28 Sep 2009

5: Seeing Machines. Instrumentality and Perception in the Seventeeth Century. [The Kvond Spinoza’s Foci Summary Series]

Summary of kvond’s ideas, by Corry Shores
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The Kvond Spinoza’s Foci Summary Series

[Kvond’s original work with Spinoza’s optics and lens craftsmanship has led me to see Spinoza’s ideas in a whole new way. If you have the chance, check out his blog, especially his work with Spinoza. He’s a world class Spinoza scholar.]

Kvond of Frames /sing

Spinoza’s Foci

Part I: The concept of the Philosopher as Lens Grinder

Often ideas are instrumentalized. Descartes, for example, divorced Mind from Body, and regarded phenomena in mechanistic terms. His perspective influenced the development of complex automated machines. The push for production-efficiency resulted as well in the slave trade replacing indentured servitude and sharecropping.

Consider metaphorically Descartes hyperbolic lens.

[Image obtained gratefully from the same kvond posting.]

It focuses light down to a point. In a similar way, we might lose sight of the big picture, and look only at how things relate causally on a very local level. Perhaps we obtain mathematically-expressed laws which allow us produce the things we want with optimal efficiency. But also, from this abstract and limited point of view, we might come to value even the use of slavery, given its productive efficiency. For, such a solution results from the clarity and distinctness of thought– admirable rational achievements. Kvond writes:

“There is something to the rise of the lens and the desire to see more and more clearly, in a blinkered sense, that grants priority to narrow focus.”

Spinoza was a lens grinder as well as a philosopher. He was also a rationalist who valued clear and distinct thinking. Nonetheless, he did not value ‘automated, instrumentalized productions.’ Kvond explains that Spinoza “was much more sensitive to the joining points between human beings and their actions, in particular to the kinds of ideas that were held by persons. One does not simply see better because one sees further, or more minutely.” We discussed previously Spinoza’s objection to automated lens grinding machines, “an uncraftsmanlike transfer of mathematics to form through measure and mechanism, which works with a kind of transcendental force, the device becoming invisible and unconscious.” Spinoza turns our attention back to the human hands which operate the machines, as well to the Ideas that we machine users have. We form assemblages with our instruments. And the quality of our ideas determines the power and perfection of our machinic interactions.

Consider how Descartes proposed his own notions of a transcendent God and free will. His sharp division between mind and body was essential for his project. Spinoza, however, reconciled the two [by means of his parallelism]. He was not so narrowly focused on abstract rational conceptions. He did not just design lenses for seeing things with greater focus. As well, he ground and polished them with his own hands. Ideas and their material instantiations cannot be divorced. In fact, kvond writes, “a calculation, for Spinoza, must be seen as an act, the mathematical point, as a relation and expression, and an instantiation, a persistence.” We do not just see, we see from a certain conceptual perspective. [Descartes saw the world mechanically. This perspective might view slaves as machines and not people.] Kvond puts it that we are always seeing-with. Hence, being concerned with local causation is not a fuller form of seeing the world:

the radii of causes, comprehensively taken, are the finer part of seeing, and one only takes the hand off the process, knowingly. There is a certain ecology of perception that Spinoza’s observations on the eve of the Instrument define. (Kvond)

Kvond. Instrumentality and Perception in the Seventeeth Century. http://kvond.wordpress.com/2008/08/11/instrumentality-and-perception-in-the-seventeeth-century/


  1. Wow, that is very good. In particular I like the connection to the efficiency of slavery, something I have thought about and touched on, but have not written enough about. I'm unsure of what posts of mine you have read, but I also followed the Spinoza family's possible connection to the sugar trade, and tangentally the slave trade (his community had strong connections to the sugar slave colony of Recife Brazil). I cannot help but feel that Spinoza's remove from Amsterdam commerce cannot be completely disconnected from the problem of slavery. A variety of posts in relation:








  2. That's interesting. Thanks, I'll check them out. I had no idea about this.