On Systems & Subjects by Cadell Last

The River-Hole and the White Box

O.G. Rose
32 min readJul 18, 2023

How Real-Facing Subjects Might Universally Birth

Photo by Ricardo Gomez Angel

It is difficult to think systems, a radical challenge to consider subjects, and Cadell Last has decided to think both. Systems shape subjects though, as subjects change systems, and that means the topic is active and changing. To make matters more complex, Cadell Last considers the possibility that the very act of considering “systems and subjects” actively participates in the formation of both, and so thinking about that meta-thought shapes the meta-thought, which shapes the meta-thought — like a fractal open to infinite recursion. How do we even begin thinking something so alive, dynamic, and fractural? This is the challenge Cadell Last has put himself up to facing in Systems & Subjects, where he attempts to elaborate on why subjective experience is so problematic, why we must think systems and subjects together versus apart, and even goes so far as asking us to imagine ‘the self-certain cogito [realizing] itself to be nothing but the pure thought of the unknown where there is only pure possibility.’¹ We cannot be so sure that ‘Absolute space and time [won’t] reveal itself to be nothing but the Absolute concept,’ capable of creating radically different constraints than what we are habituated to, which would mean that the Absolute concept could also beget a reality in which subjectivity is effaced — as seems to be what we as Moderns are bent on accomplishing.²

In The Absolute Choice, it is argued that Hegel considers “thinking” and “dreaming” as more similar then we often imagine, at least in terms of the mental acts themselves. When I dream, thinking relates to thinking, and it is not so bound by the “determinations” of the real world, and so dreaming seems radically different from thinking, but this is an impression created by the context which thinking is situated in (mainly, the earth). But what the collapse of systems and subjects unveils this possibility of thinking to be more like dreaming (like it always has been), and what if history is a long story of thinking realizing it has the power of a dream through time (because reality itself is Nature/Notion)? What if “subjects” and “systems” coming together is part of how we realize the “Dialectic Monism” of the universe itself (which would make Nature “more like a thought” and less like a “thing”)? This is all extremely speculative, but if this is all the case, then part of our “address” will be thinking society, community, and the like in a manner that takes this possible realization seriously. However, if thinking were to be so powerful, we would have to become comfortable with our wants and desires, which would also prime us for encounters with Lacan’s “The Real.” Are we ready for that? Are we ready to confront truths about ourselves? (Perhaps we must say yes.)

We can see why there are real and high stakes in the work of Cadell Last, for our very assumption that subjectivity is divisible from “systems thinking” could be precisely why we end up dividing subjectivity from our systems, which would be for us to erase our very personal involvement. For all practical purposes, this would be the end of “humanity,” but Cadell Last argues that this does not have to be the case, writing:

‘The cumulative embodiment of the beautiful, good and true as it relates to the history of conceptualization forces us to understand both practically and theoretically that abstractions are not just in our head, or simply words, but the way in which the subject possesses the remarkable capacity to bring forth something out of nothing (creation ex nihilo), to transform the still void into material movement.’³

To think is to create, and if we own this truth versus externalize it into “impersonal systems” (an impossibility), we might create a reality in which we love residing. Cadell Last further writes:

‘[I]f we see the cumulative increase of saint and sage-like subjects, who have integrated their partial truths in the multiplicity of drives that structure a conceptual becoming, we have the location of higher organizational capacity. This is the precise location where subjectivity gains the capacity to conceptualize beautifully, ethically and truly into the unknown. From this emergence we should expect a reality that is unimaginable from our present point of view. What will become possible for such a higher order community of subjects? What freedoms will structure their existence? What love will be embodied right here and now?’⁴

These are the beautiful and moving considerations which Cadell Last leaves us with in his book, but can they be justified? Are these notions which we can actually find reason to deeply consider and encounter Indeed, those are the questions we can only address by turning to Cadell’s book.


‘[W]e all know when we refer to ‘the subject’ or ‘subjectivity’ we are referring to an inner place, or an inner experience, or a basic feeling of an inside,’ and we have been trained to view this experience as best “bracketed out” from our considerations of external systems and phenomena.⁵ Generally, ‘modern society has built knowledge structures designed in relation to this feeling of an inside, or this sense-perception of an outside’ (“the objective”), and though Cadell Last acknowledges this notion was necessary for the development of thought, he also suggests a need to “sublate it” into a new notion in which “subject and object” are more like “subject/object,” and ultimately “subject/system.”⁶ There is still division and distinction — it is not the case that “all is one” — but the distinct entities shape one another in(to) their very distinctiveness.

The historical period in which “subject and system” developed according to the idea that they were distinct has “passed over” into a period where we consider “subject/system” as undivided, and now we are developing with the idea that “subject/system” are undivided and so informing one another. Ideas change history, and how does history change once we have the idea that “ideas change history?” To stress, Cadell Last is not suggesting a ‘ ‘new age’ spiritual obfuscation [in which we] vapidly claim that ‘we are all one’ or ‘we are connected with the whole universe,’ ’ nor is Cadell Last suggesting a ‘panpsychist presupposition that fundament base-level reality ‘is consciousness.’ ’⁷ ⁸ Instead, inspired by the work of Ludwig von Bertalanffy, Cadell Last suggests a ‘revolution[] require[ing] us to go deeper into our own metaphysical systems, to include the processes of becoming that constitute history itself.’⁹ A tall order, and perhaps even impossible — why should we bother to try? Well, because we are heading toward a future and even “Technological Singularity” that assumes a certain vision of humanity in which subjectivity is merely a viewer of the world, not an active element in its development and unfolding. If this is wrong, then we could develop out of ourselves without ever realizing it — the stakes couldn’t be higher (a point I think aligns with Žižek in his Hegel and the Wired Brain). Thus, we must attempt to think what seems impossible to think or alternatively forgo the effort in an act that might cast aside our future.

It is impossible to avoid technology without avoiding our historic moment, so Cadell Last is not supporting such an abolishment. In fact, thanks to ‘technological complexification, historical subjectivity gains the tools required to experientially probe deeper and deeper levels of reality directly, [but notably] as we create them and find ourselves in the process.’¹⁰ If I were to say what constitutes a main thrust of the book, it is this notion of including subjectivity in our systems and development, which is difficult, for the presence of subjectivity means the system is actively aware of itself and developing itself around that development, which changes the awareness, which changes the development — on and on. This brings to mind “The Absolute” in light of Hegel (as I like to discuss), which I discuss as distinct from “The Truth.” Whereas “The Truth” is “everything that is the case” (to allude to Wittgenstein), “The Absolute” is “everything that is the case plus us,” which changes what constitutes the case, which changes us, on and on. To put it very generally, Cadell Last warns that we mostly assume “The Truth” in the background of our research, technological development, and the like, when it’s very possible that “The Absolute” is more aligned with how the universe actually operates. But part of “The Absolute” is the reality that the way we think about “the background” of the universe could transform how the universe unfolds, making it seem like “The Truth” is the case (and that we were thus right to think according to “The Truth”). In this situation, a feedback loop could arise in which human subjectivity gradually worked itself away.

‘Newton’s space and time is less fundamental than the wave function where bodies exist in probabilistic superposition as opposed to deterministic locations in space and time. [This being the case,] we must think not only determinate reality, but how determinate reality emerges from indeterminate reality.’¹¹ Cadell writes that ‘for Hegel, abstract representations of reality are constantly undergoing a spiritual and social negotiation via mechanics of recognition in the phenomenal becoming of the understanding itself,’ which means that the very standard according to which we understand ourselves changes in the act of us understanding ourselves.¹² This is difficult to think, and it might be the case that trying to think it changes how we and our world unfold(s). Cadell Last offers a useful metaphor later in the work to help get at the strange ontological paradox that subjects might “be,” and he asks us to think of ourselves “like a quantum computer” (‘[t]he weird mirror with human subjectivity in-itself [where] the subject is in some sense an entity that possesses […] strange quantum computational properties’).¹³ Though it is common to consider the brain “like a computer” (which primes us to erroneously fall into subconsciously ascribing to ‘eternal idea[s] which exist[] independent of subjectivity’), it is not common to consider the brain “like a quantum computer.”¹⁴ Now, this isn’t to say the brain “is a quantum computer,” but instead is meant as a historical metaphor (like Newton’s metaphor of the universe as a clock): Moderns tend to think of the brain as using “1s and 0s,” but what if we tried to understand ourselves according to quantum logic, as paradoxically and simultaneously thinking in 1/0s — how might we think our nature then?

It was necessary for us to develop historically through a period where we considered the brain “like a computer,” as ‘Descartes and Newtown can […] be explained as historical figures of consciously, socially selected as necessary truths for their time,’ but we must now move into a phrase in which the brain is strange.¹⁵ This is for us to ‘think[] subjectivity as an active participate in reality,’ which suggests the possibility of negentropy and entropy relating in novel and unexpected ways.¹⁶ We cannot be quick to rule this out, for though we often say “the map isn’t the territory,” it’s possible (if “The Absolute” is the case) that “the map is the territory,” the very consideration of which would be for us moderns to ‘confront[] with something alien […] [something] disturb[ing] rational identity.’¹⁷ This would force us ‘to affirm the true as the non-rational constitutive of rationality,’ which is a rather large and difficult step — suggesting perhaps why we have not thought it (or wanted to think it).¹⁸ At the very least, we have to take into account that map-making is part of the territory, which suggests the territory might be made like a map itself…


For Cadell Last, what we must face is a ‘scientific thought of how any concept we have of ‘out there’ emerges from and is entangled with the inside, by processes of self-making.’¹⁹ If our thoughts of “out there” shape what we encounter “out there,” then we cannot consider the thought of “what is out there” as independent of the process by which we realize what is “out there,” for our concepts direct what we encounter. Indeed, if our minds were computers, perhaps “the inside” and “the outside” could be divided, but if our minds are really more “like quantum computers,” then we exist in a reality of “inside/outside” (1/0), and thus we must be aware of what we are thinking about in the act of investigating what things are “about.” This might sound mystical, but Cadell Last resists such a framing, and he warns that ‘[t]he inability of serious philosophers and scientists to take this challenge as of essential importance leads to regressive obscurantist spiritualist interpretations to take over mainstream discourse.’²⁰ Indeed, books like The Secret seem to multiply by the year…

Cadell Last uses the metaphor of “a white box” and writes that ‘when we think positively about our own interior experience, our own subjectivity, what we are, is a white box (the opposite of a black box). A white box is the real but unobservable internal organization of an informational process.’²¹ “White box” can be associated with a “white hole,” which is the opposite of a “black hole,” and instead of sucking all matter and light in, a “white hole” is infinitely and profoundly generative. Subjectivity doesn’t merely “take in” the world around it but is a feature of reality that “releases (more) reality into reality,” per se: subjectivity is “a point of creation.” Subjects participate in the universe, but that means ‘emotional trauma of self-organization is going to be a systemic feature of the process’ in which being becomes itself.²² This point begins to cut to the heart of the problem: if subjectivity contributes to the development of systems, then unaddressed traumas, projections, fantasies, and the like will be essentially structured into our systems, reality, and world. These are the stakes, but rather than consider them we assume there is no “Absolute” only a “Truth” — a risky bet.

Infants face numerous traumas in their development to become children, and children face traumas in becoming adults. Similarly, humans will face traumas in developing from moderns into those who accept “The Absolute,” but if we don’t face those traumas, they will become traumatic, and those “traumatic experiences” will be integrated into the systems we design (and feed-back into ourselves). Cadell Last writes:

‘The ultimate lesson for performing in tension is that tension is itself a type of absolute condition for being a form of subjectivity. In other words, there is really no choice when it comes to experiencing and moving through tension in the sense that the end of existence (death) is the only state when tension will be, presumably, removed from internal experience.’²³

This is arguably an “axiomatic belief,” which is to say we must “start off” either believing tension will always be with us or that tension isn’t an “essential feature” of existence, but rather a bug we can correct. Cadell Last suggests that tension is precisely the necessary prerequisite and experience needed for subjectivity to be creative, and if it is the case that we require a creative subjectivity to exist and experience an unfolding reality, then removing tension would be to remove reality. Considering this, the choice to interpret tension as “essential” for being or “nonessential” is possibly a choice between life and death, and yet ironically it is “tension” which should be associated with “life,” when it seems natural for us to conclude the exact opposite. A search for unbreakable laws, for an “oceanic one,” for a final place of rest — all of these are ironically goals which threaten the unfolding of the universe and us in it.

Bertalanffy suggests ‘that the strange appearance of subjectivity [in the cosmos] must have something to do with the property or tendency to cumulatively increases negentropy or higher order phenomena,’ which is to say the existence of “the irreducible subject” is reason to hope that entropy is not our sealed fate.²⁴ However, this subject must know itself enough to participate in this negentropy and prove a source of it — which for most of history has not been guaranteed. Cadell acknowledges that ‘[t]here might not be much of a mystery as to why our knowledge is not more self-reflective,’ which seems necessary if we are to prove more a source of negentropy then entropy. Mainly, “self-reflection” is hard and requires facing negativity.²⁵ Cadell discuses “the white box” in his book, as well as the idea of a ‘river-hole,’ which is meant to combine Nietzsche’s ‘metaphor for self-becoming’ with Lacan’s ‘metaphor for the self’s core as the locus of the unconscious,’ and in both of these metaphors we see an effort to describe a source of negativity as also a source of creation precisely thanks to that negativity.²⁶ Both a “white box” and a “black box” entail the reality that ‘we do not really see what is going on inside’ either, but while a “white box” proves a source of creation, a “black box” is like a “black hole” and sucks everything in it to be destroyed.²⁷ Both are like ‘a circle with a gap in it’ (which brings to mind Lacan), which is to say both boxes entail an opening either into which we can be sucked and lost, or out of which can emerge new “becoming” and creation.²⁸ The choice is ours, but the choice of creation is hard.

Still, both boxes are boxes (which is to say both mean we are “unable to escape” self-reference, as we will explain). The book considers how the subject might be a source of order in the cosmos, which otherwise might only have the option of dissolving and deconstructing itself into a “heat death,” but to be as subjects source of negentropy versus entropy, subjects will have to face the negativity of realizing they are “trapped” within themselves and their traumas.²⁹ Furthermore, we will have to give up the possibility of participating as ‘an observing being in the system,’ possibly free of ‘organic and semiotic ‘distortions’ […] which supposedly block [our] asymptotic approach[es] to ‘objective external reality.’ ’³⁰ Our task must cease to be escaping “distortions,” and instead we must be in the business of seeing them as our material for our work. What is that work? Being a “white box” at home with being stuck.

The world today increasingly forces us to “self-reference,” which is to say we are trapped in having to undergo self-reference.³¹ Even if we don’t self-reference, we increasingly know we can, and so we know when we aren’t self-referencing (the appearance of an option changes the meaning of all options). Take the invention of AI, which has forced everyone to ask, “What is human?” “Why am I human?” Pluralism in general brings about “self-reference,” where we ask, “Why do I believe in Christianity?” seeing as I could have been a Hindu, a Muslim, or the like — to encounter diversity brings into question “first principles” and the legitimacy of those first principles. Once this occurs, we find ourselves stuck asking questions like “Who am I?” “What do I believe?” “Who do I think I am?” And these questions will bring about much “negativity” and tension — which we must face if we are to prove a point of “negentropy” versus “entropy.”

‘In Bertalanffy’s work, the ideas of transcendental idealism are entertained in so far as systems were seen fundamentally as mental abstractions capable of helping human social reality do useful work in relation to difficult historical problematics.’³² Indeed, if this historic age is one in which “we all must self-reference,” that basically means we must all be philosophical (as Peter Berger and Philip Rieff understood), and indeed transcendental idealism seems central in helping us deal with that reality, which brings us to thinkers like Hegel and others who question “the subject/object divide” in favor of (intersuppositional) relations. Friedrich Hayek teaches us that no matter how smart we are, we can’t know how many plastic folks the McDonalds down the street needs to order next week unless we work there. Likewise, no matter how smart we are, we cannot think what we need to do to be “white boxes” in the world today unless we occupy the “meta-terrain” suggested by Systems and Subjects, which is to say unless we accept the premise that there is no hard “system/subject divide.” Similarly, we must see the world “tragically” and as “a system of tradeoffs” like what was described in Belonging Again (Part I) if we are to prove able to think the “address” (of Part II).


How do we have the strength to do the “nonrational” (a question which brings to mind Lev Shestov’s “impossibility,” and also The Conflict of Mind by O.G. Rose)? How might we do what seems absurd and ask, “What is human?” before AI (versus only use AI to avoid what’s difficult)? Well, it might require communities and relationships which could help strengthen us, which is to say we might need “Absolute Communities.” But isn’t that a “chicken/egg problem?” Don’t we need to make “nonrational choices” to be “Absolute Knowers,” so how could there already be “Absolute Communities” to help us make those choices? Perhaps like the chicken and the egg, the individuals and communities arise together, emergently, because that is what the historic moment needs? Hard to say.

The invention of AI cannot be reversed, for even if we ban the technology, the idea of it has already entered our minds and impacted us into asking, “What is human?” “What is intelligence?” The conceptual change is already done, and thought has already been transformed. And it will be tempting to us AI to avoid thinking for ourselves, to offload moral choice to the AI (like Alex Ebert warns about) and then claim, “I only did it because the AI told me too,” and so on — numerous examples could be made. To be a “white box,” instead of asking the AI, “What should I do?” the question is if we can stand before AI and ask, “How am I given that?” Rather then us AI to escape ourselves, can we use AI to reflect back on ourselves, which is to say can we use AI to go deeper into negativity versus try to escape it? I think this will prove a great and difficult challenge, for our natural response to negativity and tension is to assume, “This shouldn’t exist” — to interpret such as a “box” that we require in order to be a “white box” is not natural at all.

Unfortunately, adding to the likelihood we make this “effacing mistake,” the conditions which arise to tension in us have ‘no easily identifiable physical cause,’ only adding to the impressive that “tension shouldn’t exist.”³³ To grasp why tension is fundamentally part of being, we likewise have to accept that things which lack apparent physical cause are also part of fundamental being, which is a “metaphysical shift” in thinking that will not be easy or natural. It’s more natural to believe that we should simply ignore or erase ‘the symbolic order’ which causes this tension, but Cadell Last stresses that we should rather ‘work-through it.’³⁴ He writes:

‘[A]bsolute closures are doomed to equilibrium, because no matter what field they exist within, eventually the environment will change so much that their knowledge structures will no longer be fit for action. Thus, eventually, they will hit a state of equilibrium, but the self-organizing symbolic drive in-itself will continue to participate in the strange loop between chaotic information fields and ordered knowledge practices that are best suited to explore these fields.’³⁵

In addition to this point, Cadell Last asks us to imagine that we might only exist because “something doesn’t work,” which is to say something fails to achieve equilibrium and “a stable state.” Because of this failure, infinite creation and development becomes possible, but at the price of us having to live with a difficult and heavy tension. Are we so sure this isn’t the case? Regardless, we need to face this question directly, for we moderns are currently thinking and designing our systems assuming a “Truth” versus an “Absolute.” And if we cannot escape “self-reference” now, ready or not, we will face our “box” one way or the other, as either “white” or “black.”

Though we spend a lot of time “blaming the system” for our plight, our trouble, and the like, what is being suggested here is a world in which we are forced to confront our pathologies precisely because “we are the system,” per se, and so what “the system does to us” is what we do to ourselves. We easily enjoy believing that “the system holds us back” — what will we do when we can’t believe that and must take responsibility for ourselves? Perhaps we want a “subject/object divide,” because then we could plausibly say that “objects are in our way?” Is the age of “scapegoating objects” over? Society can be seen as partly in the business of helping us “vent” and “manage” Lacan’s “Real” in a way that we can handle, and perhaps a day is coming where we must learn to handle a much weaker ventilation system, which is to say we must learn to handle more “Reality” directly.

As scientists might enjoy entropy, so we might enjoy “the system” (similar to how people can enjoy conspiracies, as described in “Desire’s Masterpiece” by O.G. Rose). Another reason we might entertain this enjoyment is because belief in a “Big Other/System” can help us avoid accepting “essential incompleteness,” because if there is “something wrong” with life, we can externalize that “lack” to something we can solve and correct. But if we and systems are unified, then the shortcomings of the system suddenly become ours, and in that move we have to accept that ‘living systems are in a permanent state of imbalance,’ and that means we are as well.³⁶ Incompleteness is ‘a systemic feature of our existence, and thus cannot ultimately be resolved or reconciled by an ideological closure.’³⁷ Thus, if we are forced into “self-reference” today, the average person is increasingly forced into facing and experiencing their “essential incompleteness,” regardless if they are prepared. How might the majority respond? Pathologically, in all likelihood, but this step of self-reference is also the beginning of the road for us to become Children and “intrinsically motivated.” Might we make the most of ‘including all of subjectivity […] into the truth of ontology?’³⁸ Of thinking ‘of technological singularity as an event?’³⁹ Of considering that ‘thought itself [might be] the crucial agent that could prevent the collapse of the universe in heat death?’⁴⁰ That we are responsible for dreaming?


For Cadell Last, science has brought us to a place where we are forced to confront our own interiority and decide if we will continue to “bracket it out” from our thinking or incorporate it more deeply to a place where subjectivity essentially shapes and transforms our world. Science today suggests problems in which we are entangled, and how those problems are tangled is determined by us. Cadell Last also notes that it is impossible for us to think without thinking according to assumptions, a certain paradigm, and the like, and so we must decide before we think if we believe subjectivity actively shapes reality or is only an observer of it. This decision will organize how our thinking develops, but Cadell Last outlines in his book reasons for why we should take subjectivity as more essential to reality than we have traditionally believed.

If awareness changes how reality unfolds, learning such risks causing us existential misery if not insanity, but not learning this is also risky, for we might continue to design subjects out of being (we might be dealing here with something as difficult as “lucid dreaming,” of realizing we are in a dream without waking up). As Cadell Last puts it:

‘The essence of the mental paradox, in relation to the ideology of scientific materialism and fundamental laws can be formulated simply: subjective mind or consciousness has internal to its own nature the capacity for real time computations that are not reducible to past programming. In other words, subjective mind is not absolutely determined from past causes.’⁴¹

How do we live with this knowledge and possibility? Well, it won’t be natural for moderns, but we fail to incorporate the work of Bertalanffy into our thinking at great risk. ‘Bertalanffy saw the emergence of a true symbolic drive as something that did not conform to the utilitarian closed loop derived from biological metaphor,’ but we can still choose to treat “symbolic drive” as utilitarian, causing a mismatch which breeds pathology.⁴²

Is “subject” now another word for “system” and “system” another word for “subject?” Is “object” another word for “subject?” These are questions we can feel left with after Cadell’s book. If so, as discussed in The Absolute Choice, the line between “thinking” and “dreaming” is now much thinner, and this might sound wonderful, but a dream we have to acknowledge is our own could be a nightmare. We can always claim a dream is “outside our control,” and if it’s “lucid” we can say it’s arbitrary — but what about “real dreams” that others will see we dreamed? What about having to really face what we want and letting others see as well? What about a world of radical social nakedness? Are we ready for that reality? A dream we really choose might always be a nightmare. But this is the kind of world we are heading toward, where technology enables thinking to realize itself as more “dream-like” then ever before, but in that very state we might be horrified by the subjectivity which enables us to dream, precisely because we will have to face our dreams and own them as our own. We will have less “plausible deniability” for not knowing what we want and having it, which will force us to face and know ourselves — and all “The Real” that comes with us (perhaps tempting us to “solve the subject” by solving it away, a death drive).

‘The self-organization of the symbolic order is likely in-itself impossible to stop,’ the question is only how will we try to organize it?⁴³ Will we deny the active role of the subject? That will be natural for us, for knowing the subject requires a processing of negativity that will prove painful and possibly traumatic. We will have to accept that a “perfect future” isn’t possible, only a future we create, which burdens us with possibility. If the human is the product of a mistake, the future can only be perfect without us, and thus we are tempted to think of a future that is post-human. In line with this point, Cadell Last notes:

‘Could it be that theoretical physics, in the mathematical abstraction of a higher other eternal world qua multiverse, is unconsciously expressing deep desires of the biological organisms and cultural creatures engaged in this activity?’⁴⁴

This is an important consideration, especially when considered alongside the notion that science seems to have a subconscious dislike of the subject, precisely because science cannot “solve it,” per se. Thus, it is possible that cybernetic and transhumanist talk of a future in which AI replaces humanity might reflect a subconscious desire to “solve the problem of the subject” by removing subjectivity from the universe. Are not scientists human beings with minds just like the rest of us? Can’t they be susceptible to “the death drive” too? Have we even considered this possibility, that current widespread notions about the future might simply be scientific “wish-fulfillment” to overcome the subject once and for all? Might we just be desiring a utopia where there is nowhere for us and claiming it is inevitable so that we can deny the role of desire and subjectivity in its construction? Might we be tempted by “The Bystander Effect?” Hard to say.

As science might subconsciously desire to remove the subject to “solve (away) the problem of the subject, the same desire could lurk in the background of system, institutional, and societal design in general. When we build a community “for the people,” we might subtly build it in such a way to “get people out of the way” (suggesting what people “need” is a way to overcome their subjectivities — which of course we cannot rid ourselves of without ceasing to be). To help people, we might try to remove them; to get people “out of the box,” we might remove them from where they need to be. Help isn’t always helpful, even when we ourselves know better.


If we decide that “things don’t exist,” only relations (as Owen Barfield or Hegel might encourage us, because “things are idols” in the sense that they cannot provide their own grounding), then we will easily be lead to think against sociological “givens” (as discussed in Belonging Again), for everything “solid” will come under suspicion. This is arguably a good thing, but we also might be at risk of committing the fallacy of “Cheston’s Fence,” which is to say we tear down something before we know with what we will replace it. To cease living in a world of “things” means that I live in a world that my presence in shapes and transforms directly in ways I’m likely not full ready for, and that makes me more responsible and active in the world then I might be ready to face. This can be difficult to experience and bear, for though I might lament “the system” and how it inhibits me, I might also be terrified to live in a world where I can’t say “the system” or “this object” is so readily holding me back, because I am more “part of it” then I previously thought. We dislike “the system,” but we might dislike being deeply part of it more.⁴⁵

Peter Berger teaches us that we today are all existentialists now, and the emergence of AI seems to force the majority of people to reflect on “What is human?” This is to say the majority is now forced to engage in “self-reference,” and this is the “box” which none of us can escape — the question is only if the “box” will be “white” or “black,” which might be tied to the question of if “self-reference” can be the grounds of a new kind of “given” after the loss of traditional “givens” described in Belonging Again (Part I). This might suggest philosophy itself could be this possible “given,” which then suggests something like “Absolute Knowing” — might it be that AI will be a “forcing function” that brings the average person to “being philosophical?” Perhaps, and then the question would be if a certain “mode” can provide “givenness again” (though not in the same way as traditionally implemented).

To “have to reference ourselves” is to find ourselves having to be conscious of ourselves, and as Alex Ebert stresses consciousness is primarily in the business of becoming unconscious: to be conscious regularly and constantly is psychologically and existentially very difficult and overwhelming. Perhaps a role of philosophy is precisely to be in the business of helping us live with “constant consciousness of ourselves?” How this occurs for the majority could be precisely because AI and technology forces us to ask, “What is consciousness?” — a question drawn to our attention precisely because AI has us constantly ask, “What does it mean to be human?” Feeling stuck “conscious about consciousness” and/or “conscious that consciousness doesn’t seem different from AI” is precisely being “stuck in a box.” But to suggest negation/sublation, we must be in a “box” to create, as we must be a “hole” so that a river comes out of us. Perhaps as a “white box,” we must create (the only we cannot change is changing).

Self-reference brings about a different “mode” of being in the world, and it can inspire us into developing skills and abilities which might align more with negentropy than entropy. Generally, the shift from “searching for a ground” (which defined much of Modernity) to “developing skills and modes” (more Metamodern) seems central, and in this we might see the possibility of a new “consistency” that doesn’t “rise above change” simply thanks to Transcendence. Which is more impressive: a constant in the midst of change or a Constant “above” change as Transcendent? This can be debated, but the point is that if we today we emphasizing skills and “modes,” then we might be capable of a “consistency” that has not been historically needed before, a step that might even be a negation/sublation. We’ve traditionally conflated “consistent” and “Transcendent,” but that doesn’t need to necessarily follow — with the right skills, we can provide our own consistency for ourselves.

Being a “white box” is more about finding the right “mode” versus the right “ground,” but realizing and engaging in this “mode” will require us to overcome the pressures and tensions of being in a “box,” which can easily feel like a prison. In a way, the modern world seems like a prison which forces us to “self-reference” and thus be existential, but as Sartre taught us, we can be free in a prison based on our choices and orientation to the prison, so we can find a “mode” that makes us “toward” the world in a way that changes how it (creatively) “unfolds.” And so can “self-reference” be a new kind of “given?” If AI and the horizon of the moment forces us to be “self-referential” (“boxed”), might this help us address some of the concerns of Belonging Again (Part I)? Indeed, Part I suggested that the loss of “givens” have proven very consequential, and yet we also cannot return to “givens” as classically understood — a negation/sublation is needed, seemingly one that moves “givenness” closer to the individual subject (hence the focuses on Hegel, Deleuze, Nietzsche, and the like). Might the “necessity of self-reference” be part of what we need? If “self-reference” is part of the “box” that makes it possible for us each to be a “white box,” then I think so. But perhaps we need the “self-reference” precisely so that we can engage in “self-forgetfulness” (because words we cease saying generates a different quality from a state of constant silence)? Indeed — but what is meant by this will be expanded on later.

To be forced into self-reference is going to force us to confront our wants and desires more, and we will also be forced to know that other people know our desires and wants. What we want says something about who we are, and we don’t want others to know who we are, as we don’t want to know such about ourselves. If we are stuck self-referencing, and “thinking” is more like “dreaming” than we often realize though, then we can more so be whoever “we dream to be,” which sounds liberating and is, but it’s also terrifying — we’d have to own our wants, which we are likely to respond to with anxiety or in a hard personality which doesn’t question our wants (just wants them) because that would open us to anxiety. We must resist responding to “being boxed” with “being closed-off” but how? Now easily, and if philosophy is about “knowing thyself,” it makes sense why Lacan thought of himself as an “anti-philosopher,” for he taught that we do not want to know ourselves. But imagine if we must know ourselves, if we were to be stuck “in a box?” How would we respond? Could we take the pressure? If we could, Cadell suggests we might prove sources of negentropy and creation.


Looking ahead, an “address” of Belonging Again (Part I) will collapse “the subject/object divide, and we learn the same from Cadell Last, whose book Systems and Subjects is invaluable for our age. It is funny that the classic divide entails “object,” as if we can so easily assume the existence of independent objects, but is there such thing as an “object” outside a world? Objects are always situated in a physics, and so humans are always situated in a metaphysics. We are “always already” systemized, but what does it mean that we today know we are “always already” systemized? This is the challenge Cadel Last takes on, though admittedly I have hardly scratched the surface of Cadell Last’s critical book, leaving unaddressed the topics like “abductive reasoning,” the dialectic between coherence and correspondence, the “positive limits” of Hegel, quantum gravity, Hegelian reconciliation — nothing I wrote here could express the ideas better than Cadell Last does himself (the sections on “Neapolitan ice cream” are notably delightful). Cadell Last articulates well why our fate is tied to how we relate systems and subjects, and he wonders if we moderns might still be thinking in terms of a necessary historic phase that will prove effacing if we fail to sublate it into the next phrase, which for Cadell Last entails thinking “subject/system,” not just “subject and system.”

If we are to some degree controlled by a system, we can still know we are controlled by a system, and then we can know our knowing about the system is controlled — on and on. This “meta-dimension” (which is possible thanks to self-reference) means there is always an excess wherever a subject is present, and the question we must ask is if we will use this excess in favor of negentropy or entropy. The meta-excess of the system seems to be why we are able to steer our system/subject in a direction of our choosing (toward “blackness” or “whiteness,” per se) — not instantly or all at once, but the meta-excess is why, though we might seem more imprisoned “now” than free, we ultimately have degrees of freedom. The question is only “how” we might engage in “self-reference,” and Cadell himself often models this building: he does not discuss an abstract subject, but often in his discussions references himself. Cadell engages not in “self-reference,” per se, but “Cadell-reference,” and I think something similar is what we all must do. We must make “gifts” of our “life-material,” and offer to those around us so that we might better understand this world in which we live. When AI forces us to “self-reference,” we will be tempted to keep the act a general “self-reference,” but the secret to the “mode” might be to go deeper (to “lean into it”) and engage in “(name)-reference.” More must be said on this, but the point is that Cadell has offered us an invaluable model for what we need to do. We must be “gifts,” a negated/sublated “given,” for if “a scalable rhizome with roots” is possible, as Cadell has discussed, it seems like it must involve something like this paradox.

Since there must always be an “excess” from the system, as precisely unveiled in “self-reference,” we are always to some degree potentially free, and freedom is terrifying. If this freedom is to prove negative/sublative, the model Cadell often shows in “Cadell-referencing” might be something we all get better at, which is to say we all get better at “being gifts” (like “being there”) (intersuppositional). “The map isn’t the territory,” but mapmaking is part of it, and our age is one in which the territory is shaped by how we read our maps, because this shapes what we do to the territory. The map shapes the territory, as the territory shapes the map (form(ulation)). Tension is Absolute.

Today we know ‘we potentially approach a post-human universe’ — how does that idea change and shape us?⁴⁶ For Cadell, it means we must practice “Cadell-reference” (“singularity-reference,” to allude to Hegel), and this requires great work: we can only think the future if we accept that we must think us. If we cannot think the future with us in it, the future cannot be ours, and if systems and subjects are indivisible, that ironically means the future is for nothing human or human-made at all. Unless, that is, we can think the future with subjects and systems together. With Cadell’s guidance, not only can we rise to this challenge, but I think we can also prove all the better for it. A future which overcomes challenge is greater than a future which merely lingers on.





¹Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 432.

²Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 432.

³Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 431.

⁴Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 431–432.

⁵Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 14.

⁶Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 14.

⁷Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 127.

⁸Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 357.

⁹Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 361.

¹⁰Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 358.

¹¹Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 16.

¹²Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 20.

¹³Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 375

¹⁴Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 24

¹⁵Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 22

¹⁶Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 24

¹⁷Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 34

¹⁸Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 37

¹⁹Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 46

²⁰Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 49

²¹Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 53

²²Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 76

²³Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 81

²⁴Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal (Printed Edition), 2023.

²⁵Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal (Printed Edition), 2023.

²⁶Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal (Printed Edition), 2023.

²⁷Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal (Printed Edition), 2023.

²⁸Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal (Printed Edition), 2023.

²⁹We should also note that science might “enjoy” entropy (think Lacan), as might we, because then we are victims of a universal process we cannot control. We cannot ultimately save the world, and so we are not responsible for trying to help the subject rise to its own problem, nor should we be blamed if we spend all our time focusing on our research and experiments (why not, in the end?). Also, entropy might remove me from responsibility for say looking and cultivating sources of negentropy (perhaps in the subject), as I might enjoy imagining myself doing if not for “heat death.” Entropy gifts.

³⁰Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal (Printed Edition), 2023.

³¹Perhaps Modernity was the realization that “there is no ground,” Postmodernity the practicing of “self-reference,” and Metamodernity the realization that we “must self-reference,” which suggests a negation that might be a sublation…

³²Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal (Printed Edition), 2023.

³³Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 99

³⁴Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 108

³⁵Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 119

³⁶Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal (Printed Edition), 2023.

³⁷Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal (Printed Edition), 2023.

³⁸Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal (Printed Edition), 2023.

³⁹Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal (Printed Edition), 2023.

⁴⁰Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal (Printed Edition), 2023.

⁴¹Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 183

⁴²Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 200

⁴³Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 210

⁴⁴Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal, 2022–2023 (early .pdf version): 331

⁴⁵Most philosophers today agree that “the subject/object divide” is problematic and needs to be deconstructed, but that doesn’t mean there still isn’t “a life/belief divide” in the sense that we don’t necessarily live like what we claim we believe. If we really believed that “objects and subjects” were unified, then the way we talked, carried ourselves, and ascribed responsibility might be entirely different. We say, “we are all one,” and yet we still treat our neighbor like an alien.

⁴⁶Last, Cadell. Systems and Subjects. Philosophy Portal (Printed Edition), 2023.




For more, please visit O.G. Rose.com. Also, please subscribe to our YouTube channel and follow us on Instagram, Anchor, and Facebook.



O.G. Rose

Iowa. Broken Pencil. Allegory. Write Launch. Ponder. Pidgeonholes. W&M. Poydras. Toho. ellipsis. O:JA&L. West Trade. UNO. Pushcart. https://linktr.ee/ogrose