Suspicion on Consciousness as an Immanent Derivative


The category of the subject (like that of the object) has no place in an immanent world. There can be no transcendent, subjective essence. What, then, is the ontological status of a body and its attendant instance of consciousness? In what would it exist? Sanford Kwinter (conjuncted here) here offers:

It would exist precisely in the ever-shifting pattern of mixtures or composites: both internal ones – the body as a site marked and traversed by forces that converge upon it in continuous variation; and external ones – the capacity of any individuated substance to combine and recombine with other bodies or elements (ensembles), both influencing their actions and undergoing influence by them. The ‘subject’ … is but a synthetic unit falling at the midpoint or interface of two more fundamental systems of articulation: the first composed of the fluctuating microscopic relations and mixtures of which the subject is made up, the second of the macro-blocs of relations or ensembles into which it enters. The image produced at the interface of these two systems – that which replaces, yet is too often mistaken for, subjective essence – may in turn have its own individuality characterized with a certain rigor. For each mixture at this level introduces into the bloc a certain number of defining capacities that determine both what the ‘subject’ is capable of bringing to pass outside of itself and what it is capable of receiving (undergoing) in terms of effects.

This description is sufficient to explain the immanent nature of the subjective bloc as something entirely embedded in and conditioned by its surroundings. What it does not offer – and what is not offered in any detail in the entirety of the work – is an in-depth account of what, exactly, these “defining capacities” are. To be sure, it would be unfair to demand a complete description of these capacities. Kwinter himself has elsewhere referred to the states of the nervous system as “magically complex”. Regardless of the specificity with which these capacities can presently be defined, we must nonetheless agree that it is at this interface, as he calls it, at this location where so many systems are densely overlaid, that consciousness is produced. We may be convinced that this consciousness, this apparent internal space of thought, is derived entirely from immanent conditions and can only be granted the ontological status of an effect, but this effect still manages to produce certain difficulties when attempting to define modes of behavior appropriate to an immanent world.

There is a palpable suspicion of the role of consciousness throughout Kwinter’s work, at least insofar as it is equated with some kind of internal, subjective space. (In one text he optimistically awaits the day when this space will “be left utterly in shreds.”) The basis of this suspicion is multiple and obvious. Among the capacities of consciousness is the ability to attribute to itself the (false) image of a stable and transcendent essence. The workings of consciousness are precisely what allow the subjective bloc to orient itself in a sequence of time, separating itself from an absolute experience of the moment. It is within consciousness that limiting and arbitrary moral categories seem to most stubbornly lodge themselves. (To be sure this is the location of all critical thought.) And, above all, consciousness may serve as the repository for conditioned behaviors which believe themselves to be free of external determination. Consciousness, in short, contains within itself an enormous number of limiting factors which would retard the production of novelty. Insofar as it appears to possess the capacity for self-determination, this capacity would seem most productively applied by turning on itself – that is, precisely by making the choice not to make conscious decisions and instead to permit oneself to be seized by extra-subjective forces.

Hypercoverings, or Fibrant Homotopies




Given that a Grothendieck topology is essentially about abstracting a notion of ‘covering’, it is not surprising that modified Čech methods can be applied. Artin and Mazur used Verdier’s idea of a hypercovering to get, for each Grothendieck topos, E, a pro-object in Ho(S) (i.e. an inverse system of simplicial sets), which they call the étale homotopy type of the topos E (which for them is ‘sheaves for the étale topology on a variety’). Applying homotopy group functors gives pro-groups πi(E) such that π1(E) is essentially the same as Grothendieck’s π1(E).

Grothendieck’s nice π1 has thus an interpretation as a limit of a Čech type, or shape theoretic, system of π1s of ‘hypercoverings’. Can shape theory be useful for studying ́etale homotopy type? Not without extra work, since the Artin-Mazur-Verdier approach leads one to look at inverse systems in proHo(S), i.e. inverse systems in a homotopy category not a homotopy category of inverse systems as in Strong Shape Theory.

One of the difficulties with this hypercovering approach is that ‘hypercovering’ is a difficult concept and to the ‘non-expert’ seem non-geometric and lacking in intuition. As the Grothendieck topos E ‘pretends to be’ the category of Sets, but with a strange logic, we can ‘do’ simplicial set theory in Simp(E) as long as we take care of the arguments we use. To see a bit of this in action we can note that the object [0] in Simp(E) will be the constant simplicial sheaf with value the ordinary [0], “constant” here taking on two meanings at the same time, (a) constant sheaf, i.e. not varying ‘over X’ if E is thought of as Sh(X), and (b) constant simplicial object, i.e. each Kn is the same and all face and degeneracy maps are identities. Thus [0] interpreted as an étale space is the identity map X → X as a space over X. Of course not all simplicial objects are constant and so Simp(E) can store a lot of information about the space (or site) X. One can look at the homotopy structure of Simp(E). Ken Brown showed it had a fibration category structure (i.e. more or less dual to the axioms) and if we look at those fibrant objects K in which the natural map

p : K → [0]

is a weak equivalence, we find that these K are exactly the hypercoverings. Global sections of p give a simplicial set, Γ(K) and varying K amongst the hypercoverings gives a pro-simplicial set (still in proHo(S) not in Hopro(S) unfortunately) which determines the Artin-Mazur pro-homotopy type of E.

This makes the link between shape theoretic methods and derived category theory more explicit. In the first, the ‘space’ is resolved using ‘coverings’ and these, in a sheaf theoretic setting, lead to simplicial objects in Sh(X) that are weakly equivalent to [0]; in the second, to evaluate the derived functor of some functor F : C → A, say, on an object C, one takes the ‘average’ of the values of F on objects weakly equivalent to G, i.e. one works with the functor

F′ : W(C) → A

(where W(C) has objects, α : C → C′, α a weak equivalence, and maps, the commuting ‘triangles’, and this has a ‘domain’ functor δ : W(C) → C, δ(α) = C′ and F′ is the composite Fδ). This is in many cases a pro-object in A – unfortunately standard derived functor theory interprets ‘commuting triangles’ in too weak a sense and thus corresponds to shape rather than strong shape theory – one thus, in some sense, arrives in proHo(A) instead of in Ho(proA).