14 November 2012


'The toilet as the Zizekian Vase: on the philosophical surplus of psychoanalysis' by Gabriel Tupinambá in 6(2) International Journal of  Žižek Studies (2012)  states that
The present paper investigates what would constitute a strictly Žižekian problem – that is, a problem which is born out of the inclusion of Žižek, who is himself a Lacanian, into the Lacanian field.
This properly Hegelian totality brings to the fore a productive, but profound contradiction in the reception of the Lacanian teaching, best exemplified by the comparison of Žižek and Jean-Claude Milner and their different diagnoses of the political limits of psychoanalysis. Expounding the relation between the two different positions and their respective readings of Lacan’s institutional and conceptual inventions of the late 60’s, the paper argues that Žižek’s conceptual framework is neither reducible to the Lacanian orthodoxy, nor does it constitute an altogether different field - a position we develop through a comparison of Lacan’s famous reference to the (Heideggerian) vase and Žižek’s rather infamous ideological analysis of toilets.
Meanwhile, as a hoary old sceptic, I'm unimpressed by the latest expression of quantum mysticism, this time in media coverage of Stuart Hameroff's deliciously zany theory of the soul. Yes, it's newspapers and bloggers taking the 'quantum theory of consciousness' for a spin around the block again.

Supposedly 'our souls' are "contained inside structures called microtubules which live within our brain cells", with "our experience of consciousness" being the "result of quantum gravity effects inside these microtubules", aka orchestrated objective reduction (Orch-OR).
In a near-death experience the microtubules lose their quantum state but the information within them is not destroyed. Or in layman's terms, the soul does not die but returns to the universe.
"Let's say the heart stops beating, the blood stops flowing, the microtubules lose their quantum state," Dr Hameroff said.
"The quantum information within the microtubules is not destroyed, it can't be destroyed, it just distributes and dissipates to the universe at large.
"If the patient is resuscitated, revived, this quantum information can go back into the microtubules and the patient says 'I had a near death experience'."
In the event of the patient's death, it was "possible that this quantum information can exist outside the body indefinitely - as a soul".
Uh huh.

Let's ignore arguments by physicists and biologists that the microtubule theory is bunk or the long history of eminent scientists and intellectuals saying awesomely silly things. Forget about people who expended a lot of effort and money in trying to catch the soul (which apparently escaped into the atmosphere with the dying person's very last breath) or the enthusiasts who have claimed to be able to weigh the soul (eg comparing the weight of the dying person and the cadaver).

Let's not even ask whether 'soul' has much meaning other than as a religious artefact and notion that has provided millennia of contention. One response might be that there's no persuasive evidence that the quantum information arrives or departs, communicates with 'memory water', resides in coffee cups and rocks, or accounts for 'phenomena' such as reincarnation and astral travel.

Brains as "quantum wave transceivers" in tune with the infinite? At least the microtubule theory doesn't require thermionic valves, hardware that is increasingly difficult to source but apparently necessary if you are using a valve radio to contact the dead.