Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Situation in Japan

I usually reside in Japan, in Hino, which is located in the west of Tokyo. However, given the evolution of the situation in the Fukushima nuclear Plant, My wife and I have decided to fly out of Japan yesterday, and we are now in Singapore, in my wife's family.
It seems to me that the government and TEPCO have very little control over the evolution of the situation in the reactors at Fukushima, and therefore the risk of a major radioactive leak is very real. For the last few days, the public has been given contradictory information, often after the facts, and with very few details. The reality of the risk and the seeming confusion of the authorities are what made us leaving Japan for a period we hope to be as short as possible. The pressure from our overseas family and friends also became very strong with every new problem at the nuclear plants.

Anyway, I advise all the people who currently reside in Tokyo area to consider leaving it for a while, there are several options: Living the country for those who have places to stay outside of Japan, move towards the south, the Kansai region or even Hiroshima area, or simply move towards the mountains, in the narrowest possible valleys where a radioactivity cloud is the less likely to find its way through. For the coming two days, Tokyo seems safe from contamination because of the wind direction, it may be the best time to move out. Once the cloud will be there, the only option will be to stay at home as hermetically closed as possible.

All our thoughts are with the Japanese people, and we do hope we will be back in Japan in a few days when the situation in the nuclear plants will be under control.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

The Logic of Place

In this post, I will attempt to present succinctly the Logic of Place as created and understood by Nishida Kitaro, and then to draw some of its implications.


Nishida’s Logic of Basho closely relates to his writing style and therefore to the Japanese language itself, as is shown by Jacynthe Tremblay in this article ([1]).
From there, we may at once remark that an important feature of this logic is its encompassing nature: a higher category (more universal) that is encompassing of lower one (more particular) is said to be its basho. This is illustrated, at the epistemological level, by the following:

“In the judgment “red is a color,” the copula (である) means at the objective level that the particular is located in the universal and that the latter becomes the basho of the former”[1], p.257

To the point that basho becomes embedded into each other:

“The fact that in the strict sense, the basho is located in a basho means simply the consciousness.”[1],p.262, note 6

This embedding-into-each-others may even be an embedding-in-itself, in the case of self-awareness:

“Self-awareness means that the self sees itself in itself. Seeing without a seer means that the “self as noesis” becomes the “self as basho,” that is to say, the basho itself.”[1],p.268

It would be a mistake however to understand the basho in terms of Platonician forms, as is clearly stated in note 12:

“form and content are given simultaneously”[1],p.262, note 12

The idea of simultaneity is particularly important here, it means that the basho and its content condition each other in a non-causal manner, which relates to the Buddhist concept of dependent origination.
In fact, the logic of basho is a formalization of the classic Buddhist logic that is found in Nagarjuna and his followers, an attempt to overcome its apparent contradictory features such as the one expressed here in another article by Jacynthe Tremblay ([2])(click on the PDF link on the left column to access the full article):

“La logique paradoxale de Nishida présente le néant absolu comme la matrice logique de la détermination mutuelle des couples opposés. Il permet la néantisation d'un terme en auto-identité pour qu'apparaisse son contraire, et vice versa. Comprise à partir du point de vue du néant absolu, l'auto-identité absolument contradictoire de Nishida n'est rien d'autre que la reprise philosophique rigoureuse de la logique bouddhiste qui énonce que A=A; A=non-A; donc A=A. Le terme «auto-identité» (jiko dôitsu) correspond à «A=A»; les mots «absolument contradictoire» (zettai mujun teki) correspondent à «A=non-A» (ou A n'est pas A mais devient B ), c'est-à-dire à la néantisation de A par l'intermédiaire du néant absolu.”[2],p.70

Which, in english, roughly gives:

“The paradoxical logic of Nishida presents absolute nothingness as the logical matrix of the reciprocal determination of opposite couples. It allows the nihilation of one term into self-identity for its opposite to appear, the absolutely contradictory self-identity of Nishida is nothing more than the philosophical and rigorous translation of the Buddhist logic that states: A=A; A=not-A; therefore A=A. The term «self-identity» (jiko dôitsu) relates to «A=A»; the words «absolutely contradictory» (zettai mujun teki) relate to «A=not-A» (where A is not A but becomes B ), that is, the nihilation of A by means of absolute nothingness.”

I don’t totally agree with the above remark, it is not the “the absolutely contradictory self-identity” that is “the philosophical and rigorous translation of the Buddhist logic”, but the whole idea of a basho logic, and it is where we can clearly see the difference between this logic and the classic circular western logic. A bit earlier, Jacynthe Tremblay writes the following:

“Elle n'est pas basée simplement sur une négation, mais sur une négation de la négation, sur une négation absolue qui n'est rien d'autre qu'une affirmation absolue.”[2],p.68

“It[Nagarjuna’s Way of the Middle] is not simply based on a negation, but on a negation of a negation, on an absolute negation that is nothing else than an absolute affirmation.”

I think it would be a mistake to interpret this last sentence as being equivalent to the western logic proposition: not-not-A=A.
What Nagarjuna says here and what Nishida tries to clarify with his logic of basho is that A, via this process of double-negation is altering itself, it is actually becoming its own basho by overcoming the duality that conditions its very existence.
If now, we denote ‘a’ an entity and ‘A’ the basho within which this entity is located, we should then write: not-not-a=A
And possibly: A=not-A if A is the basho of absolute nothingness, that obviously leads to the constitution of the self-aware subject as an “absolutely contradictory self-identity”.

A last point in this short presentation of Nishida’s logic is to notice its acquaintance with some of the points Meillassoux is making about the law of non-contradiction and the necessity of contingency. The logic of basho is ultimately a logic of becoming, its affirmation of absolute contradiction is really one that is meant to refine the eliminative Hegelian logic as is correctly pointed out by Robert E. Carter ([2],pp69-70) in order to preserve intact the dual tension between contradicting poles; such a move was also made, at about the same time, by Mao in his interpretation of Marx, he was then inspired, maybe subconsciously, by Chinese classical philosophy.
When Meillassoux asserts the law of non-contradiction as a corollary to the necessity of contingency, he is stating that “becoming” is only possible as the result of a tension between contradicting poles, as such he wrote:

“Affirmer qu’un existant peut ne plus exister, affirmer que cette possibilité, de surcroît, est quant à elle une nécessité ontologique, c’est aussi bien affirmer que l’existence en général de l’existant, au même titre que l’inexistence en général de l’inexistant sont les deux pôles indestructibles par lesquels la destructibilité de toute chose peut être pensée.”[MEI06], p.102

“To affirm that an existent can stop existing, to affirm that such a possibility is furthermore an ontological necessity, that is also to affirm that the existence in general of the existent, as well as the inexistence in general of the inexistent are the two indestructible poles by which the destructibility of all things may be thought.”


In the note 28 of the second article, Jacynthe Tremblay writes the following:

« La relation je-tu (watashi to nanji) de Nishida se rapproche beaucoup de la relation Îch-Du (ware to nanji) de Martin Buber. Nishida est en effet entré en contact avec la pensée de Buber sur cette question par l'intermédiaire de la théologie dialectique de Gogarten, entre autres. »[2], p,73, note 28

“The relation I-thou (watashi to nanji) from Nishida has a strong acquaintance with the relation Îch-Du (ware to nanji) from Martin Buber. Nishida has indeed had contact with Buber’s thought on that question by means of the dialectical theology of Gorgarten, among others.”

This is correct to an extent, however, a better comparison would have been, in my view, with Levinas thought.
Whereas Buber insists on “a mutuality of relation that will eventually elide the difference between the I and thou”([3]), Levinas seems keener to “preserve the "reality of the difference between the `I' and `thou'"”([3]). As such, Levinas is more in tune with the spirit of nishida’s logic where nihilation is never to be taken as a cancellation or an overcoming of the difference, but as a keeping intact of the tension of relation that founds the subject as an “absolutely contradictory self-identity”( 絶 対 矛 盾 的 自 己 同 一 : the aggregative nature of Japanese language allows to reflect the dynamics at play, which would be destroyed by a reconciliation of opposites).
Buber, therefore, does remain into an Hegelian famework (via Feuerbach), and by insisting on reciprocity, he precludes the field, the basho, within which the dynamics of becoming is to take place.
However, Levinas significantly deviates from Nishida when he introduces a third party in the relation between I and thou, and this third party is God whose being-in-the world is the Illeity:

“Illeity lies outside the "thou" and the thematization of objects. A neologism formed with il (he) or ille, it indicates a way of concerning me without entering into conjunction with me. To be sure, we have to indicate the element in which this concerning occurs.”[3]

At first sight, “Illeity” may seem a concept equivalent to Nishida’s basho, if, we, for a minute, overlook the usage of the word “God” within the context of Judaism, we may assume that, indeed, “Illeity” just provides a ground, a location for the relation to take place, especially in view of the following remark:

“God is the absent condition of the encounter with the other.”[3]

There is however a fundamental difference between Levinas’ Illeity and Nishida’s basho, that actually reflects the difference between the western monotheistic view of reality and the eastern atheistic view of it. The absence of God, that structures its illeity is not the absolute nothingness of the Nishida’s ultimate basho. Whereas the former posits a totalized world where God (even as the “Absent”) in its illeity appears as the fabric of relationality, by which “an order is signified to me”([3], note 40), the latter posits the untotalizable emptiness of absolute nothingness.
Thereby, positing such a fabric is for Levinas to posit an existing and eternal connectedness between I and thou, on the other hand, Nishida clearly affirms an impassable chasm between I and thou, a discontinuity that cannot be amended:

“Le lieu où le je et le tu se situent et qui entraîne l'auto-négation de chacun d'entre eux, c'est-à-dire le basho du néant absolu, est l'intermédiaire où s'unit ce qui ne s'unit absolument pas, l'intermédiaire où le caractère absolu de chaque élément et l'aspect d'absolue confrontation s'unissent dynamiquement. Pareille négation ouvre dans le basho du néant absolu un intervalle insondable qui est la condition même de la subjectivité (shutaisei) du je et du tu. C'est là une manière de se joindre en se coupant, c'est-à-dire en ne se touchant pas directement. Cela s'associe directement au fait que le soi est le soi sans être le soi, c'est-à-dire comporte une interruption en lui-même. Nishida mentionne que « le je est le je par le fait de reconnaître la personnalité du tu, et le tu est le tu par le fait de reconnaître la personnalité du je. Ce qui fait du tu le tu est le je, et ce qui fait du je le je est le tu. Le je et le tu étant une discontinuité absolue, le je détermine le tu et le tu détermine le je.»”[2]p.74

“The place where the I and the thou are located and which triggers the self-negation of each of them, that is, the basho of absolute nothingness, is the intermediary where is united what is absolutely not united, the intermediary where the absolute character of each element and the aspect of absolute confrontation get unified dynamically. Such a negation opens up in the absolute nothingness an inscrutable interval that is the very condition of subjectivity (shutaisei) of the I and the thou. This is a way to get united while being cut off, that is without being in a direct contact of each others. That is directly linked to the fact that oneself is oneself without being oneself, that there is a gap within oneself. Nishida mentions that « the I is the I by the fact of recognizing the personality of the thou, and the thou is the thou by the fact of recognizing the personality of the I. That which makes the thou the thou is the I, and that which makes the I the I is the thou. The I and the thou being an absolute discontinuity, the I determines the thou, and thou determines the I.»”

In conclusion, whereas Levinas’ Illeity and Nishida’s basho do seem to fulfill a similar formal role in the constitution of relationality, Levinas’ Illeity does define a continuum, an ether within which the meeting is meant to take place and to successfully be the foundation of ethics, on the other hand, Nishida’s basho of absolute nothingness defines an absolute disconnectness, a discontinuum, an empty place within which the meeting can never settled in anything but a tense and endless dynamics.
Not that Nishida’s view, or the way I understand it, cannot be used to reveal an ethics, but not as directly as the way Levinas is proposing, and not either as Watsuji does propose ([2],pp.74-79); I shall not, however, discuss this ethical dimension here.


On page 442 of [EA10], Ayache writes :

“Matter is said to determine the geometry of space, even to preside over the genesis of space, in Einstein’s general theory of relativity. Now what I am saying is that contingency (the only true and ‘original’ matter there really is in a materialistic ontology like Meillassoux’s) determines place.”

As we have indeed seen above, the logic of basho is really a logic of becoming, and. as such, it is easy to see that the basho of absolute nothingness is corollary to the necessity of contingency. It can also be noticed that price is the result of a meeting of offer and demand, and this meeting takes place in a market which is otherwise empty.

It must then be clear that, if we are to follow Nishida’s logic of basho and apply it to the dynamics of price, this dynamics is infinite, discontinuous and untotalizable. Nothing new in there really, the discontinuity of price time-series is an obvious thing, even though continuity is often preferred in terms of modelization, for the sake of simplicity in getting mathematical results. The infinity goes without saying, and the untotalizability is already well-argued for in [EA10].
However, what the comparison between Nishida and Levinas is telling us is that disconnectedness (I will stick to this word, from now on, as, I believe, it is more precise than discontinuity, to justify this choice would however take me too far here) is due, not to the process of price determination, but to the basho; in other terms, the disconnectedness of price is a topological property of the market-place and not a feature of price time-series.
This is a very important result since it invalidates the distinction between discrete and continuous models, as such models only address the price process and do not account for the topology of the market place, which is properly the determining factor in this regard.

Once again, such a conclusion is only valid insofar that my understanding of Nishida’s point is valuable (i.e. productive), anyway, this is the direction of my reflection until I know better.

[1]: Nishida Kitarō’s Language and Structure of Thought in the “Logic of Basho” - Jacynthe Tremblay
[2]: Néantisation et relationalité chez NISHIDA Kitarô et WATSUJI Tetsurô - Jacynthe Tremblay(click on the PDF link on the left column to access the full article)
[3]: Levinas and Buber:Transcendence and Society - Damien Casey