Imagine if the world which we inhabit were nothing but a projection – a projection, from us, onto the external world. Facts of the matter about states of affairs in this world turn on facts about us, rather than on the putative noumenal entities which relate, in some mysteriously neo-Kantian way, to phenomenal reality. In Ways Of Worldmaking (1978), Nelson Goodman (whom, you will notice, I have robbed for the name of this new blog) inverts our expectations about what it is to be a rational animal inhabiting a world. As the title suggests, Goodman argues that our worldly habitat is largely one of our own construction. Actually, to say that “the” world is “one” of our own construction is not correct, strictly speaking. Goodman’s view implies a wide plurality of worlds, each filled with at least as many objects provided by their subjective inhabitants, as those grounded in an underlying substratum of reality. Galileo and Copernicus lived in a different world than Aristotle and Ptolemy – in the former world, the earth revolves around the sun, while the latter world was geo-static. Priestley’s world contained dephlogisticated air, while Lavoisier’s was full of oxygen. Hokusai’s world emphasizes different aesthetic aspects than Rembrandt’s, and in some Shamanistic worlds human inhabitants have non-human ancestors, as they are the children of sacred plants.
All of this talk of worldmaking turns on one of the key philosophical insights that defined the Enlightenment, from Descartes to Kant. Since Descartes, the world beyond our perception has been called into doubt (particularly if we are atheists or agnostics). Kant took reality away from us, realizing that we could never escape the confines of subjective experience, so as to be able to check whether or not the world of our perception matches the “real” world. All we can do is suppose that the “real” world somehow sets boundary conditions on what can be thought, to ensure that we are able to communicate meaningfully about anything. Goodman attests that his “multiplicity of worlds” is a neo-Kantian theme. The first act of human creativity comes as easily as Being-in-the-world (I apologize to my Heidegger-buff colleagues for this imperfect lexical appropriation). Imagine if this world we share were actually just so many projections, gaining its apparent cohesion as if by merging the complete set of conceptual matrices from the totality of we, its inhabitants. Imagine how many conventions that we collectively subscribe to, which would come to be seen as utterly contingent constructions. Most of us never stop to consider the utterly ethereal nature of those many “invisible hands” which daily oppress us – fair enough, for we are not all metaphysicians.
Consider this spectral thing called the economy. Total world debt is over 300% of total world GDP. How is this possible? To whom do we owe all of this money – to Mars, perhaps? But, everything in our daily experience is constructed so as to reinforce the strength and legitimacy of this gargantuan imaginary. Althusser reveals the mythology, of bourgeois capitalo-parliamentarians and the ideological state apparatus. The greatest weapon of the capitalist state is the construction of the story of its own necessity. Of course this constructed actuality must cement itself by offering the most vivid, noisiest projection of its kind. The media is the story teller. Artifactuality: the marketplace of facts failed to get us any closer to reality. Philosophers are worldmakers. But so are scientists, artists, lovers, and even politicians. The worth of a world turns on how well it promotes our values, reveres our ideals. I have always considered metaphysics as much a matter of nonrational as rational choice. I choose to believe in magic, because it is not inherently logically contradictory, and because it enchants my existence. We find meaning in mathematics, molecular biology, and magic mushrooms. Traditionally, each of these three worlds would be taken to speak to different levels of reality, if we are most optimistic; more likely, one (perhaps two) will be taken to be merely illusory, depending on one’s tastes. But each defines a world we might inhabit, if only for a time.
They say that wine tastes sweeter to one with a refined palate. Why should we not visit new worlds freely, becoming highly cultured worldly travellers in the process? Our understanding of ‘meaning’ might stand to benefit. I have chosen the title of Goodman’s book for my blog, in part because I support the spirit of his view. It does seem to me that we are largely responsible for the construction of the worlds that we inhabit. I am not sure why this should sound surprising to anybody – in nature, we build homes and infrastructure where the external world fails to accommodate us. Literally, we shape the external world in our image, as architects and civil engineers, as oil- and war-mongers. So too do we shape it in our image as economists and physicists, as poets and painters. And if we should find that some noisy projection is blocking the beauty of daylight from those worlds of our creation, we should find ourselves well within our rights to tear down the offender. Ways Of Worldmaking ought to speak to the philosopher’s curiosity as much as it does to the heart of the revolutionary – and on this level, it strikes me more profoundly. Our worlds are imperialized by the beliefs and customs of our oppressors. We are meant to believe that neo-liberal democracy and a global capitalist monstrosity represents the ideal across all worlds. Of course, whether you call it the bourgeoisie, the upper class or the one-percent, we should see that assent to those factitious objects which legitimate the domination of the master over the slave is manufactured. Whatever the underclass, everything in our quotidian experience reminds us of our domination. In The Lessons Of October, Trotsky writes
The working class struggles and matures in the never-failing consciousness of the fact that the preponderance of forces lies on the side of the enemy. This preponderance manifests itself in daily life, at every step. The enemy possesses wealth and state power, all the means of exerting ideological pressure and all the instruments of repression … The consequences entailed by this or that careless or premature act serve each time as most cruel reminders of the enemy’s strength.
I will at times write philosophical musings, ways of worldmaking which reflect my passing curiosities and flights of fancy. At other times, I will engage in more pointed cultural critiques, launching attacks on those worlds which violently stake their own flags in the soft soil of our rightful psychological or ideological lands. Most of all, the writings that find their way into this blog will be a representation, an invitation into the world which I inhabit. Often I feel that I live in it alone, but I am always trying to compel others to come and see our very green grass. Please, take off your shoes and let our green grass tickle under your feet and between your toes. There will be sunsets, there will be curiosities aplenty – and there will be action!