Disclaimer: I work in Google's Policy Team, developing multistakeholder cooperations for internet governance & policy themes, hence I want to point out that all the opinions and ruminations on this blog are mine, not Google's.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

The physical, the meta-physical, and the virtual. Tertium datur est.

Since Descartes the dualism between mind and body had been framed in laws of physics on the one hand, and the reason of the mind on the other. This distinction stays in large terms true, but there is a shift to make an even finer distinction between what is going on in the conscious (meta-physical) part of the equation. One prominent modern representative of this new understanding is Habermas. He develops his concept of the life-world in contrast to traditional rationality with its logical mechanics of reason (Luh). Habermas’ life-world can be related to philosophic notions of liberalism and individualism; schools that focus on the non-rational causality of interest or pleasure. The distinction is based on the observation that one can not argue for the pleasure or interest of others. One can only know by oneself whether one enjoys or is interested in something. This is different from objective reason and leads us to the notions of inter-subjective reason. The life-world concept thereby splits the Cartesian mind into a subjective-reason and inter-subjective-reason. Both valid and relevant.

Similarly the virtual space created by the internet creates a middle form between constructed reality and existence, which has been dubed “society frozen” (Sassen), alluring to the fluidity of the continuous emergence of the human/social condition and the fact that in a virtual scenario all states are recorded as fixed (frozen). In many ways this is simply a development from earlier forms of meta-physical virtuality – as in books or newspapers – but the technical virtual representation of realities (ideas) has a certain co-relation with Habermas’ life-world as there is no rational why someone chooses to represent himself in a certain way in a virtual environment but through the virtualisation the choice becomes existence (facts) thereby the Cartesian dualism is transformed into a trinity: The physical, the meta-physical, and the virtual. Tertium datur est.

1 comment:

David said...

I agree with you from a metaphysical point of view. Certainly the reign of the virtual is somewhat in the middle of both. But then, the question is: What can we do with this distincion? How can we use it?
If one follows the second Wittgenstein, and his motum that "meaning is the use"then we see how we can construct several ways to identify the nature of the virtual. So instead of oppossing it to methaphysics I prefer another line of thought you propose in the article: distinction between individualism and intersubjectivism. From Descartes to Habermas, so to speak.
Therefore, from that point of view, we can see the virtual as the reign of instantly accesible social cognition. In his book "Cognition in the wild" Hutchins developed an interesting concept: the socially distributed cognition. Cognition is not, like Descartes thought, an individual task, but a social one, more like Habermas. These processes of social cognition are mosty performed by means of several technologies. Gauges, writting, the press, and of course ICT are example of those instruments to create socially constructed cognition environments.
So my own preference for a "tertium datur" would be:
Individual knowledge, tradition (the knowledge of societies) and collective knowledge constructed by virtual means.

here is an abstract of Hutchins ideas. It's also an example of good ole' html. :)