The Mechanical Sphinx

“Mechanical Sphinx” — Consider… we have, you know, a penchant for metaphorical grandeur, but I think that the mnemonic benefit justifies this … (also, of course, those who pretend to be rhetorically logical are at best naive and at worst insufferable) … consider a robot capable of dismissing all the acheivements of history as merely *painstaking* rather than insightful or epochal. Then, passed through such a mechanical sphinx, or whatever, all of history would be reduced to what would appear to be a radical idealism — something like a dinner chat with a friend. It would sit on our shoulder, and whenever we have our doubts, it would chirp back a ready argument, and then we could proceed with our casual conversation. And so, if this machine were to be constructed, we would it would seem have no more need for introductions, and we could always jump directly to the heart of the matter.

I actually copypastaed that from a draft I have. But the mechanical sphinx is a cool device, it in addition, I have the feeling, allows us a way beyond our impasse. History sort of happening before we realize it, doesn’t it? No — more: history is not the task of explaining events, but there is the question of what happened. Therefore, events may never really have any real “presence” in history. An event has no definite form nor even neurological form. This is what was nice about our understanding of thinking as “detective work” in the last essay, it gave a non-neurological model of thinking. The mechanical sphinx may help us in this respect too, as a constant reminder that we never experience the event holistically, there is never a “feeling” or a phenomenon.

But rather, let’s speak of metaphysical events. This is not “epochal”, ie, not something like “the Enlightenment” or something. Metaphysics I want to define as that feeling that something is wrong. It is the site of a turmoil, brought about when things or objects begin to take on an intentional character. Intentionality itself is a complex process that isn’t neurological either. But there is, I believe, a set of constraints that must be met before the arising of intentionality. This definition is circular since intentionality isn’t anything that can be abstractly defined but is itself simply a kind of disturbance. The moment when, for example, we speak of the way in which, say, the jungle looks back at us with a “vengeful aspect” , as Conrad does — doesn’t really make sense but we can sesne there the activity of a kind of metaphysical disruption.

Now in my mind I have a picture of metaphysics as involving “another world”. For example, the usual course of thiniking, detective work indeed involves the jumbling and rearranging of events, much like a mystery novel. A new peice of evidence introduced will certainly have the effect of radically altering our perception of the events. This is how I think a lot of popular media works and has its effect. Metaphysics involves a jumbling too — and it may even perhpas involve the same sort of insights, elation, failure — indeed, we have experienced that haven’t we? And I furthermore believe it a futile task to attempt to precisely define the thin line between “ordinary” fantasy and metaphysical jumbling — in particular since the process is recurrent and infinite, I mean, that one quickly turns into the other. We do, indeed, seem to know how to tell the difference, we have certain visions, criteria, etc. in our minds — I mean, didn’t I say that there were a set of “constraints” that separated one from the other? But that feels like a temptation to me, something that we might have to, you know, pass on to that mechanical sphinx — I mean, to at least give us an adequate answer as to why the distinction between fantasy and metaphysics is infinite.

Because I feel it to be so — I can’t prove it, and if I tried too, I feel like I would fall into a trap. But again, maybe mere adequacy is enough — and we can defer that to the sphinx. But suppose then, the world is in ruins, somehow, a disaster has struck, and there comes to be consequentially, a new age of metaphysical flourishing, itself, of course, a vaguely defined notion.

TBC: The Cannibal’s Restraint [Heart of Darkness]


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