R. Scott Bakker: Artifacts of Missing Information; or, the Posthuman Blues

The epoch of intentional philosophy is at an end. It will deny and declaim–it can do nothing else–but to little effect. Like all prescientific domains of discourse it can only linger and watch its credibility evaporate into New Age aether as the sciences of the brain accumulate ever more information and refine ever more instrumentally powerful interpretations of that information. It’s hard to argue against cures. Any explanatory paradigm that restores sight to the blind, returns mobility to the crippled, not to mention facilitates the compliance of the masses, will utterly dominate the commanding heights of cognition.

– R. Scott Bakker, Reactionary Atheism

One almost expects to see the Wizard of Oz step out from behind the proverbial curtain. But instead we get the prognostications of a posthuman rabble rouser, daring philosophical speculators to trump his magic cards; or, better yet, walk down the golden brick road of BBT and rewire the world as a blind bug in a dark cave. The Saviour is among us, but he is not Jesus, no it seems to be none other than the veritable god of Science come round at last like some monstrous progeny or machinic entity of  naturalism offering its special prognosis for the blind brains of the earth.  Suddenly the new Cognitive Imperium rises before us, its latest spokesman, R. Scott Bakker, with pomposity and egoistic grandeur burying its supposed distant brethren within the prescientific domains of what used to be termed ‘philosophy’. The Imperium of BBT (Blind Brain Theory) is among us, no longer the fictional creature of a cartoon fantasy, this monstrosity purports to reduce everything to the three-pound lump of neuronal bliss we call our brain, the last frontier of cognitive theory and therapy. And, who is the emperor of this new Empire of the Mind? Is the grandiose ego of R. Scott Bakker taking the helm? A rock star of mythic fantasias and neuronal crime novels  he seems ready to replace all Master Signifiers of phenomenology and its epigones with just one GRAND UNIFIED THEORY of the Brain: Blind Brain Theory as Maximus Philosophicus, the Emperor of all Sciences. But before we bow down to such neuronal gods shouldn’t we make inquiries into this latest reductionary naturalism of which his science is the heir? Should we not ask a few questions of this grand system of discursive and explanatory power just why it is that Mr. Bakker with his if not magic, then scientific, wand can now cast all prescientific thought into the dustbin of lost notions?

On BBT, all traditional and metacognitive accounts of the human are the product of extreme informatic poverty. Ironically enough, many have sought intentional asylum within that poverty in the form of apriori or pragmatic formalisms, confusing the lack of information for the lack of substantial commitment, and thus for immunity against whatever the sciences of the brain may have to say.

Let’s take a peak at that first statement: all traditional and metacognitive accounts of the human are the product of extreme informatic poverty. Now we know that informatic poverty is defined as that situation in which individuals and communities, within a given context, do not have the requisite skills, abilities or material means to obtain efficient access to information, interpret it  apply it appropriately. It is further characterized by a lack of essential information and a poorly developed information infrastructure. Bakker argues that if “…philosophy is our response to informatic poverty, our inability to gather enough of the information required to decisively arbitrate between our claims, then philosophy itself becomes an important bearer of information. It is an informatic weather-vane. In this case, philosophy tells us that, despite all the information we think we have at our disposal via intuition or introspection, we actually represent a profound informatic blindspot.”2

The whole point of this argument for Bakker is that philosophy was fine and dandy as a prescientific tool, but compared to science it is no longer adequate to the task accept as an ‘informatic weather-vane’ for attracting information, yet blind as a bat when trying to apply theoretical or conceptual practices on that very information.

On another Blog post Bakker succinctly defines BBT:

This is the approach Blind Brain Theory takes: crudely put, instead of looking at our deliberative access to conscious experience as an example of *turning the lights on,* you look at it as *turning the lights off,* as peering through an informatic gloom you can’t recognize as such for lack of comparison – neglect. Then, taking the mechanistic brain revealed by the sciences as your interpretative baseline, you can begin interpreting all the puzzles and conundrums that have so plagued philosophy of mind as ARTIFACTS OF MISSING INFORMATION, as what happens when our environmentally oriented cognitive systems find themselves welded to a single informatic perspective in a crowded, almost totally dark room.3

A sort of Plato’s cave for departed information specialists who are using the latest BBT apparatus to seek out and destroy the missing artifacts of informatics Borg like conclave that just happens to reside in the missing spaces of our blind brain. Something like William Blake who thought eternity resided in a grain of sand, Bakker’s prognostications for us all tend to the nihilistic fold of ultra hip doomsters:

Our ‘epoch of thinking’ teeters upon the abyssal, a future so radical as to make epic fantasy of everything we are presently inclined to label ‘human.’ Whether it acknowledges as much or not, all thought huddles in the shadow of the posthuman–the shadow of its end. (ibid)

Looks like we’ll have a lot of zombie parties in the dark loam of the coming post-philosophical apocalypse…   problem is with such dark laughter arising from the corpse of philosophy who will gather all those lost artifacts of information so that our machinic progeny will remember the truth of their own very human flesh and blood ancestors? If that three-pound lump in the skull is finally eliminated, finally subtracted from the transcendental field, enveloped in some machinic semblance of a strange attractor who will teach them that it all started with thinking brains if thought itself is no more? Will that blind god in the informatic shadows speak of those old ones who stirred the mud of life under a dying sun?

————–

Previous review I did on Scott’s BBT: Post-Intentional Philosophy

1. http://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/reactionary-atheism-hagglund-derrida-and-nooconservativism/
2. http://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2012/08/27/why-philosophy-and-why-has-the-soul-become-its-stronghold/
3. http://philosophyandpsychology.com/?p=2292

7 thoughts on “R. Scott Bakker: Artifacts of Missing Information; or, the Posthuman Blues

  1. I don’t know. Bakker is often drunk on his own rhetoric and the thrill of scaring oneself in the dark and I think draws conclusions that are not necessary. But even more than this: what he is doing IS philosophy.

    Also, is BBT even close to being a consensus among scientists in the field (and not philosophers of science)?

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  2. Wonderfully written! My strategy is just to keep stomping until I hit some toes – and these are among the most eloquent so far. I’ve been accused of pomposity on the web more than enough to think it unfair or unwarranted. But my egocentricities aside, what exactly is your argument, Steven?
    I never claim that BBT is gospel, only that, all things being equal, there’s infinitely more ways for science to utterly overturn our traditional noocentric conceptions than confirm them. Given that overthrowing traditional conceptions is what science does, the question is one of why we should expect things to be any different now that we find our souls on the table.
    I see the ludicrous upshot of this almost exactly the way you characterize – even to the point of feeling a pompous fool! – but for the life of me, I don’t see any way out. What BBT provides is a principled way of seeing how intentionality can be explained away. Simply by doing this, it shows that the POSSIBILITY of fundamental deception is a real one. Once this possibility is opened up, we need only consider the odds. What are the odds that this or that intentional account will survive protracted scientific scrutiny?
    Slim, I think is the honest answer.

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    • Exactly… you hit the nail on the head! The truth is that there is nothing to hide, its all on the table, the cat’s out of the bag. Yet, that’s it: if BBT is a principled way of seeing… forget intentionality… seeing is the actual problem, has always been the problem. It’s not about consciousness or intentionality, its about subjectivity, but subjectivity is something less, less than nothing as Zizek would say. If language is the ‘House of Being’ it is a fallen house… the Real is always beyond that house. What you’ve shown is the truth that the house is empty, that there is no archimedian point from which we can gain knowledge of the house, no outside/inside. Philosophy started with the ‘decision’. Laruelle argues that all forms of philosophy (from ancient philosophy to analytic philosophy to deconstruction and so on) are structured around a prior decision, and remain constitutively blind to this decision. The ‘decision’ that Laruelle is concerned with here is the dialectical splitting of the world in order to grasp the world philosophically. Your BBT is saying much the same: the brain (Mind) cannot grasp its decisional structure. But that is just what we want: to remain in the gap, set up the minimal variables of the antagonism between blindness and insight; the “subjective destitution” that Lacan spoke of. There is no intentions in the present, intentions are always after the fact, decisions that arise out of the self-reflective negativity of the act itself. To act is to err, the act is by definition partial, it involves guilt, but the judging consciousness does not admit that its judging is also an act, it refuses to include itself in what it judges. And it couldn’t anyway, because it is blind to its own insights, barred from their truth until after the fact; a temporal blindness.

      You would know more about this than me, but I think some of the current ideas about trauma are relevant just here in your theory. A rethinking of trauma theory might be of benefit. This whole terrifying vortex of the pre-ontological Real is itself (accessible to us only in the guise of) a fantasmatic narrative, a lure destined to detract us from the true traumatic cut, that of the abyssal act between thought and being, the gap opened in the brain which is a war, a duel not between opposites but a unity of opposites, a negativity that cannot grasp its own negativity, a double-negativity that opens a world.

      The act of abstraction, of tearing apart, can also be understood as an act of self-imposed blindness, of refusing to “see it all.” I think Zizek gets it right here:

      “But how, exactly, are we to read this co-dependence of insight and blindness? Is it possible to avoid the standard reading that imposes itself with an apparently self-evident force: the reading according to which the co-dependence of insight and blindness is an indication of our unsurpassable finitude, of the radical impossibility of our reaching the standpoint of infinity, of an insight no longer marred by any kind of blindness? It is our wager that Hegel offers another way here: what he calls “negativity” can also be couched in terms of insight and blindness, as the “positive” power of “blindness,” of ignoring parts of reality. How does a notion emerge out of the confused network of impressions we have of an object? Through the power of “abstraction,” of blinding oneself to most of the features of the object, reducing it to its constitutive key aspects. The greatest power of our mind is not to see more, but to see less in a correct way, to reduce reality to its notional determinations— only such “blindness” generates the insight into what things really are.” (Less Than Nothing)

      Reading a lot of your essays I see you as a performative non-philosopher in the sense that you no longer collapse the distinction (present in philosophy) between theory and action. In this sense, your non-philosophical approach is radically performative because the theorems it deploys are in accordance with a method that constitutes a fully-fledged scientific set of actions. A sort of scientific action-theory. In this sense you seek out the resistances, the negative conjunctures that reveal what is broken, failed, and in that very failure you open up knowledge to the blindness that can never be seen directly but only inferred through indirect scientific apparatuses and theoretical knowledge.

      I guess I’m a little long winded tonight … forgive my madness! 🙂

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