Re: [Foucault-L] foucault and "human nature"

On Fri, 2010-03-05 at 15:21 +0000, Matt Wootton wrote:
> From Kevin's quote, Foucault: "it is well known that the functioning which makes life possible is a
> functioning which constantly wears matter out, in such a way that it is
> precisely that which makes possible life which at the same time
> produces death."
> I'm curious as to what exactly this means. Anyone care to enlighten?

I believe that he is more less talking about entropy
as it pertains to organisms. You could put it this way:

The molecular structure of an organism, let's say
a mammal for example, has some interesting properties.
These properties "play out" in the basic rules of
physics in such a way that starting from nearly
nothing (a zygote), less-orderly energy inputs to
the organism are processed, for a time, to produce
an organism of ever-increasing complexity. You
started as a zygote. That zygote was "fed". You
built more and more cells, eventually differentiating
them into various organs of highly specialized
functionality. In short, you became comprised of a
more and more complex and orderly arrangement of
matter, becoming ever better at taking energy inputs
and using them to maintain and further elaborate
the structure of your molecular arrangement. This
is one of the hallmarks of "life". At the same time,
there are relentless laws of thermodynamics and if
we consider your body and its environment as a whole,
these laws of thermodynamics predict (demand) that
there is a limit to how far you can go building up and
maintaining that orderly complexity. Over time,
the whole system of you plus your environment must,
always, tend towards an ultimate disorder - the same
physical laws that help your zygote grow ensure its
ultimate dissolution. That is, the very same physics
that gives you life, ensures your ultimate demise.
(Sorry. Consider Taoism, if this arrangement bugs you.)

Some physicists describe this as a bit mysterious.
It is a large part of the so-called "arrow of time"
problem. The existence and inevitability of a
"cooling trend" towards a disorderly ("lifeless")
state is very well confirmed by experiment - there
is no doubt about it. And yet, when our best models
of the fundamental laws of physics are examined (e.g.,
quantum mechanics and relativity) - those laws are
symmetric with respect to time. They don't *obviously*
predict, in and of themselves, the necessity of death -
the necessity of systems falling into states of disorder.
One way to describe it is that we see, time and again,
eggs being broken and scrambled. We've never once
seen a scrambled egg and broken shell spontaneously
reassemble itself back into an egg. We've no doubt
that that is the way of the world - but looking at
just QM and relativity, we lack any obvious explanation
of why that should be the case.


> --- On Fri, 5/3/10, Kevin Turner <kevin.turner@xxxxxxxxx> wrote:
> From: Kevin Turner <kevin.turner@xxxxxxxxx>
> Subject: Re: [Foucault-L] foucault and "human nature"
> To: "Mailing-list" <foucault-l@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
> Date: Friday, 5 March, 2010, 7:30
> There's a passage from an interview that Foucault gave (in 1967, I think), which may help to shed some light on his understanding of "human nature."
> The passage comes from 'Who are you, Professor Foucault?' in Carrette, J. R. (ed.) Religion and Culture, Manchester, 1999: 87-104, and it reads:
> We have to resign ourselves to taking, faced with mankind, a position similar to the one taken towards the end of the eighteenth century with regard to other living species, when it was realised that they did not function for someone – neither for themselves, nor for man, nor for God – but that they quite simply functioned. Organisms function. Why do they function? In order to reproduce? Not at all. To keep alive? No more for this reason. They function. They function in a very ambiguous way, in order to live but also in order to die, since it is well known that the functioning which makes life possible is a functioning which constantly wears matter out, in such a way that it is precisely that which makes possible life which at the same time produces death. Species do not function for themselves, nor for man, nor for the greater glory of God; they confine themselves to functioning. The same thing may be said of the human species. Mankind is a species
> endowed with a nervous system such that to a certain point it can control its functioning. And it is plain that this possibility of control continuously raises the idea that mankind must have a purpose. We discover that purpose insofar as we have the possibility of controlling our own functioning. But this is to turn things around. We tell ourselves: as we have a purpose, we must control our functioning; whereas in reality it is only on the basis of this possibility of control that ideologies, philosophies, systems of metaphysics, religions can appear, which provide a certain image able to focus this possibility of controlling functioning...It is the possibility of control which gives rise to the idea of purpose. But mankind has in reality no purpose, it functions, it controls its own functioning, and it continually creates justifications for this control. We have to resign ourselves to admitting that these are only justifications. Humanism is one of
> them, the last one’ (RAC: 102).
> I see no evidence that Foucault ever radically revised this position.
> Regards,
> Kevin.
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  • Re: [Foucault-L] foucault and "human nature"
    • From: Kevin Turner
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    • From: Edward Comstock
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