Re: [OPE-L] Overdetermination

From: antonio callari (antonio.callari@FANDM.EDU)
Date: Mon Jan 02 2006 - 19:41:08 EST


I accept your point about Freud's break from biology. I think you are
right on that.
I also believe you are right about what you call the syntax and the
semantics of dreams.  I had indicated, in one of my postings, I
believe, that we can posit certain underlying generalities; i.e.,
that there are both material and cultural processes at work in the
constitution of societies (in analogy to the syntax part). But I do
think, I think in contradistinction to what you are saying, that
there are consequences for what we think is involved in social
analysis (I am not quite sure of the term 'social ontology' here).
Perhaps that's because I read the nature of the social as being more
like the dream process (fluid within the general parameters) than the
structural regularities one finds in the realm of the conscious
(that's how I read concepts like fetishism, class consciousness, etc.)

Also, I just invoked quantum mechanics in the longish post I made
prior to this one. I think it is powerfully suggestive of fundamental
uncertainty/ies.  If I'm right in reading it, it means that it is not
possible to have some measure of reality independent of the act of
measuring it (and if other instances/situations conform it, ok)--and
that has ontological implications for sure, no? An example from
economics:  the inflation/unemployment dynamics of capitalism work
themselves out very differently in different states of the class
struggle (and hence of the theoretical conditions of that struggle).
[notice I'm not saying that these theoretical conditions determine
matters, only that they condition them].


>This may not be important, but Freud's ontology breaks with biology.
>His metapsychology explicitly unveils an emergent-powers ontology not
>reducible to biology or neuro-physiology. Freud thought that
>explanantion of the mind in terms of biology was inadequte. But
>lacking an understanding of the software/hardware distinction Freud
>drew on various mechanical analogies -- `energy', `flows', economic
>processes, and even once, the pseudopodia projected by an amoeba when
>striving to move -- in order to describe cognitive mechanisms. Freud's
>work is an example of what Bhaskar calls `retroduction' -- the
>creative modelling phase of science, in which existing knowledge in
>the transitive (social) domain is used, via metaphor and analogy, to
>posit new ontologies in the intransitive (real, or independent of
>thought) domain. In my opinion, one of Freud's great advances was to
>take seriously the idea that the mind itself is highly ontologically
>stratified. In general, this research programme has been vindicated
>post-war by the field of cognitive science, which posits all kinds of
>novel information processing mechanisms to account for mental
>I note your point about dreams not having a single interpretation.
>However, on my reading of Freud there is an underlying ontology of
>dreams. Freud's metaphsychology (id, ego, super-ego, libidinal energy,
>reinforcers, processes of repression and displacement, etc.) is the
>underlying "syntax" of dreams -- dreams are the "semantics" that are
>implemented upon this machinery. One of the important advances of
>cognitive science is to understand better how semantics (that is,
>intentional contents of the mind) supervene on syntax (that is,
>non-intentional information processing mechanisms). The fact that the
>interpretation of dreams is fluid, indeterminate and the very process
>itself can affect the rememberance of the dream does not, in my view,
>have much consequence for, say, social ontology. (There are lot's of
>mundane examples of situations in which an act of observation can
>affect the object of observation in a non-reversible manner -- the
>recourse to quantum mechanics is not really needed here).
>>  It means that, while there is a specification of general social
>>  process (that there are various processes: cultural, political,
>>  economic, etc.) in the constitution of a social body, when we
>  > interpret that society, (if we are using the mode of
>>  overdetermination) it is not possible to fix the meaning of a social
>>  event/process in an a-priori way, according to any one fixed model of
>>  social relationships. The meaning emerges only out of a particular
>>  process of interpretation and pertains to that process of
>>  interpretation (there can be no ontological proof/status to it beyond
>>  the general social process). Of course, there can be different
>>  processes of interpretation, and this is where Resnick and Wolff's
>>  idea of an "Entry point" comes: for a Marxist interpretation of
>>  society, "Class" is the entry point into the process of
>>  interpretation.
>This is the kind of relativism I reject. More on this in another post,
>which I'll hopefully post shortly.

Antonio Callari
Sigmund M. and Mary B. Hyman Professor of Economics
F&M Local Economy Center
P.O. Box 3003
713 College Avenue
Lancaster PA 17604-3003
phone: (717) 291-3947
FAX:  (717) 291-4369

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