To Have Done With Life

To Have Done With Life (2009)
The flyer for the 2009 Croatian "To Have Done With Life" conference, wherein the attempted to have dialogue on going past the "Kauffman patch" emergence models of "life", as Nathan Brown summarized things, of Stuart Kauffman. [2]
In conferences, To Have Done With Life was 17-19 Jun 2011 meeting at the Multimedia Institute, Zagreb, organized by Nathan Brown (UC Davis) and Petar Milat (MaMa), on the subject of addressing vitalism and antivitalism in contemporary philosophy, i.e. philosophically irreconcilable issues with using the metaphysical term “life” amid growing 21st century materialism.

In 2009, Nathan Brown, of UC Davis, and Peter Milat, of the Croatian social activism group MaMa (Ѻ) hosted a symposia entitled “21st Century materialism”, the first of an aimed-to-be ongoing series; the series thus far include: (Ѻ)

● 2009 | 21st Century Materialism
● 2011 | To Have Done with Life
● 2012 | The Art of the Concept
● 2013 | Modernity: the Bitter End
● 2014 | Sophistry: the Powers of the False
● 2015 | Poiesis (Ѻ) (vid)

In 2011, Brown and Milat, hosted the second series symposia entitled “To Have Done with Life: Vitalism and Antivitalism in Contemporary Philosophy”; the synopsis of which is as follows: [1]

“‘Life’ is the site of a formidable lacuna. There is no firmly established scientific account of its constitutive properties or the process of its genesis. Varieties of “vital materialism” prone to describing physical forces in terms of an inherent “life of things” have done little to clarify the problematic nature of the concept, and insofar as “life” functions as an empty signifier concealing an absence of theoretical coherence we might be better to have done with it.”

This symposium seems to have dug around not necessarily at the level extreme end of: defunct theory of life, life does not exist, regarding definitions, life terminology upgrades, etc., type of view, but rather from the middle ground: "living crystals", "virus debate", and metaphysical objection end of the spectrum. Brown, in his "Introduction", opened the conference thematically to the following: [2]

The Tree of Life (2001)
Terrence Malick’s 2001 film The Tree of Life (Ѻ), which "To Have Done With Life" conference co-organizer Nathan Brown cites as an opening platform launching point for discussion, in respect to "issues" with the term "life" from an emergence and or metaphysical point of view. [2]
“The title of our 2009 conference at MaMa was 21st Century Materialism. The title of this year’s conference is To Have Done With Life. Let me try to frame this year’s event by thinking through the relation between these two titles or these two problems: the relation between the philosophical orientation called materialism and the philosophical and scientific concept of life.”

Brown then cites Terrence Malick’s 2001 film The Tree of Life (Ѻ), shown adjacent, which connects the emotional and psychological event of the “death” of a son or brother, depending on view, backwards in time to the birth of the universe; summarized by Brown as follows:

“A son dies, he is mourned by his family. And on the anniversary of his death, decades later, the film’s narrative focalization upon the psychological interiority of his older brother breaks into what must be one of the most remarkable “flashbacks” in the history of cinema, even more grandiose than the famous analeptic cut which opens 2001: A Space Odyssey. Malick’s film returns us to what seems to be the origin of the cosmos, and from here we follow the expansion of the universe and the formation of our galaxy through the accretion of the earth, millennia of geological time, the self-organization of RNA and DNA molecules, the emergence of mitochondria and multicellular organisms, the evolution of diverse animal species during the Cambrian explosion, the reign and extinction of the dinosaurs, and the beginning of the latest ice age during the Pliocene. We then return to the bildungsroman (Ѻ) of the eldest son, following the progress of his family romance up through the years preceding his younger brother’s death.”

Brown then, skipping some paragraphs on how the film is “profoundly materialist”, albeit taken up with an “Christian framework”, e.g. bringing in “spirituality terminology reform” problems, e.g. “how does spiritual experience—as an existential fact—come into being within the cosmos?”, intermixed with life terminology reform, jumps to the following ripe core of the problem statement:

“The term “emergence” is the surest index of the doubly physical and metaphysical scope of this problem. The emergence of life, we say, and what we seem to mean by this is that we do not know exactly how—at exactly what point and in exactly what way—life came into being, though we do seem to know a great deal about its properties—including, supposedly, that it exists [see: life does not exist]. The problem of “emergence” is that a modality of being came to be which was not before, and the difficulty is that tracking the physical causes of such an event leads to irresolvable aporia (Ѻ). And these aporia are too easily dissembled through reference to “complex, self-organizing processes,” as if we can at once account for and evade the radicality of the event we are trying to think by placing it within the same category as the formation of snowflakes, traffic patterns, or the activities of termite colonies. In its typical usage (the work of Stuart Kauffman, for example), the concept of “emergence” is a crypto-metaphysical concept pretending to offer physical explanations, at once allowing and accounting for gaps in the latter through reference to “complexity”.”

Firstly, regarding “the concept of ‘emergence’ is a crypto-metaphysical concept pretending to offer physical explanations, at once allowing and accounting for gaps in the latter through reference to ‘complexity’”, this corroborates with the new 2005 post-Dover trail classification of intelligent design (formerly creationism) with “sudden emergence”.

Perpetual motion life theories
A diagram classifying the “life theories” of Tibor Ganti (1974), i.e. chemoton theory, and Stuart Kauffman (1995), i.e. auto-catalytic closure, as perpetual motion theories, i.e. end over unity theories, i.e. perpetual motion of the living kind; which is what Nathan Brown (2011) seems to be pointing out in in his “Introduction” talk given during the To Have Done With Life conference.
Secondly, Brown, in short, asserts that the Kauffman patch (or Kauffman-like patches) to the problem of the origin of life, an example view of which is as follows:

“Alone, each molecular species is dead. Jointly, once catalytic closure among them is achieved, the collective system of molecules is alive.”
Stuart Kauffman (1995), At Home in the Universe (pg. 50)

is but an “irresolvable aporia”, i.e. something that does not allow for passage into the solution; which is pretty near to target, e.g. it took Thims three years to go from puzzlement stage (2007), i.e. the sort-of-alive subatomic particle stage, to the defunct theory of life stage (2009), and thereafter to correctly see Kauffman, and his irk, as nothing but either perpetual motion theories (see: perpetual motion of the living kind) and or ontic opening schemes (e.g. negentropy theory model of life). Brown continues:

“The problem for biology, then, is that it is constantly on the cusp of either reduction to physical chemistry or ideological capture by metaphysics. The concept of ‘life’ tends to get lost between explanations of biological organisms referring either to molecular interactions or to an irreducible systemic wholeness [e.g. Behe]. And because it gets lost, it is prone to over-extension as the je ne sais quoi (Ѻ) which accounts for the substance of the biological precisely through its indetermination.”

Brown continues:
Vibrant matter (2010)
American political philosopher and "thing theorist" Jane Bennett's Vibrant Matter, wherein she seems to be selling a 21st century do-gooder type of neo-Bersonianism, or something to this effect, which was one of the goads to the 2011 "To Have Done With Life" conference. [4]

“Should we have done with life? If we deploy this concept as a means of pretending we know what we mean when we do not, then we probably should. And this is perhaps the dominant para-philosophical use of this concept today, as it is deployed by actor-network theory spin-offs and vitalist Spinozisms extolling the so-called ‘life of things’. As, for example, in the ‘vital materialism’ of Jane Bennett.”

The following would seem to be an example Bennett quote, representative of what Brown is against:

“What counts as the material of vital materialism? Is it only human labour and the socio-economic entities made by men using raw materials? Or is materiality more potent than that? How can political theory do a better job of recognizing the active participation of nonhuman forces in every event and every stabilization? Is there a form of theory that can acknowledge a certain ‘thing-power’, that is, the irreducibility of objects to the human meanings or agendas they also embody?”
— Jane Bennett (2009), “Agency, Nature and Emergent Properties: an Interview with Jane Bennett” [3]

Likewise, the following as the following abstract to Bennett’s highly-cited (Ѻ) 2010 Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things indicates:

“Bennett examines the political and theoretical implications of vital materialism through extended discussions of commonplace things and physical phenomena including stem cells, fish oils, electricity, metal, and trash. She reflects on the vital power of material formations such as landfills, which generate lively streams of chemicals, and omega-3 fatty acids, which can transform brain chemistry and mood. Along the way, she engages with the concepts and claims of Spinoza, Nietzsche, Thoreau, Darwin, Adorno, and Deleuze, disclosing a long history of thinking about vibrant matter in Western philosophy, including attempts by Kant, Bergson, and the embryologist Hans Driesch to name the “vital force” inherent in material forms. Bennett concludes by sketching the contours of a “green materialist” ecophilosophy.”

she seems to be trying to sell neo-green materialism ecophilosopy, situated on an empty “neo-neovitalism” platform; which is what Brown seems to be pointing out, in respect to the incorrigibleness of the term life, and in turn the underlying foundationless of Bennett's well-mindedness in aim position.

Unliving lucidity
Brown, in his “The Lucidity of the Unliving: Crystallography and Inorganic” talk, opens to Scottish chemist Graham Cairns-Smith (Ѻ), his 1985 Seven Clues to the Origin of Life, and its assertion that the origin of life, originating from a 1966 paper, which asserted that: “life on earth evolved through natural selection from inorganic crystals”, after which he comments how this model is cited by Richard Dawkins and Daniel Dennett, but one that remains speculative and controversial. [6] At 15:00-min mark, Brown, in contract to his sharp "Kauffman confusion" introduction, digresses a type of baseless "crystal pataphysics philo-thesaurus babble", a digression on the 1994 pataphysical crystallography ideas of Christian Bok (Ѻ), on inorganic poetry, i.e. on who "linguistic particles" (letters) bond like electrons to form covalent bonds (words), which by 23-min is reminiscent of someone talking to their alter-ego in an imaginary semiotic sky castle, and by 30-min the talk is non-watchable.

The following are some of the notable conference videos: [5]

● Kukuljevic, Alexi. (2011). “Notes on Lifeless Matter” (vid), To Have Done With Life: Vitalism and Antivitalism in Contemporary Philosophy conference at MaMa, Zagreb, Jun 17-19.

The first 12:30 min of this is Kant on transcendentalism and and quotes from Critique of Judgment; nothing on lifeless matter thus far [?]

● Noys, Benjamin (2011). “The Poverty of Vitalism” (vid), To Have Done With Life: Vitalism and Antivitalism in Contemporary Philosophy conference at MaMa, Zagreb, Jun 17-19.

The first 10 min of this is basically nothing.

See also
BPE 2016

1. Brown, Nathan and Milat, Petar. (2011). “Symposium: To Have Done with Life: Vitalism and Antivitalism in Contemporary Philosophy”, Multimedia Institute, Zagreb, Jun 17-19.
2. Brown, Nathan. (2011). “Introduction” (Ѻ), WordPress,
3. Khan, Gulshuan, Bennett, Jane. (2009). “Agency, Nature and Emergent Properties: an Interview with Jane Bennett” (Ѻ), Dialogues with Political Theorists, Contemporary Political Theory, 8:90-105, Feb.
4. Bennett, Jane. (2010). Vibrant Matter: A Political Ecology of Things (pdf). Duke University Press.
5. Videos – To Have Done With Life (2011)
6. Brown, Nathan. (2011). “The Lucidity of the Unliving: Crystallography and Inorganic” (vid), To Have Done With Life: Vitalism and Antivitalism in Contemporary Philosophy conference at MaMa, Zagreb, Jun 17-19.

External links
Peter Milat (faculty) – Club MaMa.

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