Meillassoux’s Heresy? or The Chaos-God

[The following is a collection of excerpts from a paper I am working on about Meillassoux, Quantum Physics and the return of the anthropic in systems categorically opposed to the high status of the human.]

The theoretical passage, or perhaps more accurately the gaping chasm, between Quentin Meillassoux’s rigorously critical After Finitude to his divinological contribution to Collapse IV “Spectral Dilemma,” signals not only potentially strange consequences for the Speculative Realist project on the whole but also what several commentators have already noticed; that there is at best a political/ethical caesura and at worse an apolitical/unethical core in Speculative Realism.

In After Finitude, Meillassoux sets out to challenge the widespread but implicit correlationist enjoinder – that humans and the world they inhabit are codependent, and that the world only exists to be accessed by humans (AF, p. 5).  The argument here is essentially a complexification of ‘if a tree falls in the woods does it make a sound?’ (AF, p. 18-19). For Meillassoux and other Speculative Realists, the answer to this question is a resounding yes in the face of half a century of denials tantamount to theoretical heresy in that he claims that the absolute can be thought (AF, p. 30). Meillassoux goes on to de-comfort the physical world and ends with the assertion that the base line of existence is a storm of hyper-Chaos in which everything goes out the window except the law of non-contradiction.

Given this rigorous deanthropomorphization of reality, his more recent work “Spectral Dilemma” may come as a surprise in that it attempts to explode the divide of the theistic and the atheistic via the inexistent divine. That is given the death of things and the death of god, how is one to go one ethically? Meillassoux’s strange answer is the possibility of a god in the future.  Following the logic of the hyper-Chaos – anything is possible save contradiction and hence, if Meillassoux assumes that nothing existent contradicts divine possibility, then why isn’t a new god possible?

For the possibility of a new god we find ourselves having to choose between, given the old argument, omnipotence or omniscience? If we are to assume that Meillassoux’s adoption of non-contradiction holds, it would seem that he would side with omniscience since it does not necessarily create a contradictory entity in that the new God could choose not to via inherent omniscience and also that an omniscient god coming to be, is easier than explaining an all powerful god coming to be.  As ludicrous as it sounds, following Meillassoux’s assertion that science revealed the power of speculative thought for philosophy, we will track the following question: is the concept of a virtual God much easier to swallow (both scientifically and philosophically) then that of the human at the center of the universe? (AF, 120)

Meillassoux’s “Spectral Dilemma” departs from the atheistic/theistic divide by centering on the object of the specter. For Meillassoux, mourning, and specifically the material fate of the dead, falls between the aporia of the atheo-religious (Collapse, 267). The theist has hope for the dead and therefore posits a God because their fate would be untenable or diastrous, the atheist, according to Meillassoux, denies a God, especially one who is purported to have caused death and yet is expected to shepard their specters (Collapse, 265). Meillassooux argues that it is the forced choice between a God who brings justice for the dead and a God without justice (Collapse, 266). This contention can be broken via the theory of a divine inexistence, that is, a formulation in which God does not exist but is a possibility and therefore a resurrection of the dead is possible.

Meillassoux goes on to argue that the imperative, via the stipulation of the divine inexistentence, is to de-link God from necessity. This should be no surprise since, as we have seen throughout After Finitude, Meillassoux actively destroys any the being of any necessity save contingency itself. Since nothing prohibits God, the entity can be grasped, via an “interlection of a radical Chaos” (Collapse, 273) as inexistent, possible, contingent and unmasterable which is the effect of Chaos itself (Collapse, p. 271-274).  The largest question which Meillassoux ventures – if God is not eternal than what is he? – is left to future discussion (Collapse, 269). But if God is to be able to care for the essential specters, to do justice to the dead, how is this possible outside of the tired category of omnipotence while still within temporal bondage?

The utterance of God-word is what should strike us most in that such a nomination, as we have already noted, designates omnipotence and/or omniscience. If Meillassoux’s conceptualization of facticity remains tied to weak correlationism – that the absolute can be thought but not known – then one could argue that a Virtual God would be an entity which is god-like via our inability to know it completely. Another possibility here would be Whitehead’s process theology that God is an entity which offers possibility to free beings or a theoretically neutered version of the omega point theory – that, as human beings, are evolving towards a grand consciousness or king of God-computer.

Thus if we take Meillassoux’s immanence as hyper-Chaos and that the assumption, prior to such chaos, the plane on which it operates, is that of non-contradiction, then God would become an articulation of hyper-Chaos which came closest to the absolutization of contingency, ie, of necessity itself. God becomes the (virtual) embodiment of (non-contradictory) possibility such as the Chinese Hundun (or world-egg) or, in Ovid’s words, as a “rather a crude and indigested mass, a lifeless lump, unfashioned and unframed, of jarring seeds.” Yet, if Meillassoux’s hyper-Chaos is pre-decided via contingency (being) then is it not subject to the critique of Laruelleian non-decisionalism?

For an apparition of God that would not betray the weight of the word that names it, it would have to bear some incredible power whether rooted in an omniscience or omnipotence. Since the latter seems impossible via non-contradiction, the former, while not knowing all, could possibly know that which is unknowable about all of us – that of the pre or non being – that of the Real. This would be a fairly radical composite of the God-thing if, instead of serving, as it historically has, as the last tether to pull us back from the abyss of chaos (as it did for Descartes, Pascal and innumerable others) it guaranteed the bottomlessness of that pit.

10 thoughts on “Meillassoux’s Heresy? or The Chaos-God

  1. I haven’t read the “Spectral Dilemma” essay yet, so maybe he gets into it there, but I’m wondering why you think Meillassoux would choose for an omniscient god over an omnipotent god? Particularly since, as I make my way though After Finitude, he explicitly draws a parallel between hyper-Chaos and an omnipotent god – in that both are capable of doing absolutely anything (or nothing) (see pg. 64).

    This claim comes about in the context of a conversation relating Descartes’s absolute (a perfect God) versus his own absolute (the necessity of contingency), so perhaps that makes it crucially distinct from the “Spectral Dilemma” discussion which appears to be concerned with a god that could come to be, rather than the absolute itself? Omnipotence would simply be hyper-Chaos, whereas omniscience would be a property of a contingent god, perhaps?

    [EDIT:] OK, reading one page further (!), Meillassoux gets into the idea of an auto-limitation of omnipotence – which in a sense makes it no longer omnipotent. But I’m not sure this changes my point; the absolute is still omnipotent, with its only limitations being instituted by its necessarily contingent nature. It’s the same sort of idea as, to quote Homer Simpson, “can god microwave a burrito so hot that even he can’t eat it?” The necessary limitation involved is omnipotence, but a more nuanced understanding of omnipotence than the empty idea that “anything’s possible” (which Meillassoux ties to the correlationist/skeptic’s position). Anyways, just wanted to add that caveat to the discussion (and have an excuse to quote Homer)…

  2. Yeah I haven’t decided this definately yet and Meillassoux doesn’t address it directly in the “Spectral Dilemma” basically, for me, the issue resides in the relation of a Virtual God to hyper-Chaos – that is, is the virtual God to fit in hyper-Chaos or supplant it or…what?

    I think omniscence is easier to deal with in terms of avoiding contradiction (as your Simpson quote points out) but if omnipotence is taken in this way, which is a not-All omnipotence then what about this qualifies God as God? This problem, in the larger paper, is compared to the anthropic principle which is an awfully silly theory loosely based on the Multiple World Interpreatation of Quantum Mechanics, in which there is a suggestion of an eventually God computer (at least in the omega point version).

    Basically my issue is that an eventual/virtual omniscence seems far less problematic (scientifically and theologically) than an omniscent one. I think if anything though, “Spectral Dillema” points to omnipotence and not omniscence in that a virtual God would need to care for the dead and maybe, if he didn’t know all, they could die without the God-entity’s knowledge thereby allowing for some kind of justice.

    • Hi,

      Thanks for the post. Though I have not read “Spectral Dilemma,” here are my two cents.

      1) Because The Principle of Unreason (hyper-chaos) is absolute and herewith absolutely anhypothetical (AF 60), it is impossible that it is a predicate. A virtual God cannot supplant/replace it.

      2) Re-consider – – “the former [omniscience], while not knowing all, could possibly know that which is unknowable about all of us – that of the pre or non being – that of the Real.” First, it is not a contradiction to know all in Meillassoux’s terms. Second, I think minor but significant revision to your statement should be omniscience “could possibly know that which is unknowable about **each** of us.” The only think ‘unknowable’ (at least for the Kantian correlationist) about all of us is the absolute. But Meillassoux clears this up when he proves the Principle of Unreason. I guess this depends on what you mean by unknowable, but considering the context, I’m assuming you mean ‘unthinkable.’ For a being (God) who grasps (in the Cartesian sense) an entity or all entities would be omnipotent.

      3) Given Meillassoux’s Kantian bent, I would expect him to transpose Kant’s own ‘Reason-ful’ work on ethics in Critique of Practical Reason and the Groundwork into one which is ‘Unreason-ful.’ Rather than focusing on the notion of universality, I think a useful place to start this would be with a basic Meillassouxian revaluation (point by point) of what Kant claims in regard to the reasonability of selflessness. Not to mention the implications of Kant’s ethics, one of its problems is the tenability of what I would call active submission (in Zizekian terms, false activity). Does The Principle of Unreason provide the possibility to think, as Meillassoux claims, beyond/before the active/passive binary so that one can a priori deduce an ethical model? (This question might also address your invocation of Laruelle.) If so, such a model should be able to inform us whether mourning is (un)reasonable.

      I would try to avoid taking less issue with Meillassoux’s definitions and taking more issue with how his ideas play out. One major question for Meillassoux is whether or not his Principle of Unreason is indeed as radical as it feigns to be. How does he (if at all) differ from any of the many so-called Postmodern Theorists (Heller, Lyotard, Jameson, even Derrida)? That is, how is not thinking an absolute (pure ignorance) different than thinking the absolute qua pure possibility? More than that, how does Meillassoux (and this goes for Badiou as well) supplant a Lacanian ethics and/or model of the subject/self?

  3. Hi, thanks a lot for this discussion, and this extremely promising website.

    So, I’d just like to pose a question concerning the virtual God and his possible omnipotence or omniscience. Is the problem that if the virtual God is neither of those two, then he cannot be worthy of the name God?

    Becuase I find it hard to see how to get either omnipotence or omniscience without necessity. Is there any strong reason for thinking that the virtual God must be like the god of christianity rather than something more similar to say the Greek gods?

    You could maybe have an omnipotent god in the sense of an entity which could transgress all the laws of nature, to do everything that was in his will, and this will was essentially directed towards the benevolence implied in restoring justice for the spectres of the dead. But in another sense, he would be extremely far from omnipotence, because at every instant it would be possible that he disappeared, or was changed into a less powerful being, or anything else one can think of within the limitations of contingency…….. My guess is that one would need to distinguish between something like “factual omnipotence” and “necessary omnipotence”…… like for instance, the laws of natural science could be said to be “factually omnipotent”, in the sense that they as a matter of fact seem to govern everything that happens. Their existence, specification, and stability, though, is strictly contingent.

  4. Jonas,

    Thanks for the comment – you make several very good points, especially in regards to factual versus necessary. My problem with Meillassoux is mostly definitional – when you say virtual God how virtual and how God like does it need to be and does this fit within the rules of his necessity of contingency system, or does it replace them?

  5. “as human beings, are evolving towards a grand consciousness or king of God-computer.”

    I think Bostrom has shown that it isn’t a matter of evolution, either we’re already in a computer simulation, or there’ll never be one.

  6. “I think Bostrom has shown that it isn’t a matter of evolution, either we’re already in a computer simulation, or there’ll never be one.”

    Well, there is always the possibility that we’ll be the ones responsible for the simulation, no?

  7. I think the issue of God is one that should be rendered ideally to those of a spiritual bent (Priests, Spritualists, Imam’s, Laypersons, and so on). For the part of philosophy it is perhaps best left as one of the ‘great unknowns’. We are better construing of some other way in which we might conceive of meaning in a completely random Universe as described by Meillassoux in After Finitude. See: http://logicalregression.blogspot.com/2009/03/on-life-that-lives.html

    Excerpt:

    ‘The answer resides in what Art is; an illusion. Art is a form that is construed as bearing meaning, even in the absence of that very meaning. It is here that art is ultimately resistant to the auspices of the mind-mapper. For if the impulse that led to somebody construing an artwork as having meaning were identified (and, to be sure, they may have been – I would be interested to know) as mere impulses of a material nature, it could not then be said that the experience of finding ‘meaning, in front of, say, a Velázquez, made that meaning reducible to objective experience, because the very premise of Art is that it is objective, but that it projects to communicate something beyond the objective realm; an artwork is not a mere object, depsite its mere objectivity. What the neuro-scientist would surely have to concede is that they have found a source of proclaiming meaning that defies even its absence, a condition under which the object can be other to mere object; reflexively then, even the base objectivity of the source of this ‘artistic’ impulse could be argued as resistant to objectification on the terms that other impulses – towards spiritual belief, love, desire etc. – precisely because art requires just that it is a mere object, in order that it maintain its illusion, which is what it – art – is.’

    L-R

  8. But what if Abraxas turns up and repeals the law of non-contradiction?

    I was reminded of that Jung-y weirdness when I heard about Meillassoux requiring that hyperchaos obey that law.

    Contradiction can blatantly be negated; just produce a situation in which the two properties claimed to be mutually exclusive no longer are. And so you have Abraxas, who supposedly has every contradictory possibility simultaneously except for contradictions to effectiveness. The moment he pops up, contingency continues on without the law of non-contradiction.

    But maybe that’s beside the point, as Meillassoux is not so much on about the God as the Resurrection: Presumably all he needs is a mirror world to come into existence via hyperchaos in which full compensation is given to all resurrected human beings for everything that has happened in their life, and they can live happily ever af/ until the next expression of contingency.

  9. Hi,
    I have recently read Quentin Meillassoux’s 1997 thesis “L’inexistence divine”.
    For the occasion, here is my fast translation of some excerpts that could elucidate some aspects of the virtual God concept :

    p.297 :
    “The fourth World is identifiable to the universal as an object of the man’s rational desire, that is to say his demand of justice for every human being as such, that is, of each as he arises as a simple man, equal to any other – equality expressed by the indistinguishable exercise of his thought in its fundamental signification, namely : perception of his own mortality, ability to not understand God (that is, every authority of the real necessity), seizure of the eternal, logical and ontological truths.”

    p.330-331 :
    “The human mediator between irruption ex nihilo and the irrupted must be considered as the one that not only in fact receives (by irruption ex nihilo) the power to produce the rebirth necessary to justice, but who moreover carries the unique gesture to rid himself of the power coming from this irruption, once performed the justice, of which this irruption was (only) the condition.
    Thus, five determinations have to be assigned to him : 1) the mediator must be a man whose action is guided by the universal (“goodness”) ; 2) he possesses the knowledge or the memory of the singular becomings of the living and of the dead (“omniscience”) ; 3) he has the power to accomplish voluntarily the rebirth of the dead (“omnipotence”) ; 4) he has the power to definitely abolish in himself the previous powers (his omniscience, his omnipotence) ; finally, last attribute, that results in truth from the first and the fourth, 5) the mediator effectively and definitely abolishes his own power once the rebirth accomplished – and only then he accomplishes the justice by subordinating by this unique gesture the contingency of the power he received to the will to become a man among men, the equal of any other, thus making himself a singular being.”

    p.334 :
    “This omnipotence is not a pure omipotence (in which case the God-Everything could happen, which is absurd), but the contingent power to make happen justice.”

    All apologies for my inaccurate English.

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