "Yes," for Iser, with some caveats.
Certain acts with sensible consequences in the Empirical domain are intentional and some are not. A daydream is intentional for it may be ended intentionally even if the daydreamer fell into daydreaming without deliberation. The composition of a literary text is a very deliberate activity, one that requires the capacity to fictionize alongside imagination (generate fictions, (more of that later)). Perception is an act partially liable to intentional action. I cannot not have sensations but I may focus on particular areas within the perceptions that I have and put myself in a new situation to have perceptions that differ from the ones I am currently having. Other activities involving the imaginary are less attributable to intentional acts. A dream occurs to someone. I did not intend to dream about a colossal mega hotel with a special elevator-cum-performance space in which Rush Limbaugh entertained high paying customers with an immersive theatre experience. I swear. But that dream happened to me. An untold number of people could have sensations when they attend an experiment I conduct in public but no-one had my Las Vegas dream, I hope. Hallucinations are qualitatively different from perceptions but may not be as easily intentionally dismissed as a daydream. "Madness" is different from experiencing symptoms of a mental illness known to science. It could be thought of as the "I"-poled activity of assent or refusal to endorse sensations symptomatic of mental illness.
Isser offers a grab bag of events with sensible products.
Actualizations of the Imaginary
Ranked by Liability to Subject's Intentional Acts
- composing fiction
Grouped by Sensibility of Products
- completely interpersonal: composing fiction — the composed fiction is sensible to agent and audience (in speech, picture ,and movement as well as in writing)
- anchored in public: perception — the bass guitar might be generating a 40 Hz frequency, but that Empirical physical event is perceived differently by others. The "my"-ness of my experience of the note is structured like others' "my" experiences but Yvonne's perception will never include the quality "this is the bass note that I, Erik, am experiencing" that accompanies my experience of the note.
- anchored in private: I think in a language and language is a social medium of interpersonal communication. It is possible to tell people about my thoughts and they can have the same thought. The inscriptions in which thought is expressed is externalization of the inscriptions which enabled the thought to occur. But no-one can sense the thought I am thinking now. I dare you ... try. Wrong!
- private but describable: daydream, dreaming, hallucinating, going-mad — all may be described with varying degrees of satisfaction felt by the describer.
Your daydreams, nightmares, hallucinations, going-mad might be structurally similar to mine. I could tell you about my nightmare and parts of it might end up in your next nightmare. Apologies for that. But you will never experience that particular concatenation of images, anticipations, recollections that I experienced. You can entertain parts of my dream as virtual images. But that daydreaming using my description of a private dream will always miss things: the novelty of that particular dream work, and its ineluctability. That dream intruded on me unanticipated and undesired. To entertain a second-hand reconstruction of a dream is not the same as the first-person experience of being subjected to one. The same with your imaginative reconstruction of my hallucination or my going-mad.
Structures Involved in Actualizations of Imaginary (Iser's "Stimuli")
- The Faculty of Imagination Belonging to a Particular Subject: it is a universal faculty but possessed by individuals, and it manifests itself as images triggered by external stimulants that are drawn into the creative play that they trigger. [does cognitive science have a role to play?] [I can intentionally bring this faculty into play to varying degrees when I create images]
- The Acts of Consciousness: consciousness posits objects that are (unlike sensations) accompanied by the qualities "being nothing" or "being absent." [this would be amenable to phenomenological investigation] [again, there are varying degrees to which this act is intentional or, like a dream or hallucination, it is an event in which I participate or am subject to]
- Radical Imaginary: social structures that enable individual psyches to create figures, forms, and images necessary for agents' capacity to represent, reason, and reproduce/transform/modify socially-constructed reality. [is this what "Theory" tried to talk about for so long and can "theories" do a better or different job?]
I am entangled in Actual events and have Empirical experiences during them. But I cannot have sensations of the operation of the Real mechanisms at play during that event. I can see my blue pencil. The meteor from the alien planet is Actually heading toward me and could be sensed by others even if I never perceive the object that will end my life. But I cannot sense the mechanisms that makes all of that possible.
The last structure deserves more attention. All sorts of Real but non-Empricially sensible entities entities precede my thoughts and perceptions, and are unaffected by my intentional acts. I cannot suspend the strong and weak nuclear forces by thinking, daydreaming, or writing a poem. The Radical Imaginary is similarly inaccessible to my senses and indifferent to my individual capricious acts. Is the Radical Imaginary just another name for big "B" Being that determines the fate of little "b' beings like me? No. The Radical Imaginary is not just another name for the structures and ontological gaps that I cannot sense. [Real absences and voids are NOT equivalent to the layered ontology — I can lack food or be prevented from getting it, but no entity is "preventing" me from perceiving the Real and at no point was I alienated from it.]
I suspend practical activity and try to open myself to the "magma" of suggestions and possibilities and forms that are available to me. That magma cannot be contained by the cognitive or discursive routines I comply with in my practical life. And the stream of that magma rushing through me is similar to those flowing in the people who are part of my society. And a magma flowed in past societies as well. Sure, some neuro-chemical activities are the same for all of us. But even identical natural mechanisms shared by all members of a species produce new Actual events, and the occurrence of new and different events produces new and different sensations, even if the underlying Real mechanisms do not change. I could engage in a research project to determine which particular structures, and in what particular conjuncture, were at play when I wrote my poem that referred to the strong and weak nuclear forces and proposed their abolition. But no social scientific theory can predict where and when and by whom such a poem will be written next. And I do not need such a theory to produce a literary text. I have the capacity to dive into the magma of the Radical Imaginary when I wish.*
Sellars secures a place for philosophy by distinguishing the space of reasons from the space of sensations. I conjectured that the space of reasons can express Image-objects or bundles of sensations that others can take up into their space of reasons. I like Sellars a great deal. But the need to understand how the products of creative activity work leads me beyond distinctions between philosophy and science. I need an ontology that encompasses the activities of reasoning, experimenting, and expressing, and the enabling structures as well as the entitites produced by these activities.
"The Imaginary" is a convenient name for those intersections of varying sets of Real structures, necessarily but not exclusively social ones, that enable Actual acts of Imagining to take place, and the production of Empirical Images by those acts. "Images" are sensation-complexes that vary in the extent to which the sensations they produce are interpersonal (like a published book) or private (someone indulging their madness).
An Image is an entity, and as such, has Real enduring powers that may be Actualized and generate Empirical sensations. On its own, the Image-entity cannot transform the social structures that gave rise to it. Persons may incorporate Images into acts of self-transformation: by reading one book I can improve my ability to read books in general, I can imagine actions I can take, I can dissolve schemas that guide my thinking, I can feed my daydreams, etc. Interpersonal activities can bring about changes in communities: we become better readers, we anticipate or avoid possible events, etc. The social institutions enabling my our our actions are less amenable to change by one person's production of a particular Image. A published book is a noteworthy accomplishment but cannot change the society that produced it if it just sits in a warehouse, unread and undiscussed. Images must be taken up in Actual interpersonal activities if they are to contribute whatever causal power they have to some kind of socially transformative activity. The structures enabling material reproduction of everyday life is unlikely to be changed by one Image, one person's experience of that image, collective appreciation of that Image, or the canonization of that Image in institutions like schools or archives. If intentional and interpersonal activities coincide with profound changes in the material base, or with historical conjunctures — when there is an Actual co-incidence of Activities intended by Real agents and Events produced by Real impersonal structures — then an Image can play some part in the transformation of the ensemble of those Real structures that enabled the Actual production of that Image, and might enable the creation of new structures.
None of this is creation ex-nihilio.
* Suspending the activities that impede access to the magma is a skilled practice or habit. One can get better or worse at it. And in some circumstances that magma breaks into experience and that eruption can be accepted or resisted.
There is a special kind of Image that involves The Fictive. That is the literary text. The Imaginary is at work there. And The Fictive is there too. What is the fictive?