Tuesday, February 7, 2017


Seminar comments here

What is a Stem Cell: Stem Cell 101 here

The Skin Gun  here


    “Their vitalisms nevertheless fascinate me, in part because we share a common foe in mechanistic or deterministic materialism, and in part because the fabulously vital materiality of which I dream is so close to their vitalism” (63).
    “Distinguished themselves from ‘naive’ vitalists who posited a spiritual force or soul that was immune to any scientific or experimental inquiry” (63).
    Bennett likes them because she doesn’t consider herself a "naive” vitalist, and she's also not a "mechanist".
    What differentiates life from matter?
    “Nature was not a machine, and matter was not in principle calculable: something always escaped quantification, prediction, and control” (63).
    Attempt to remain scientific while admitting the inability to calculate everything.
    (all events external to the will)
    “Kant’s insistence on an unbridgeable chasm between life and ‘crude matter’ raises for him the difficult question of how then to represent the close conjoining of life and matter in the case of organisms” (65).
    Bildungstrieb = formative drive which attaches itself to and enlivens dead matter
    “It impels an undifferentiated, crude mass of matter to become an organized articulation of cooperating parts, the highest version of which is “Man” (66).
    “We must [not] supplement matter with an alien principle (soul), conjoined to it” (66). - KANT
    Souls = exist outside of body
    Bildungstrieb = exist only inside a body
    “Kant borrowed the concept of Bildungstrieb from Johann Friedrich Blumenbach, a member of the medical faculty at Gottingen” (66).
    Kant endorsed it as a regulative principle.
    Blumenbach: “[Bildungstrieb] is an inborn, life-long active drive [that] exists in all living creatures, from men to maggots and from cedar trees to mold” (67).
    “Kant liked Bildungstrieb because it enabled him to combine teleological with mechanistic explanations” (69).
    Teleological = philosophical attempt to describe things in terms of their apparent purpose, directive principle, or goal.
    Driesh = Entelechy
    Entelechy = “...life was qualitatively different from matter and that, because mechanistic explanation is inadequate to biological forms, we must assume the presence of a nonmaterial impetus, of a vital force, Trieb (force)” (69).
    “...it is the intensive manifold out of which emerges the extensive manifoldness of the mature organism” (70).
    “...an invisible presence...” (70).
    “...nonmaterial, nonspatial, and non mechanical...not...a psyche or spirit…’The contrary of mechanical is merely non-mechanical, and not physical’” (71)
    “...like Bildungstrieb, is incapable of producing that which is utterly new” (73).
    Basically - can’t be mechanical body or an ethereal soul

    Bergson = Elan vital
    Elan vital = “...life is ‘a perpetual efflorescence of novelty’ and ‘unceasing creation’” (79).
    “‘Even in its most perfect works,’ such as unprecedented works of art, elan vital ‘is at the mercy of the materiality which it has had to assume’. It also can only ‘make the best of a pre-existing energy which it finds at its disposal’” (79).
    “...profoundly at odds with itself: ‘Always seeking to transcend itself,’ it ‘always remains inadequate to the work it would fain produce’” (80).

  2. In this chapter Bennett reviews and extends the ideas of Kant, Henri Bergson, and Hans Driesch. I had a hard time reading it. Most of it was beyond my grasp since it need a quite good knowledge about these philosophical positions and perspectives. She begins the chapter with an interesting quote “Such a vital materialism would run parallel to historical materialism focused more exclusively on economic and social structures of human power”.

    Henri Bergson, elan vital; Hans Dreisch believe in entelechy (soul) as the life force.

    "Whereas the vitalists lifted instances of 'life' outside the reach of this mechanical world, the materialists insisted that every entity or force, however complex, 'organic', or subtle, was ultimately or in principle explicable in mechanical or, as they called it, 'physico-chemical terms."

    “Bildungstrieb: In science, bildungstrieb (German), nisus formativus or “formative drive” (English), the term bildung meaning "formation" and trieb meaning "drive", is a hypothesized epigenetic driving force posited to direct form reproduction in plants, animals, and humans. [1]”

    Kant separates life from "crude matter", but he has to find a way to connect them so he came up with the term Bilungstrieb ; Bildungstrieb does this.
    "inscrutable self-organizational power present in organisms but not in mere aggregates of matter"

    Bildungstrieb animates bodies
    Bildungstrieb which is in bodies distinguished Kant from vitalists
    for Kant matter "is dull”. it is neither material nor soul

    entelechy: Dreisch;
    "it is the intensive manifold out of which emerges the extensive manifoldness of the mature organism"
    "the contrary of mechanical is merely non-mechanical, and not 'psychical'"
    "entelechy decides which of the many formative possibilities inside the emergent organism become actual"
    "entelechy is order of relation and absolutely nothing else"

    elan vital: Bergson;

    “It is a hypothetical explanation for evolution and development of organisms, which Bergson linked closely with consciousness - with the intuitive perception of experience and the flow of inner time.[1]”

    "inner directing principle"
    "The task of elan vital is to shake awake that lazy bones of matter and insert into it a measure of surprise"

  3. Chapter 6 seems to undergo an investigation of what is life. The chapter focuses on Kant, Bergson, and Driesch and each of their definitions of a non material force that animates matter. This force is what separates organic versus non-organic matter and it is the "spark" that allows life to reproduce in its kind. Kant introduced "bildungstrieb" as the formative drive (which is very close to my definition of life *not dead, *pursues purpose, *requires sustenance and care to continue its existencein that life state). He is clear that this is not the soul and suggests that because it is non material it has a non material origin. This is where I would point to God, but Bennett will not go there. Bergson and Driesch introduce their own definitions "elan vital"and "entelechy"which are very similar to Kant's definition. Kant recognized a difference between matter with life and that without it. The vitalists are more in line with the epicureans (who thought there was no significant difference between rock and man).

  4. In Chapter 5, Jane Bennett is exploring Kant, Bergson, and Driesch's definitions of life. The terms elan vitale or entelechy which are synonymous with one another basically are defined as the concept that there are things that we are just incapable of understanding. it seems as if this is the case for each of the philosophers concepts of life.

    I seem to find myself in most agreement with Kant in that human life is uniquely different from other forms of life within nature for we are designed to pursue some sort of purpose. One might argue that a tree is pursuing a purpose as well, but this purpose is not the same as a human purpose. The human is special in my opinion. I say that it is because we have been created in the exact image of God. While they tip toe around this idea that humans are special in some situations, they do not give credit to God, but just say that they can't explain it. Is this because they can not completely understand how to explain God that the avoid giving credit to Him?

  5. In this chapter Bennett starts with an interesting statement that I found some overlap from last week. She says, "What would happen to our thinking about nature if we experienced materialities as actants, and how would the direction of public policy shift if it attended more carefully to their trajectories and powers?" I found this question interesting because of the question I posed last week about dominating and the absolute no that she talked about last week. I honestly wonder what would happen if people viewed objects / materials / nature more in this way. Would it make any difference what-so-ever. The real problem is to get people thinking like this.

    She goes on to discuss vital materalisim in regards to Kant, Bergoson, and Driesch. There are two terms highly discussed, elan vital (Bergson) and entelechy (Driesch). Bennett finds their ability to stay scientific while acknowledging some incalculability exemplary. The outbreak of vitalism happened just before World War I as the US had a new sense of the universe as lively and incalculable, see it as full of unforeseeable change and possibility.

    Although Bergson and Driesch did have some disagreement about vitality, they did agree about materialist opponents that matter was unfree, mechanistic, and deterministic. Although Bennett mentions both, she really focuses on Driesch, as she calls him the star of this paper. In the section titled Bildungstrieb, Bennett mentions Kant's philosophy on life and crude matter which raises a tough question of how to represent the close conjoining of life and matter in regards to organisms. For Kant, an organism is the kind of being which can, "cognize...as possible only as a natural purpose," or " self-organizing being". Bildungstrieb is what impels an undifferentiated, crude mass of matter that become an organized articulation of cooperating parts, the highest version of which is "Man". It might have mentioned this but for Kant what is the difference between this articulation of cooperating parts for man compared to animals / life. It seems that these philosophers find man so amazing, but we are amazing because of our specific path of evolution. Nature has proven itself to go into mass extensions and the ability for our ancestral gene to make it through billions of years is to me amazing. The ability for all forms of life and matter to make it this far is incredible and I think equal respects should be given to all forms of vitality, not just praising man.

    Bennett goes on to more specific discussions about directing poser inside the organism, energy, and an interesting discussion on machines dividing. For Driesch, and individual organs of organism is one of the most important examples of the polyp Tubularia, whose cut segments, will regenerate the whole organism. How can a machine that contains these cuts function as half-size but complete machine. Thus for Driesch the machine theory leads to the absurd.