I’m reading Latour’s Inquiry into Modes of Existence, about which more anon (if I ever figure it out). Latour’s approach demands a bountiful almost unbridled metaphysics. I like it, and fail to understand it, at the same time.
And I’m watching Kelso contribute to a debate about the origin of movement, or the notion of agency. Kelso makes the surprising suggestion that the fundamental unit of analysis to understand animate movement is the synergy, and that that should replace the reflex arc, which should make John Dewey happy.
I’d like to join these two dots. Latour’s menagerie is richer and more varied than the theory of coordination dynamics can ever reach, but it lacks any kind of rigour. And yet, a problem I, and many others, have had with coordination dynamics is that the full rigour of the approach, with nice equations and quantifiable degrees of freedom and such, all that is only available for periodic components. Oscillators, if you will. And I have long ago objected to building a model up on the basis of oscillators. For they are clocks, and biological beings have no clocks.
By using oscillators of one sort or another, one fixes time. To fix time, is to generate a meaning for the term “now”, and that brings into being one or other ontological domain. Clock time, so beloved of rank materialists, creates a Cartesian split between subject and object. Not all phenomena should be seen in a materialist framework. So we can perhaps finesse the notion of “time”, or recognize that any definition we care to provide of “time” brings into being a different ontology. The aperiodic synchronization of joint speakers appears to be no less real an example of entrainment than exhibited by Huygens’s periodic clocks.
Two speakers voicing in unison bring into being a transient dyadic entity with a dynamic constitution. Speech provides a means of sharing that allows the emergence of this dyadic domain, and with it, an ontological split that is not between the isolated Cartesian subject and a notional objective mind-independent materiality, but between the dyad and non-dyad. Each person negotiates their own dynamic entanglement in the dyad, and the dyad exhibits a stability that speaks of it’s own identity. This is, of course, all in the spirit of the Complementary Nature (speaker~dyad; dyad~non-dyad).
So now I wonder if playing fast and loose with “time”, and recasting it as any means by which we can identify the linking of domains, through shared knowledge, shared value, or shared clocks, might provide just the link required to hook up the ideas of Kelso and Latour. Joint speech is a beautiful example.
In classes and talks, I often state that I use the word “synchronization” (i.e. driven by the same clock) very strictly. I self-consciously restrict my attention to pairs of processes that are “doing the same thing at the same time”. I say that this approach has the virtue at least of placing an onus on me to say just what I mean by “thing” and just what I mean by “time”. I then say that my artificially narrow vision forces me to include (relatively loosely coupled) line-dancers, and exclude the man and woman dancing the exquisite tango in the corner, not because the latter are any less synchronized (they are clearly not), but just to keep the discussion rigorously focussed. To show that I have no bias against the tango dancers, I point out that two tango-dancing dyads could certainly count as synchronized by my narrow definition. The component is not always a single skin-clad bald monkey. Synchronous speech counts, because I can ground my need for both “thing” and “time” in the structure of the speech signal. I can quantify asynchrony without a clock, just leaning on the structure that speech has in spades.
Now I wish to push the other way, and take Scott’s rigour and loosen it up a little. We can use the idea of synergetic coupling to discover complementary pairs. But they do not all lie in the same domain. This is where I see the potential for coordination dynamics to hook up with AIME. The notion of complementarity (perhaps, but only perhaps, akin to Latour’s notion of a crossing; remember, I still don’t get Latour) might just provide a rich underpinning for an account of our lived world that provides the kind of ontological fecundity that Latour demands, as long as we take any attempt to employ oscillators with the caution it deserves. Fine, go ahead and use oscillators, but with that you are fixing value at one level, and you must not forget that other complementarities, that you now cannot see, also have a place at the table.