We got a link from Dave Chalmers! In the hopes of provoking some commentary on Zizek-on-Chalmers from Chalmers himself, I'm going to type up more. But first, here's the epigraph I've chosen for my review of The Parallax View:
The clock face will slowly turn away, full of despair, contempt, and boredom, as one by one the iron pillars will start walking past, bearing away the vault of the station like bland atlantes; the platform will begin to move past, carrying off on an unknown journey cigarette butts, used tickets, flecks of sunlight and spittle.
Where is that from? Some will know. More about it later, probably when I finish the review. First, the bit I already quoted:
So when David Chalmers proposes that the basis of consciousness will have to be found in a new, additional, fundamental - primordial and irreducible - force of nature, like gravity or electromagnetism, something like an elementary (self)-sentience or awareness, does he not thereby provide a new proof of how idealism coincides with vulgar materialism? Does he not precisely miss the pure ideality of (self)-awareness? This is where the topic of finitude in the strict Heideggerian sense should be mobilized: if we try to conceive of consciousness within an ontologically fully realized field of reality, it can only appear as an additional positive moment; but what about linking consciousness to the very finitude, ontological incompleteness, of the human being, to its being originally out-of-joint, thrown-into, exposed to, an overwhelming constellation?
Now, continuing on directly. (But first let me make one retraction. I groused about Zizek only footnoting Chalmers whole book. In fact, he footnotes the whole book, then (see below) extracts some specific quotes, so the curious reader can indeed follow-up by starting with those pages. My bad.)
It is here that, in order to specify the meaning of materialism, we should apply Lacan's formulas of sexuation: there is a fundamental difference between the assertion "everything is matter" (which relies on its constitutive exception - in the case of Lenin, who, in Materialism and Empirocriticism, falls into this trap, the very position of enunciation of the subject whose mind "reflects" matter) and the assertion "there is nothing which is not matter" (which, with its other side, "not-ALL is matter," opens up the space for the account of immaterial phenomena). This means that a truly radical materialism is by definition nonreductionist: far from claiming that "everything is matter," it confers upon "immaterial" phenomena a specific positive nonbeing.
When, in his argument against the reductive explanation of consciousness, Chalmers writes: "[e]ven if we knew every last detail about the physics of the universe - the configuration, causation, and evolution among all the fields and particles in the spatiotemporal manifold - that information would not lead us to postulate the existence of conscious experience," he makes the classic Kantian mistake: such a total knowledge is strictly nonsensical, both epistemologically and ontologically. It is the obverse of the vulgar determinist notion articulated, in Marxism, by Nikolai Bukharin, when he wrote that if we knew the whole of physical reality we would also be able to predict precisely the emergence of a revolution. This line of reasoning - consciousness as an excess, surplus, over physical totality - is misleading, since it has to evoke a meaningless hyperbole: when we imagine the Whole of reality, there is no longer any place for consciousness (and subjectivity). There are two options here: either subjectivity is an illusion, or reality is in itself( not only epistemologically) not-All. (p. 168)
OK, another correction now in order. Zizek is clearly aware, after all, that Chalmers is not arguing for reductionist materialism. He isn't saying he's a 'vulgar' materialist, like that. But this just makes the force of his initial complaint unclear. Chalmers is certainly not an idealist. No form of idealism even makes the cut to be part of his finalist list of seven in the C.D. Broad run-off of possible views of mind and in its place in nature. (Ooh, you could do one of those reality shows - Theoretical Ideal - in which, week after week, fresh-scrubbed young hopefuls have their positions in philosophy of mind mercilessly picked apart and mocked by discerning judges, until only one remains. The prize could be: tenure.) So how can Chalmers' non-reductionist neutral monist position just go to show what bad stuff happens when one position he doesn't really even bother to consider meets another he thinks has been refuted? Well, let's bend over backwards to try and make some sense (although I don't think it's really going to work.) Quoting again from Chalmers on Type-F monism:
This view has elements in common with both materialism and dualism. From one perspective, it can be seen as a sort of materialism. If one holds that physical terms refer not to dispositional properties but the underlying intrinsic properties, then the protophenomenal properties can be seen as physical properties, thus preserving a sort of materialism. From another perspective, it can be seen as a sort of dualism. The view acknowledges phenomenal or protophenomenal properties as ontologically fundamental, and it retains an underlying duality between structural-dispositional properties (those directly characterized in physical theory) and intrinsic protophenomenal properties (those responsible for consciousness). One might suggest that while the view arguably fits the letter of materialism, it shares the spirit of antimaterialism.
In its protophenomenal form, the view can be seen as a sort of neutral monism: there are underlying neutral properties X (the protophenomenal properties), such that the X properties are simultaneously responsible for constituting the physical domain (by their relations) and the phenomenal domain (by their collective intrinsic nature). In its phenomenal form, can be seen as a sort of idealism, such that mental properties constitute physical properties, although these need not be mental properties in the mind of an observer, and they may need to be supplemented by causal and spatiotemporal properties in addition. One could also characterize this form of the view as a sort of panpsychism, with phenomenal properties ubiquitous at the fundamental level. One could give the view in its most general form the name panprotopsychism, with either protophenomenal or phenomenal properties underlying all of physical reality.
The fact that Chalmers admits this view has affinities with idealism and materialism may get Zizek off the hook on the charge that he's just missed everything here. But it hardly amounts to any clear support for Zizek's complaint.
And another thing. With all the emphasis on 'thrownness', Zizek can be read as saying, at a minimum: Chalmers is getting too weirdly tripped-out with this panprotopsychism. He needs to think about what ordinary consciousness is like - it happens to a person. And then think about how weird it is to try to imagine, as it were, disowned protophenomena; things that are like something, but not to anyone. I am sympathetic to this concern that the speculation just gets too murky to be arguable. But obviously Chalmers sees that he's running this risk of drowning in the deep end, so just pointing out that it gets deep kinda quick doesn't amount to rendering much help. And suggesting a retreat to thoughts about what it's like to be an ordinary person are not really helpful either. It was only because the mystery of the fact that there is something it is like to be a human being seemed so intractable - so frictionless - that Chalmers risked groping around at odd angles in the hopes of catching on something; well, maybe panprotopsychism isn't it. But maybe neither is tossing out 'thrownness', hoping it will bounce somewhere insightful. "We're all doing what we can."
Next paragraph. Lacan? Lenin? Au contraire, I think the action here must have to do with a broadly Kantian-style argument (I would say), one which Chalmers is certainly familiar with. I'll just thumbnail a version I'm sure he would know, and which will do nicely to illustrate the issue for all of you as well. The first proposition of Wittgenstein's Tractatus is "The world is all that is the case." The penultimate proposition, notoriously, asserts that all the propositions of the book are nonsense - we must throw away the ladder. Tabling possible methods of ladder disposal, why would "The world is all that is the case" be nonsense? Well, because its grammatical form suggests that "The world is not all that is the case" would make sense as well. (The ball is red all over. The ball is not red all over. If the first makes sense, the second does.) But IF the world is all that is the case, then presumably it would not even be conceivable for it to be any other way. (We can imagine any number of possible sets of facts being the case. And this amounts to imagining the world many ways. But we cannot imagine any way the world might be that is not a function of some set of facts being the case.) In short, the complaint about 'The world is all that is the case" is that its grammar implies the opening of a possibility space that is not in fact open. And any statement that implies nonsense is, itself, nonsensical.
Wittgenstein uses the metaphor of a scaffolding that must be erected around a building during the construction process. That scaffolding is not, in fact, part of the building. (And its ladders and etc. should be cleared away in the end.) Likewise, in constructing a world - intellectually, imaginatively, in language - we build a scaffolding to help us build the world. This scaffolding contains things like names for logical constants, even though there are no such things, and implications that the world might NOT be all that is the case. And philosophy mostly just consists of getting confused about where the building stops and the scaffolding begins. Wittgenstein's 'ladder' metaphor proposes taking it down once and for all to cut out that nonsense.
Anyway, getting back to Zizek, propositions like "everything is matter" and "there is nothing which is not matter" would be nonsense, in Wittgenstein's book. The reason would be: they seem to imply the possibility of their own falsehood. Whereas, if they are true, they can only be necessarily true. If materialism is true, then dualism and idealism are not just false but nonsense. But if they are nonsense, then the assertion of materialism is, likewise, nonsense. So materialism isn't really true (so it's truth can only be shown, perhaps, by the fact that all the well-formed sentences are only about matter). I don't exactly see why Zizek sees such a difference between the two formulas - "everything is matter" and "there is nothing which is not matter". I guess the latter has that Polyphemus-style play on 'nothing'. 'Nobody did this to me!' There is a poetry to hearing 'nobody' as someone's name. Likewise, 'nothing' as the name for the most mysterious of entities: void. "There is nothing which is not matter" can be heard as a kind of mystical invocation of nihil. Lear: "Nothing comes from nothing." The thing even breeds! Wittgenstein was very insistent, it so happens, that the first nothing should be stressed just right. (There's an anecdote about this.) And then there is 'Why is there something, rather than nothing?' and it's invitation to imagine nothing as a positive generative agent.
Probably that's what Zizek is on about. Something like that about nothing. Anyway, the real consequential point is this: Zizek flatly denies the Tractarian-style claim - but offers no argument against it I can see. "A truly radical materialism is by definition nonreductionist: far from claiming that "everything is matter," it confers upon "immaterial" phenomena a specific positive nonbeing." Here we are being invited to run Wittgenstein's thought in reverse, in effect. If there seems to be a possibility space open, assume it is open (rather than that the sentence that opens the space is crypto-nonsense.) So now we contemplate two different metaphysical theories of the modal status of materialism. One on which 'everything is matter', but it could have been otherwise. (Let's call it C - for contingent.) One on which 'everything is matter' and it couldn't have been otherwise (Let's call it N - for necessary.) I would say they are both radical in their way. If I had to guess, the early Wittgenstein would say that the 'radical' one is N, because its implication that philosophers are talking nonsense is not going to be well-received by philosophers, who like to talk. Apparently Zizek thinks C is more 'radical', presumably because, in a generic sort of way, 'radicals' believe that alternatives are more possible than other folks think? I don't really know. But it doesn't seem to me to have much of anything to do with 'reductionism'. Zizek says it does. But why should it? Go back to C.D Broad's table of the 17 possible views of mind. Now double them to 34, along this N/C axis. Some of the views are reductionist, some are not. But they all admit of this N/C distinction, apparently. (Am I missing something?)
It could even go like so: imagine a world in which ghosts (non-material entities) are possible, but in which none happen to have ever existed. In this world materialism is contingently but nonreductionistically true. Since if a ghost were there, which would be possible, it wouldn't reduce down on the spot. (Weird thought.) Now imagine a world in which it is necessary (in this world) that there be no ghosts (something about the structure of this world forbids it). In this world, materialist reductionism is contingently true - contingently because: there could be another possible world without this ghost-forbidding structure built-in. Does this distinction make sense? Zizek doesn't argue against it, so far as I can see. At any rate, I think the doubling of Broad's 17 to 34 would need to be argued against, if it is so important to show what Zizek claims.
And don't get mad at me for spiraling off into all this stuff, if you don't like it. Zizek is inviting it. How not? [And don't say that I'm missing all the Lacanian stuff about sex. Yes, I see the analogy he is suggesting with Lacan on repression - 'no sexual relations' means you are repressing the female, or whatever. It's just that it doesn't help the argument to bring this Lacan in as an analogy.]
Next paragraph: "When, in his argument against the reductive explanation of consciousness, Chalmers writes: "[e]ven if we knew every last detail about the physics of the universe - the configuration, causation, and evolution among all the fields and particles in the spatiotemporal manifold - that information would not lead us to postulate the existence of conscious experience," he makes the classic Kantian mistake: such a total knowledge is strictly nonsensical, both epistemologically and ontologically.
OK, here we are back with the Wittgensteinian point (which Zizek correctly identifies as originally a Kant point). Only now Zizek seems to be asserting it, rather than denying it. The point is: it isn't really possible to assert sensible truths about 'the totality of states of affairs', because this sends out implications which cross the nonsense line. Russell and the young Wittgenstein went at this point hammer and tongs, apparently. Russell wouldn't grant it, but Wittgenstein insisted.
But now I'm not sure. Is Zizek saying that this is Kant's mistake, or that Kant gets credit for noticing that people make this sort of mistake? Come to think of it, Zizek sounds like he is saying the former, but I was reading him as saying the latter (until I started typing these very words.) Anyway, it seems irrelevant either way, because clearly Chalmers ISN'T making the mistake. To say you know every last detail of the physics of the universe is NOT to assert total knowledge - not unless every last detail is all there is to know; which is precisely the question. Next, Zizek asserts that this error, which has not been shown (or even really argued) to be any sort of error yet, is the obverse of another claim - by Bukharin - which is also asserted to be an error, but is not shown (or even argued) to be an error: the 'if you knew all the physical facts, you could predict revolution' claim. This claim seems consistent with Chalmers' position, by the by. (Maybe zombies will lead the revoution. 'Zombies of the world unite, you have nothing to eat but their brains!' Ahem.)
What is Zizek's complaint? I'm not seeing it. It can't be the 'totalized' claim stricture, because neither Chalmers nor Bukharin need offend against that by inadmissibly totalizing. You can know every last detail wihtout also claiming 'and all the things I know are ALL the things there are to know', which is the step that bugs Wittgenstein. Anyway, it's always going to be ok to make an 'all the Vermeers in New York' type totalization. Because the set of all the Vermeers is contingent. (Am I just totally misunderstanding Zizek's style of argument? He isn't worried about this semi-Kant-derived Wittgenstein-style stuff at all? I admit that I have him first denying the Wittenstein view, then turning around and asserting it. Both times without argument. That's not so good. What's your reading?)
But I'm pretty sure I see what's wrong with the next bit: "This line of reasoning - consciousness as an excess, surplus, over physical totality - is misleading, since it has to evoke a meaningless hyperbole: when we imagine the Whole of reality, there is no longer any place for consciousness (and subjectivity)." This is Zizek projecting his own (well-known and undeniable) penchant for hyperbole on Chalmers. Chalmers says 'every last physical detail', Zizek glosses that as 'Whole of Reality'. The latter is a hyperbolic exaggeration of the former, and - when conflated with the former - clearly does beg the question against a place for consciousness and subjectivity. But this is all Zizek's doing, and none of Chalmers'. (Right?) And now I get pretty lost. "There are two options here: either subjectivity is an illusion, or reality is in itself( not only epistemologically) not-All." Taking these horns in order: subjectivity is an illusion; that is, it only subjectively appears that there is subjectivity; there really isn't any seeming? There only seems to be seeming? OK, that seems absurd. So the other horn must be right. But why is this the other horn: if "reality is all that is the case' is true, yet the thought that 'reality might be something else than all that is the case' were also possibly true, then there would be a space for possibility which the likes of Wittgenstein deny. I don't know what I think about this, but I certainly don't feel driven to it by my sense that 'subjectivity is merely subjective, ergo unreal' is some kind of nonsense.