A Time of Hope?

His name is…

Will it ever come to me? There is a grand lapse of memory that may be the only thing to save us from ultimate horror. Perhaps they know the truth who preach the passing of one life into another, vowing that between a certain death and a certain birth there is an interval in which an old name is forgotten before a new one is learned. And to remember the name of a former life is to begin the backward slide into that great blackness in which all names have their source, becoming incarnate in a succession of bodies like numberless verses of an infinite scripture.

To find that you have had so many names is to lose claim to any one of them. To gain the memory of so many lives is to lose them all.

So he keeps his name secret, his many names. He hides each one from all the others, so that they will not become lost among themselves. Protecting his life from all his lives, from the memory of so many lives, he hides behind the mask of anonymity.

But even if I cannot know his name, I have always known his voice. That is one thing he can never disguise, even if it sounds like many different voices. I know his voice when I hear it speak, because it is always speaking of terrible secrets. It speaks of the most grotesque mysteries and encounters, sometimes with despair, sometimes with delight, and sometimes with a spirit not possible to define. What crime or curse has kept him turning upon this same wheel of terror, spinning out his tales which always tell of the strangeness and horror of things? When will he make an end to his telling?  

He has told us so many things, and he will tell us more. Yet he will never tell his name. Not before the very end of his old life, and not after the beginning of each new one. Not until time itself has erased every name and taken away every life.

But until then, everyone needs a name. Everyone must be called something. So what can we say is the name of everyone?

– Thomas Ligotti,  Grimscribe

If Self is an illusion, and I think it is, then is the name I use an illusion, too? I see my name in places that define me for the State: Birth certificate, Drivers license, Social-Security Card, Passport, Visa, Diplomas, Insurance, Car title, Home title, Bank account, etc. But is this me? Am I my memories? Am I the traces I leave in objects? Old postcards sent to friends from foreign ports, strange statues bought in some hidden jungle village, little rattles or drums bought high in the Andes, an old knock-about typewriter used for years in one country or another traveling: all these objects that were used by me or that used me? What of the film, pictures taken by family members, friends, office mates? Are all these traces of my body left in objects the truth of me? Is the self a tangible material thing that can be traced on old stone like an iconic image that some future being might discover on a fallen wall and think: “What sort of creature was this?”

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Google, DARPA and the Future of Control

Former director of DARPA and Google exec, Regina E. Dugan smiles as she tells us about the new invasive biotechnologies for tattooing and biomedical pharmaceuticals that will allow Google or other agencies to implant invasive sensors/tracking devices to monitor citizens 24/7 for securitization. She is wearing one of the devices and then produces a pill that she describes in detail as having pulsating electronics that can be picked up by GPS satellite, etc. What else is Google planning down the pipe? She even hints that one of the marketing ploys is to target teenagers and young people using the tattoo’s as if in an act of rebellion against their parents. Such Technologies will allow a big Other (Authority) to monitor every step taken in a 24/7 timeframe as well as uploading other types of data to a centralized datamining facility to be manipulated, massaged, and transformed for use by marketers, law enforcement, academia, etc. Is this the future of our technocontrol society? Will corporations enforce our daily pill for access to information? Instead of a token that is slid into one’s computer, one wears it either on one’s person as a tattoo, or as an ingested pill that provides a secure 24/7 access to any and all information in the GoogleMind.  Google seems to be at the forefront of our Brave New World of surveillance and control society. Aldous Huxley in a later set of essays The Brave New World Revisited remarked:

In my fable of Brave New World, the dictators had added science to the list and thus were able to enforce their authority by manipulating the bodies of embryos, the reflexes of infants and the minds of children and adults. And, instead of merely talking about miracles and hinting symbolically at mysteries, they were able, by means of drugs, to give their subjects the direct experience of mysteries and miracles—to transform mere faith into ecstatic knowledge. The older dictators fell because they could never supply their subjects with enough bread, enough circuses, enough miracles and mysteries. Nor did they possess a really effective system of mind-manipulation. In the past freethinkers and revolutionaries were often the products of the most piously orthodox education. This is not surprising. The methods employed by orthodox educators were and still are extremely inefficient. Under a scientific dictator education will really work—with the result that most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution. There seems to be no good reason why a thoroughly scientific dictatorship should ever be overthrown.1

The next time your boss offers you a pill with a smile, or your child comes home from school with a whimsical tattoo on her wrist, think about Regina E. Dugan of Google and politely say “No thanks, control is not an option!”

A follow up on the Proteous Digital Pill: http://money.cnn.com/2012/08/03/technology/startups/ingestible-sensor-proteus/index.htm and http://proteusdigitalhealth.com/

More details on the EES Chip tattoo: http://www.the-scientist.com/?articles.view/articleNo/31046/title/Next-Generation–Electronic-Skin/

For those that want the longer version of the above that also goes into the darker Transhumanist agenda behind the Google world-view go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H4Q7sT2Kk88

1. Huxley, Aldous (2014-01-09). Brave New World Revisited (Kindle Locations 1485-1492). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

John Michael Greer: We Should Fear a Totalitarianism of the Center

Of course John Michael Greer and the Arch Druid Report have been mainstay for those who keep up on peak oil and the future of industrial society for a while now. I may not agree with his pagan revivalism but he does have some worthy things to say. A couple posts (here and here) begin describing a worrisome figure of darkness that we might all take stock of: the figure of Fascism that seems to be resurfacing under altered forms in our time. Neither Left nor Right the fascism of our era is taking up those in the center: the excluded, disaffiliated, and marginalized who have no voice in the political structure of our time. In the first post he gives a short background to the term and its history. Then offers a warning:

If a full-blown fascist movement of what was once the standard type were to appear in America today, it’s a safe bet that nobody except a few historians would recognize it for what it is. What’s more, it’s just as safe a bet that many of those people who think they oppose fascism—even, or especially, those who think they’ve achieved something by spraypainting “(expletive) FACISM” on a concrete wall—would be among the first to cheer on such a movement and fall in line behind its banners.

In the second post after lambasting both Left and Right he points us to those at the center who are now situated outside of politics altogether, and who have no voice in its institutions and not only that but resemble the same situation that one finds in pre-Weimer Germany just before Hitler took over.

In Italy before and during the First World War, and in Germany after it, democratic institutions froze up around a series of problems that the political systems in question were unwilling to confront and therefore were unable to address.  Every mainstream political party was committed to maintaining the status quo in the face of a rising spiral of crisis that made it brutally clear that the status quo no longer worked.  One government after another took office, promising to make things better by continuing the same policies that were making things worse, while the opposition breathed fire and brimstone, promising fierce resistance to the party in power on every issue except those that mattered—and so, in both countries, a figure from outside the political mainstream who was willing to break with the failed consensus won the support of enough of the voters to shoulder his way into power.

“When fascism succeeds in seizing power”, he tells us, “it’s not a right-wing movement, or for that matter a left-wing one. It seizes the abandoned middle ground of politics, takes up the popular causes that all other parties refuse to touch, and imposes a totalitarianism of the center. That’s the secret of fascism’s popularity—and it’s the reason why an outbreak of full-blown fascism is a real and frightening possibility as America stumbles blindly into an unwelcome future.” He tells us he’ll continue this with future posts…(here and here).

Building the greatest artificial intelligence lab on Earth

Just read this on Mind Hacks…. looks like Google is becoming an AI company; and, with Ray Kurzeil and other AI and transhumanist theoreticians at the helm what should we expect in the future from Google? Just looking at the $3.2 Billion dollar investment in Nest Labs alone, not to speak of all the other companies it has bought up lately one wonders just what “deep learning” and the future of data mining holds out for our freedom? One of the investors from DeepMind told the reporters at technology publication Re/code two weeks ago that Google is starting up the next great “Manhattan project of AI”. As the investor continued: “If artificial intelligence was really possible, and if anybody could do it, this will be the team. The future, in ways we can’t even begin to imagine, will be Google’s.”

Kurzeil says that his main job mission is to offer an AI intelligence system based on natural language “my project is ultimately to base search on really understanding what the language means. When you write an article you’re not creating an interesting collection of words. You have something to say and Google is devoted to intelligently organising and processing the world’s information. The message in your article is information, and the computers are not picking up on that. So we would like to actually have the computers read. We want them to read everything on the web and every page of every book, then be able to engage an intelligent dialogue with the user to be able to answer their questions.” Continuing, he says, “Google will know the answer to your question before you have asked it. It will have read every email you’ve ever written, every document, every idle thought you’ve ever tapped into a search-engine box. It will know you better than your intimate partner does. Better, perhaps, than even yourself.” Who needs Big Brother when you have Google in your head? And, with Google in collusion with DARPA initiatives, who is to say what military and securitization issues will arise from such systems of intelligence? (see Google dominates Darpa robotics…) Will the WorldMind 1.0 be the militaries secret initiative to take over control not only of all information on the web, but of those hooked into its virtual playpen of false delights? Instead of “dropping out” like my fellow hippies did in the sixties, maybe we should soon think about unplugging, disconnecting, and cutting the neurocircuits that are being rewired by the global brain? Or is it already too late?

Orwell wrote of NewsSpeak… which in our time is becoming “GoogleSpeak” your friendly Avatar of the information highway. What next? A little smiley faced icon on your car google visor, iPhone, or thinkpad, an avatar that follows you everywhere 24/7 chattering away about this or that… all the while smiling as it also relays your deepest medical, social, private or intimate informatics messages to the NSA or any of a multiple other cyberagencies for data crystallization and surveillance recon. Oh, the wonders of the control society… blah, blah, blah…. the naturalization of security in our age: GoogleSpeak is your friend, download her now! Or, better yet, let GoogleMind(tm) back up your brainwaves today, don’t lose another mindless minute of your action filled life: let the GoogleMeisters upload your brain patterns to the Cloud…

As John Foreman at GigaCom remarks on Data privacy, machine learning…

“If an AI model can determine your emotional makeup (Facebook’s posts on love certainly betray this intent), then a company can select from a pool of possible ad copy to appeal to whatever version of yourself they like. They can target your worst self — the one who’s addicted to in-app payments in Candy Crush Saga. Or they can appeal to your aspirational best self, selling you that CrossFit membership at just the right moment.

In the hands of machine learning models, we become nothing more than a ball of probabilistic mechanisms to be manipulated with carefully designed inputs that lead to anticipated outputs.” And, quoting Victor Frankl, he continues: ““A human being is a deciding being.” But if our decisions can be hacked by model-assisted corporations, then we have to admit that perhaps we cease to be human as we’ve known it. Instead of being unique or special, we all become predictable and expected, nothing but products of previous measured actions.” In this sense what Deleuze once described as the “dividual” – “a physically embodied human subject that is endlessly divisible and reducible to data representations via the modern technologies of control” is becoming naturalized in this new world of GoogleSpeak. Just another happy netizen of the slaveworlds of modern globalism where even the best and brightest minds become grist for the noosphere mill of the praxelogical GoogleMind(tm).

Mind Hacks

The Guardian has an article on technologist Ray Kurzeil’s move to Google that also serves to review how the search company is building an artificial intelligence super lab.

Google has gone on an unprecedented shopping spree and is in the throes of assembling what looks like the greatest artificial intelligence laboratory on Earth; a laboratory designed to feast upon a resource of a kind that the world has never seen before: truly massive data. Our data. From the minutiae of our lives.

Google has bought almost every machine-learning and robotics company it can find, or at least, rates. It made headlines two months ago, when it bought Boston Dynamics, the firm that produces spectacular, terrifyingly life-like military robots, for an “undisclosed” but undoubtedly massive sum. It spent $3.2bn (£1.9bn) on smart thermostat maker Nest Labs. And this month, it bought the secretive and cutting-edge British artificial intelligence startup DeepMind for…

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Lee Smolin: Time, Physics and Climate Change

The most radical suggestion arising from this direction of thought is the insistence on the reality of the present moment and, beyond that, the principle that all that is real is so in a present moment . To the extent that this is a fruitful idea, physics can no longer be understood as the search for a precisely identical mathematical double of the universe. That dream must be seen now as a metaphysical fantasy that may have inspired generations of theorists but is now blocking the path to further progress. Mathematics will continue to be a handmaiden to science, but she can no longer be the Queen.

– Lee Smolin,  Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe

What if everything we’ve been taught about time, space, and the universe is not just wrongheaded, but couched in a mathematics of conceptual statements (theorems) that presumed it could map the totality of reality in a one-to-one ratio of identity?  This notion that mathematics can ultimately describe reality, that there is a one to one identity between the conceptual framework of mathematics and the universe – the Cartesian physicist – or, you may know him under the epithet of String theorist – will maintain that those statements about the accretion of the universe which can be mathematically formulated designate actual properties of the event in question (such as its date, its duration, its extension), even when there is no observer present to experience it directly. In doing so, our physicist is defending a Cartesian thesis about matter, but not, it is important to note, a Pythagorean one: the claim is not that the being of accretion is inherently mathematical – that the numbers or equations deployed in the statements (mathematical theorems) exist in themselves. What if all those scientists, philosophers and mathematicians who have pursued this path had in fact taken a wrong turn along the way. This is the notion that Lee Smolin an American theoretical physicist, a faculty member at the Perimeter Institute for Theoretical Physics, an adjunct professor of physics at the University of Waterloo and a member of the graduate faculty of the philosophy department at the University of Toronto puts forward in his new book Time Reborn: From the Crisis in Physics to the Future of the Universe.

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Lovelock On The Coming Catastrophe

Saw this on Synthetic Zero. Got to love Lovelock, he pulls no punches and tells it how it is. We’re all doomed, forget about sustainability, green, Rousseauean returns to nature, etc. It’s just stupid now… 50 years ago maybe, but now we’re too late. Better build liferafts than castles in the air…
“Lovelock believes global warming is now irreversible, and that nothing can prevent large parts of the planet becoming too hot to inhabit, or sinking underwater, resulting in mass migration, famine and epidemics. Britain is going to become a lifeboat for refugees from mainland Europe, so instead of wasting our time on wind turbines we need to start planning how to survive. To Lovelock, the logic is clear. The sustainability brigade are insane to think we can save ourselves by going back to nature; our only chance of survival will come not from less technology, but more”

Also, Paul, below pointed out another one on synthetic zero, a video by Guy R. McPherson that is indeed dire: here… He has a new book out: Going Dark. As McPherson states it in his book:

Until recently I believed complete collapse of the world’s industrial economy would prevent runaway greenhouse and therefore allow our species to persist a few more generations. But in June 2012 the ocean of evidence on climate change overwhelmed me, and I no longer subscribe to the notion that habitat for humans will exist on Earth beyond the 2030s. We’ve triggered too many self-reinforcing feedback loops to prevent near-term extinction at our own hand…


synthetic zerØ

Update: please note that The Guardian piece linked below is from 2008


Was James Lovelock the first credible scientist to go public with his acceptance of the coming catastrophes of climate change, economic collapse and massive food and water shortages? How many of his colleagues will follow as recognition grows of an end not yet arrived?

Nothing short of a total revolution in human lifeways and social organization is going to derail the accelerating machines of capitalist production. The now standard economies of appropriation and commodified material reorganization are devouring the ecological systems necessary for stable large scale habitation.  “Greening” our communities won’t help and our corporate citizens will continue to do the minimum necessary to appear concerned about sustainability. Growth-mongers and technohyperions alike will drive our societies to the brink and then fail to escape as we this species falls into the abyss of all future adaptations.

Below Lovelock…

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Antonio Negri: Reflections on Accelerazionista Policy of Williams and Srnicek

I noticed Edumund Berger on Deterritorial Investigations Unit had posted a snippet of Antonion Negri’s take on Williams and Srnicek #Acclerate Manifesto. I discovered a few snippets worth noting.

After a slight introduction Negri tells us that Williams and Srnicek return us to a Communist discourse for today. They offer a return of revolutionary thinking, a “new movement” in form – a discourse of power against power, biopolitics against Biopolitics. Theirs is a return to an emancipatory vision that takes as the basic subversive premise the notion of the “One divided into two”.

Negri sees in this a accelerationist move a return that would force a renovation of the operaista tradition with its notions of an “inside-against” refrain. In this tradition the concept of a hands-on investigation of class compostion came to the fore. It provided a detailed analysis of the real conditions of workers that is necessary to validate an analysis of contemporary capitalism, as well as its potential sites of struggle; only thus can the conceptsof immaterial and affective labour be useful politically. As Negri remarks: “The process of liberation may not be accelerating capitalist development, without however (this is important) confusing “acceleration speed”: because here the acceleration has all the characteristics of a device-engine, an experimental process of discovery and creation, within the space of possibilities determined by capitalism itself.” He also sees the need for the revitalization of the concept of “trend” within Marxian analysis and its insistence on “spatial analysis of the parameters of development” aligned with such notions as territorialisation and/or deterritorialization from Deleuze and Guattari.

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Deleuze: Control and Becoming

New cerebral pathways, new ways of thinking, aren’t explicable in terms of microsurgery; it’s for science, rather, to try and discover what might have happened in the brain for one to start thinking this way or that. I think subjectification, events, and brains are more or less the same thing.

– Gilles Deleuze, Control and Becoming

The new information communications technologies form the core infrastructure of what many have termed our Global Information Society and what Deleuze once termed under the more critical epithet “societies of control”.  As Harold Innis once stated in his classic work Empire and Communications: “Concentration on a medium of communication implies a bias in the cultural development of the civilization concerned either towards an emphasis on space and political organizations or towards an emphasis on time and religious organization.”1 With the spread of information culture and technologies the older forms of newspaper, radio, television, and cinema form the core nexus of propaganda machines for both government and corporate discipline and control within national systems, while – at least in the free world, information technologies remain borderless and open systems. Yet, even this being called into question in our time. With both governmental and international agency pressure the protocols for invasive control over the communications of the internet are becoming the order of the day.

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Nick Land: On Williams and Srnicek #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics


Nick Land on his Uraban Future (2.1) blog has a few posts up on Accelerationism (here), (here) and (here) with the last two on Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics. Although there are only two post so far it looks as if he will add more seeing that he is dividing it up thematically. He seems to agree that both sides of the spectrum, Left and Right, are seeking to realign the social, political, aesthetic lines of modernism which exploded just before the Great War and after… Have we read our Pynchon lately? Against the Day could be used as the lead in for this return since it forges the links from the 1893 Worlds Fair to the Great War – “With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, global geopolitical power struggle, mysticism, and evil intent in high places.”  Is this not our age writ large? The age of Pound and Eliot, Futurism and Dada, the worlds of Piccasso and Matisse… and, much like our own age it was a time of anarchists, socialists, feminists, vegetarians… as Peter Gay tells it the moderns no matter what stripe embodied two attributes: first, the lure of heresy that impelled their actions as they confronted conventional sensibilities; and, second, a commitment to a principled self-scrutiny.1 Is this what these Back to the Future Accelerationists seek? Or do they seek something else altogether? Maybe Ray Brassier is on to something in Wandering Abstraction?:

“What is required is an account of the link between the conceptual and the social at the level of practice, which is to say, an account of the way in which cognitive function supervenes on social practices. This is what neither accelerationism nor communisation currently provide.”

– Ray Brassier

From Land I take one comment:

“The accelerationist renovation of the Left, like every species of deep modernist renovation, aims to re-activate lines of development dating back to the high-modernism of the early 20th century when — as the authors fully, if perhaps only intuitively, understand the fundamental dynamic of modernity crested and broke. Or are we seriously to believe that “back to the mid-1970s!” is the implicit rallying cry?”

– Nick Land on Williams and Srnicek

 Some videos as well: http://xlrt.org/videos.html

Along with #ACCELERATE: The Accelerationist Reader from Urbonomic forthcoming…

1. Gay, Peter (2010-08-16). Modernism: The Lure of Heresy (Kindle Locations 273-274). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Pete Mandik: On Neurophilosophy

An introduction to reductionism and eliminativism in the philosophy of mind, by Professor Pete Mandik of William Paterson University. Three youtube.com vids that give a basic intro to Paul and Patricia Churchland’s notions following W.V. Quine that science and philosophy should inform each other, and the establishment of that within the philosophy of mind termed neurophilosophy. Might skip the first five minutes of the vid one, mainly speaking to his class. (In fact you could probably skip the first vid, which basically introduces the aforementioned philosopher/scientists and move right into the second vid which immediately speaks directly to the topics) Otherwise a good basic intro for those that want to know the difference between the reductionist and eliminativist approaches.

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Convergence Technologies: NBIC and the Future

If they will not understand that we are bringing them a mathematically faultless happiness, our duty will be to force them to be happy.

– Yevgeny Zamyatin, WE

Dr. Mihail C. Roco Senior Advisor for Nanotechnology at the National Science Foundation tells us that the convergence of knowledge and technology for the benefit of society is the core opportunity for progress in the 21st century, based on five principles:

  1. the interdependence of all components of nature and society,
  2. decision analysis for research and development based on system-logic deduction,
  3. enhancement of discovery, invention and innovation through evolutionary processes of convergence that combine existing principles and competencies, and divergence that generates new ones,
  4. higher-level cross-domain languages to generate new solutions and support transfer of new knowledge, and
  5. vision-inspired basic research embodied in grand challenges. It allows society to answer questions and resolve problems that isolated capabilities cannot, as well as to create new competencies, knowledge and technologies on this basis.

A book that will support this new progressive agenda tell us the convergence in knowledge, technology, and society is the accelerating, transformative interaction among seemingly distinct scientific disciplines, technologies, and communities to achieve mutual compatibility, synergism, and integration, and through this process to create added value for societal benefit. It is a movement that is recognized by scientists and thought leaders around the world as having the potential to provide far-reaching solutions to many of today’s complex knowledge, technology, and human development challenges. Four essential and interdependent convergence platforms of human activity are defined in the first part of this report: nanotechnology-biotechnology-information technology and cognitive science (“NBIC”) foundational tools; Earth-scale environmental systems; human-scale activities; and convergence methods for societal-scale activities. The report then presents the main implications of convergence for human physical potential, cognition and communication, productivity and societal outcomes, education and physical infrastructure, sustainability, and innovative and responsible governance. As a whole, the report presents a new model for convergence. To effectively take advantage of this potential, a proactive governance approach is suggested.  The study identifies an international opportunity to develop and apply convergence for technological, economic, environmental, and societal benefits.

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Operational Neuroscience: The Militarization of the Brain

“Why design a machine to read thoughts when all you have to do is shut down a few circuits and have your subject read them out for you?”

– R. Scott Bakker,  Neuropath


In a presentation to the intelligence community five years ago, program manager Amy Kruse from the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) identified operational neuroscience as DARPA’s latest significant accomplishment, preceded by milestone projects that included the Stealth Fighter, ARPANET, the GPS, and the Predator drone. National security interests in operational neuroscience encompass non-invasive, non-contact approaches for interacting with a person’s central and peripheral nervous systems; the use of sophisticated narratives to influence the neural mechanisms responsible for generating and maintaining collective action; applications of biotechnology to degrade enemy performance and artificially overwhelm cognitive capabilities; remote control of brain activity using ultrasound; indicators of individual differences in adaptability and resilience in extreme environments; the effects of sleep deprivation on performance and circadian rhythms; and neurophysiologic methods for measuring stress during military survival training.

Anthropologist Hugh Gusterson, bioethicist Jonathan Moreno, and other outspoken scholars have offered strong warnings about potential perils associated with the “militarization of neuroscience” and the proliferation of “neuroweapons.” Comparing the circumstances facing neuroscientists today with those faced by nuclear scientists during World War II, Gusterson has written, “We’ve seen this story before: The Pentagon takes an interest in a rapidly changing area of scientific knowledge, and the world is forever changed. And not for the better.” Neuroscientist Curtis Bell has called for colleagues to pledge that they will refrain from any research that applies neuroscience in ways that violate international law or human rights; he cites aggressive war and coercive interrogation methods as two examples.

Read Article: Neuroscience, Special Forces and Yale by Roy Eidelson.

R. Scott Bakker: Why not simply yet another affection, this one dispositionally prone to yelp, ‘Me-me-me!’

My friend R. Scott Bakker makes a point about my recent posts here and here on Hume and his views of the Self as interpreted by Gilles Deleuze in his Empiricism and Subjectivity, and the conclusions I draw from my reading, saying:

I said: “This reflexive movement of synthesis is an intervention or cut in time and its extension in historical reflection upon that cut or splice in time. It is this gap between two intervals, the time of intervention and the time of reflection between affection marked and affection reflected that produces the sense or synthesis of self. The self is this process of a double reflection. Neither form nor substance the self is the gap or cut between two modalities that is resolved not at the level of understanding but within the moral and political domain of culture. Neither intentional nor directed the self becomes a synthetic unity brought into play by the mind’s own innate processes, and yet these very processes cannot be reduced to the physical manifestations of the brain itself which is both origin and qualifier of the mind’s reflexive nature.”

Scott asked: What ‘gap’? I just don’t see what motivates the distinction into two modalities here. If ‘reflection’ is affection (and what else would it be?), then what makes it different than any other kind of affection? Why should affection working the trace of previous affections give rise to anything so exotic as ‘cuts’ and ‘gaps’ and ‘irreducible entities’? Why not simply yet another affection, this one dispositionally prone to yelp, ‘Me-me-me!’

As soon as that particular affection subsides, the self subsides with it, as it does in sleep.

Ok, if we take the standard definition of the term “affection” as: attraction, infatuation, or fondness – a “disposition or rare state of mind or body”. And, a  disposition as a habit, a preparation, a state of readiness, or a tendency to act in a specified way.

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Power, Knowledge, Self-Reference: Guattari’s Triad

Edmund Berger of Deterritorial Investigation Unit has a great post on a little understood aspect o Guattari’s thought, explication his Schizoanalytic Cartographies.

Deterritorial Investigations

DCF 1.0

“Machines,” wrote Gilles Deleuze in his examination of Foucault’s thought, “are always social before being technical. Or, rather, there is a human technology before which exists before a material technology.”i With this simple statement, the entirety of processes in development of Western civilization – achieving a truly global, or even cosmological reach with the accelerations of neoliberal capitalism – is revealed for what it is: a machinic order. Marx had situated labor, or more properly the relationship between labor and the modes of production, as the base for social organization; here, we can see that this is incorrect. Deleuze’s understanding of the machine does extend beyond the purely technical, and into the array of social and power relations that are tangled within it, but it becomes essential to acknowledge that the technical precedes the varying modes of labor. What emerges from this picture is, therefore, a feedback loop, with…

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Nick Land: Libidinal Materialism vs. Physicalism

Libidinal materialism, or the theory of unconditional (non-teleological) desire, is  nothing but a scorch mark from the expository diagnosis of the physicalistic prejudice.

– Nick Land, A Thirst For Annihilation

At the heart of the physicalist’s prejudice is an implicit theological core, says Nick Land. Devoid of the trappings of theology Physicalism, none the less, returns us to its hidden center: a regression to the first cause (38). The basic motto of the physicalist is –  “There is nothing over and above the physical.” Donald Davidson in his formulation of anomalous monism coined this phrase, which holds that, although there is nothing over and above the physical, our mental states cannot neatly be identified with our brain states, or subsumed under physical laws. The problem of Physicalism is the problem of meaning: What do we mean by the physical? Philosophers are spread to varying extremes as to how to define this concept. We have many and various approaches to this from theory based to token based to object based conceptions, as well as reductive and non-reductive approaches.

Land provides a critique against a form of Physicalism based in externalist theoretic which is both reductive and intrinsic in its approach to matter as a passive substance which is “exhausted by the dual characteristics of transmitting alien forces and decaying according to the universally legislated exigencies of composition” (38). Land offers against such a reductionist ploy an alternative non-reductionist account based on non-linear dynamics and complexity theory which follow Boltzmann’s thermodynamics toward an “absolutely improbable negentropy” (38). Using Boltzmann’s non-reductive theoretic Land tells us it offers the only “conceivable physicalistic atheism, at least if the second law of thermodynamics is to be maintained” (39). The point being that it posits that the probabilistic nature of our universe supports the notion of a far-from-equilibrium state theory as we see around us in the universe, which suggests the reality of negentropy rather than theological assumptions regarding first causes best explains the probabilistic manifestation of our universe today.

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Gilles Deleuze: Hume and the Problem of the Self

Are we not, then, at this point capable of solving the problem of the self, by giving a sense to Hume’s hope?

– Gilles Deleuze, Empricism and Subjectivity

In a previous post we were left with another question by Deleuze: “We do not really understand how we can move from dispositions to the self, or from the subject to the self. How can the subject and the mind, in the last analysis, be one and the same inside the self? The self must be both a collection of ideas and a disposition, mind and subject. It is a synthesis, which is incomprehensible, since it ties together in its notion, without ever reconciling them, origin and qualification.”(31)

As we see in the above we have dispositions, subject, and self: three terms in relation that is both one and two, origin and qualification, source and reflection – a double issue unresolved by the theory of passions and the theory of knowledge of which Hume aware of this difficulty would work through certain general rules to provide a distinct answer to the problem posed. As Deleuze states it we are capable of stating what the idea of subjectivity is: the “subject is not a quality but rather a qualification of a collection of ideas” (64). It is not a particularized or determinate quality of the mind but an “impression of reflection” (26). It’s not a fixed substance but a tendency or disposition that affects the imagination. “To say that imagination is affected by principles amounts to saying that a given collection [of ideas] is qualified as a partial, actual subject” (64). He continues:

The idea of subjectivity is from then on the reflection of the affection in the imagination and the general rule itself. The idea is no longer here the object of a thought or the quality of a thing; it is not representational. It is a governing principle, a schema, a rule of construction. Transcending the partiality of the subject whose idea it is, the idea of subjectivity includes within each collection under consideration the principle and the rule of a possible agreement between subjects. Thus, the problem of the self, insoluble at the level of the understanding finds, uniquely within culture, a moral and political solution.(64)

He reminds us that in the original question we came to the conclusion that there could be no reconciliation at the level of origin and affection because there is a great difference between “principles and fancy” (64). But what is possible is the constitution of the self as a “synthesis of the affection and its reflection, the synthesis of affection which fixes the imagination and of an imagination which reflects the affection” (64). This reflexive movement of synthesis is an intervention or cut in time and its extension in historical reflection upon that cut or splice in time. It is this gap between two intervals, the time of intervention and the time of reflection between affection marked and affection reflected that produces the sense or synthesis of self. The self is this process of a double reflection. Neither form nor substance the self is the gap or cut between two modalities that is resolved not at the level of understanding but within the moral and political domain of culture. Neither intentional nor directed the self becomes a synthetic unity brought into play by the mind’s own innate processes, and yet these very processes cannot be reduced to the physical manifestations of the brain itself which is both origin and qualifier of the mind’s reflexive nature. It is the general rules of culture manifested in morals and politics which harbor the solution to this movement between knowledge and passion as reflected in the self as a collection of ideas.

1. Gilles Deleuze. Empiricism and Subjectivity An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature. trans. by Constantin V. Boundas (Columbia University Press, 1991)

Gilles Deleuze: On Hume’s Theory of Society

He presents us with a critique of the social contract…

– Gilles Deleuze, Empiricism and Subjectivity

About half way through his essay on Hume Cultural World and General Rules Deleuze comes upon the central tenet of Hume’s theory of Society: “the main idea is this: the essence of society is not the law but rather the institution” (45). As he relates it the law is the negative underbelly of society, and that the institution, unlike law, “is not a limitation but rather a model of actions, a veritable enterprise, an invented system of positive means or a positive invention of indirect means” (45-46). Against those political philosophers who base their theories on law rather than the institution he has this to say:

The fault of contractual theories is that they present us with a society whose essence is the law, that is, with a society which has no other objective than to guarantee certain preexisting natural rights and no other origin than the contract (45).

He tells us the problem with such theories is that it is an impossibility for society to guarantee natural rights. Why? Because people enter into society precisely for the simple reason that they do not have preexisting rights natural or otherwise. The notion of institution reverses the usual theories by its insistence that outside the social order only the negative, lack, and need exist. He admits that society has always been an artificial construct, an invented whole or totality, not a natural preexisting entity. At the root of the institution of society is the notion of convention which is an important concept for Hume. As Deleuze reminds us placing “convention at the base of the institution signifies only that the system of means represented by the institution is a system indirect, oblique, and invented – in a word, cultural” (46).

“Society is a set of conventions founded on utility, not a set of obligations founded on a contract” (45). In this view the law is a negative factor whose only job is to limit the institution. The corollary to this is the sense of the legislator not as one who legislates but the one who institutes. In this view the notion of natural law and rights is confounded and overturned, even reversed in the order of practice: “there is no question any longer of the relation between rights and the law, but of needs and institutions” (46). This shift to actions and affects rather than the abstractions of rights and the law informs Hume’s theory of society much as it did his understanding of subjectivity. In fact as Deleuze comments:

This idea implies an entire remodeling of rights and an original vision of the science of humanity, that is, of the new conception of social psychology.(46)

What binds need and the institution is utility. But we must not see in this some form of reductionism Deleuze reminds us. Against any “functionalist” reduction of society to nature, and the explanatory framework in which society is explained by utility, and the institution by drives and needs we must refrain because for Hume a drive is satisfied within the institution not the other way around.(46) Of course this is about social institutions not governmental: in marriage, sexuality is satisfied; in property, greed. (47) The institution is a model, a construct, of possible actions, and because it is it does not “satisfy the drive without also constraining it” (47). There is a double edge in every institution of satisfaction and constraint, a normative extension and regulation.

Again we learn that the drive does not explain the institution, but that it is the “reflection of the drive in the imagination” that does. Just as we learned that subjectivity is an affect, an “impression in reflection”(48). So too we learn that association of the drive in the imagination is revealed “as a veritable production of extremely diverse models: when drives are reflected in an imagination submitted to the principle of association, institutions are determined by the figures traced by the drives according to the circumstances” (49). For this reason Hume does not equate the drives to instincts but to the “reflective drive” in the imagination. As Deleuze states it:

This is the meaning of institution, in its difference from the instincts. We can then conclude that nature and culture, drive and institution, are one to the extent that the one is satisfied by the other; but they are also two insofar as the latter is not explained by the former. (49)

That political philosophy is founded on a sense of Justice goes without saying, but for Hume it is where it is situated that counts. Morality is addressed only to those who exist in the State: it “does not involve the change of human nature but the invention of artificial and objective conditions in order for the bad aspects of this nature not to triumph” (50). Once again the notion of a social contract comes under fire. The notion of founding a government as a promise to the people is erroneous, because the “promise is an effect of the specification of justice, and loyalty, its support”(51). The notion of the promise is not the cause of government but an effect of it. The point for Hume is this, that the state is not charged with representing the general interest of the people, but rather with making the general interest an object of belief (51).

Yet, this brings Hume to another conclusion: that of inequality and scarcity. Because of favorable circumstance and acquisition of properties a new rule must be implemented or enabled to bring about a balance: a rule of political economy. At the center of Hume’s theory is the problem of property. As Deleuze relates it property “presents a problem of quantity: goods are scarce, and they are unstable because they are rare” (53). For Hume society offers a quantitative harmony of economic activities which are mechanically established which is not true of property. Out of this Deleuze formulates Hume’s moral categories and rules as follows:

1. Content of the general rule: the stability of possession.
1.1 Support of the general rule: loyalty to the government
1.2 Complement of the general rule: the prosperity of commerce.

2. Specification of the general rules: immediate possession, occupation, etc.
2.1 Specification of support: long possession, accession, etc.
2.2 Specification of the complement: monetary circulation, capital, etc.

3. Correction of the preceding specification by means of general rules, promise, transfer
3.1 Correction: resistance
3.2 Correction: taxes, state service, etc.

I can see here that Hume and Rousseau would have been enemies. For Hume society was a protection against the brute violence of nature, while for Rousseau society was evil incarnate. Hume unlike the utilitarians that would follow did not reduce ethics to nature, but instead offered the reverse course and saw humans utilizing their native gifts within the artificially fabricated institutions based on a sense of justice and harmony that is mechanically established: wherever disputes arise, in philosophy or common life, the best way to settle the question is by ascertaining, on any side, “…the true interests of mankind.” This is the principle of utility that Hume offered. Outside society humans had no recourse but to the violence of nature.

1. Gilles Deleuze. Empiricism and Subjectivity An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature. trans. by Constantin V. Boundas (Columbia University Press, 1991)

Gilles Deleuze: Hume and Subjectivity

As Deleuze breaks down the components of Hume’s philosophical system into its differing layers he exposes the specificity of subjectivity as an effect: “it is in fact an impression of reflection“(26).1 He qualifies this stating: “When Hume speaks of an act of the mind – of a disposition – he does not mean to say that the mind is active but that it is activated and that it has become subject” (26). Many terms have been used to describe what Hume means by dispositions: ‘power’ (Locke’s term), ‘dunamis’ (Aristotle’s term), ‘ability’, ‘potency’, ‘capability’, ‘tendency’, ‘potentiality’, ‘proclivity’, ‘capacity’, and so forth. This sense of power or disposition according to Deleuze is termed a tendency. As he tells us in another passage the effect of association in the mind appears in three ways: first, through resemblance an idea has the capacity or power to represent all the ideas it is associated with; second, is the notion of substance and mode: the unity of ideas in the mind form a regularity they did not previously have; and, third, the notion of relation, that one idea can introduce another.(25) As Steven Mumford states it:

Hume knew of the causal powers view as an alternative to his own. But he thought that such a view would mean that causes had to necessitate their effects. If there is a power for a certain effect , he argued, it would mean that it had to produce its effect when it operated. But this need not be the position. A power might only dispose towards a certain effect. There can be cases where it succeeds in producing that effect, but in other cases it could be prevented from doing its job. The effects that we see around us are often the result of many different factors working together. When a paper aeroplane is thrown, for instance , its trajectory is determined by its aerodynamic shape but also gravity, gusts of wind, electrostatic attractions and repulsions, and so on. It could be that some of those factors dispose it in one direction while others dispose it in an opposite one.2

Deleuze makes a key point regarding Hume’s study of Human Nature as a “science”. The first concerns Hume’s atomism, the notion that the psychology of mind is a psychology of ideas, of “simple elements, of minima or indivisibles” (26). Such notions as he explores in his system of understanding concerning such ideas as “space and time”. The second concerns his psychology of dispositions that Deleuze likens to an anthropology, “a science of practice, especially morality, politics, and history” (27). The point of the atomization of ideas Deleuze tells us is that for Hume there can be no atomistic psychology, therefore he affirms the truth as well that there can be no psychology of mind. As Deleuze argues this is why all “serious writers agree on the impossibility of a psychology of the mind” (27). He continues: “[t]his is why they criticize so meticulously every single identification between consciousness and knowledge. They differ only in the way they determine the factors which give a nature to the mind” (27-28). In this he alludes to the notions of the mind-body debates that are still carried on in our contemporary settings. As he tells us sometimes the shift moves toward the body or matter, at other times the factors concern specific principles that replace the body or matter in which psychology finds its “unique, and possible object and its scientific condition” (28). Hume takes this second path: the notion of the principles of association. This is Deleuze reminds us where Hume’s ambiguous relationship to materialism comes to the fore.

Deleuze sums up the Humean project as the problem of subjectivity, that Hume’s basic question is one of empirical proof: “how does the mind become a nature?” He tells us that Hume starts with the impossible contradiction of the idea itself: “Show me the idea you claim to have.” As he states it:

What’s at stake in the challenge is the very psychology of mind. In fact, the given and experience have now two inverse meanings. The given is the idea as it is given in the mind, without anything transcending it – not even the mind, which is therefore identical with the idea. But, the transcendence itself is also given, in an altogether different sense and manner – it is given in practice, as an affection of the mind, and as an impression of reflection: passion, says Hume, does not have to be defined: by the same token, belief is a je ne sais quoi adequately felt by everyone. (28-29)

Deleuze next gives us an argument against the essentialism of subjectivity: “Empirical subjectivity is constituted in the mind under the influence of principles affecting it; the mind therefore does not have the characteristics of a preexisting subject” (29). True psychology, he tells us, is of the affections as well as a critique of the false psychology of the mind; in fact, as he states it, the “latter is incapable of grasping without contradiction the constitutive element of human reality” (29).

At this point he asks: Why is it finally necessary  that philosophy undertake this critique, express the transcendence in an idea, produce the contradiction, and manifest the incompatibility under discussion? The answer: “because the transcendence under discussion is not given in an idea, but is rather referred to the mind; it qualifies the mind” (29). The point of this is the simple fact that we can never have access to the mind(brain) itself, no amount of reflection will ever allow us access to the processes of the mind, it is closed off and we are incapable of reflecting on it, we are, in fact, blind to its processes. But, as Deleuze suggests, we have a negative relation to the ideas which transcend it because within the “structures of transcendence, the mind finds a kind of positivity which comes to it from outside” (29).

Since we do not have access to the mind itself, we turn to the affections it produces: this is the psychology of affections to which Hume refers us, and as Deleuze relates “the psychology of affections becomes the philosophy of the constituted subject” (30). For Hume this is where Rationalism fell into error with its reliance on a theory of representation, and as Deleuze remarks Hume’s philosophy is a “sharp critique of representation” (30). Not being a critique of relations Hume was able to show that it was impossible for representations to represent relations. As Deleuze explains it by “making representations into a criteria and by placing ideas within reason, rationalism expects ideas to stand for something, which cannot be constituted within experience or be given in an idea without contradiction…”(30). Rationalism objectified mental determinations by placing them in external objects, taking away thereby, Deleuze says, “from philosophy the meaning and the intelligibility of practice and the subject” (30).

The Rationalists had fallen into another error Hume tells us, they had equated reason and mind, when in fact “reason is an affection of the mind” (30). It was for this reason that Hume would equate reason with terms such as instinct, habit, or nature.(30) Reason as an affection moves through a cycle of skepticism of reason to a positivism of feeling, in which the latter becomes a reflection of feeling within the qualified mind (30). Ultimately this notion led to a contradiction for Hume, or as Deleuze states it:

We do not really understand how we can move from dispositions to the self, or from the subject to the self. How can the subject and the mind, in the last analysis, be one and the same inside the self? The self must be both a collection of ideas and a disposition, mind and subject. It is a synthesis, which is incomprehensible, since it ties together in its notion, without ever reconciling them, origin and qualification. (31)

Deleuze tells us that Hume would present possible solutions later in his speculations. ( I will have another post, or update this one with those sooner or later)

What’s interesting in this early work is how many threads would be taken up from it time and again by Deleuze altered in form of terminological practice but essentially the same set of notions that led him to understand Hume’s theoretical discourse in the first place. I do not see it mentioned as much in the secondary literature as I do other of his works within the history of philosophy. Either way the notion of the subject as affect, as impression on reflection, an insertion or action that constitutes the subject as non-essentialist but a part of the very processes of the brain, as well as the elision of mind from access to its own processes, all these notions would show up in other works. I’ll add other posts as I have time on Deleuze’s speculations in the history of philosophy that were relevant to his project and problems.

…. follow up: Hume and the Problem of the Self

1. Gilles Deleuze. Empiricism and Subjectivity An Essay on Hume’s Theory of Human Nature. trans. by Constantin V. Boundas (Columbia University Press, 1991)
2. Mumford, Stephen (2012-08-30). Metaphysics: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (p. 53). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Stephen Jay Gould: On the Reduction/Anti-Reduction Debate

At this point in the chain of statements, the classical error  of reductionism often makes its entrance, via the following argument: If our  brain’s unique capacities arise from its material substrate, and if that  substrate originated through ordinary evolutionary processes, then those unique  capacities must be explainable by (reducible to) “biology” (or some other  chosen category expressing standard scientific principles and procedures).

The primary fallacy of this argument has been recognized  from the inception of this hoary debate. “Arising from” does not mean “reducible  to,” for all the reasons embodied in the old cliche that a whole can be more  than the sum of its parts. To employ the technical parlance of two fields,  philosophy describes this principle by the concept of “emergence*,” while science  speaks of “nonlinear” or “nonadditive” interaction. In terms of building  materials, a new entity may contain nothing beyond its constituent parts, each  one of fully known composition and operation. But if, in forming the new entity,  these constituent parts interact in a “nonlinear” fashion—that is, if the  combined action of any two parts in the new entity yields something other than  the sum of the effect of part one acting alone plus the effect of part two  acting alone—then the new entity exhibits “emergent” properties that cannot  be explained by the simple summation of the parts in question. Any new entity  that has emergent properties—and I can’t imagine anything very complex  without such features—cannot, in principle, be explained by (reduced to)  the structure and function of its building blocks.

— Stephen Jay Gould, In Gratuitous Battle


* A note he qualifies his use of “emergence”:

Please note that this definition of “emergence” includes no  statement about the mystical, the ineffable, the unknowable, the spiritual, or  the like—although the confusion of such a humdrum concept as nonlinearity  with this familiar hit parade has long acted as the chief impediment to  scientific understanding and acceptance of such a straightforward and  commonsensical phenomenon. When I argue that the behavior of a particular  mammal can’t be explained by its genes, or even as the simple sum of its genes  plus its environment of upbringing, I am not saying that behavior can’t be  approached or understood scientifically. I am merely pointing out that any full  understanding must consider the organism at its own level, as a product of  massively nonlinear interaction among its genes and environments. (When you  grasp this principle, you will immediately understand why such  pseudosophisticated statements as the following are not even wrong, but merely  nonsensical: “I’m not a naive biological determinist. I know that intelligence  represents an interaction of genes and environment—and I hear that the  relative weights are about 40 percent genes and 60 percent environment.”)

The American Cyborg: Neuroscience, DARPA, and BRAIN

Proverbs for Paranoids: You may never get to touch the Master, but you can tickle his creatures.

– Thomas Pynchon,  Gravity’s Rainbow

What if the Master has a steel face and looks something like the DARPA Atlas in the image above? When we discover the Master is a mask for the economic masters one need not worry about tickling any creatures whatsoever, more than likely they will be tickling you soon enough. That’s what I thought the first time I saw the White House BRAIN. Yes, yes… the new Manhattan Project of the decade or millennia is to unlock the secrets in the your skull – that three-pound loaf of grey matter that swims behind your eyes recreating moment by moment the words you are reading in the blips and bits of electronic light from your screen at this very moment. In the bold print we hear about the wonders that will be accomplished through such research: “…a bold new research effort to revolutionize our understanding of the human mind and uncover new ways to treat, prevent, and cure brain disorders like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, autism, epilepsy, and traumatic brain injury.” All good, of course, nothing wrong with solving the terrible problems of the brain that have brought so much devastation and suffering to millions. But then one looks down the page and notices where the major portion of the funding is going and realizes … hmm… military (DARPA) expenditure: $50 million for understanding the dynamic functions of the brain and demonstrating breakthrough applications based on these insights.

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) is the central research and development organization for the Department of Defense (DoD). It manages and directs selected basic and applied research and development projects for U.S Department of Defense and pursues research and technology where risk and payoff are both very high and where success may provide dramatic advances for traditional military roles and missions. DARPA sponsors such things as robotic challenges(here). Their mission statement tells it all:

The Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) was established in 1958 to prevent strategic surprise from negatively impacting U.S. national security and create strategic surprise for U.S. adversaries by maintaining the technological superiority of the U.S. military.

To fulfill its mission, the Agency relies on diverse performers to apply multi-disciplinary approaches to both advance knowledge through basic research and create innovative technologies that address current practical problems through applied research.  DARPA’s scientific investigations span the gamut from laboratory efforts to the creation of full-scale technology demonstrations in the fields of biology, medicine, computer science, chemistry, physics, engineering, mathematics, material sciences, social sciences, neurosciences and more.  As the DoD’s primary innovation engine, DARPA undertakes projects that are finite in duration but that create lasting revolutionary change.

Rene Descartes: The Diversity of the Sciences as Human Wisdom

Distinguishing the sciences by the differences in their objects, they think that each science should be studied separately, without regard to any of the others. But here they are surely mistaken. For the sciences as a whole are nothing other than human wisdom, which always remains one and the same, however different the subjects to which it is applied, it being no more altered by them than sunlight is by the variety of the things it shines on. Hence there is no need to impose any restrictions on our mental powers; for the knowledge of one truth does not, like skill in one art, hinder us from discovering another; on the contrary it helps us.

– René Descartes,  The Philosophical Writings of Descartes

This notion that the common thread that unites all the diverse sciences is the acquisition of human wisdom must be tempered by that further statement about the freeing of the mind from any intemperate restriction or regulation that would force it to down the path of specialization and expertise. What I mean by this is the fact that for Descartes like many in that era were discovering the sciences in all their diversity during a time when the tendency toward almost guild like enclosure and secrecy was taking effect rather than an open and interdependent,  pluralistic investigation; and, in that way they were becoming more and more isolated and closed off from one another in such a way that the truths of one field of study were no longer crossing the demarcated lines as knowledge in a universal sense of shared wisdom. Instead learning in one field of the sciences was becoming restrictive, segmented, and closed off from other fields in such a way that knowledge as a source of wisdom was becoming divided as well as divisive.

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The Mind-Body Debates: Reductive or Anti-Reductive Theories?

More and more I have come to see in the past few years that the debates in scientific circles seem to hinge on two competing approaches to the world and phenomena: the reductive and anti-reductive frameworks. To really understand this debate one needs to have a thorough understanding of the history of science itself. Obviously in this short post I’m not going to give you a complete history of science up to our time. What I want to do is to tease out the debates themselves, rather than provide a history. To do that entails to philosophy and history rather than to specific sciences. For better or worse it is in the realm of the history of concepts that one begins to see the drift between these two tendencies played out over time. Like some universal pendulum we seem to see the rise and fall of one or the other conceptual matrix flit in and out as different scientists and philosophers debate what it is they are discovering in either the world or the mind. Why? Why this swing from reductive to anti-reductive then back again in approaches to life, reality, and mind-brain debates?

Philosophers have puzzled over this question from the time of Pre-Socratics, Democritus, Plato, Aristotle onwards… take the subject of truth: In his book TruthProtagoras made vivid use of two provocative but imperfectly spelled out ideas: first, that we are all ‘measures’ of the truth and that we are each already capable of determining how things are for ourselves, since the senses are our best and most credible guides to the truth; second, given that things appear differently to different people, there is no basis on which to decide that one appearance is true rather than the other. Plato developed these ideas into a more fully worked-out theory, which he then subjected to refutation in the Theaetetus. In his Metaphysics  Aristotle argued that Protagoras’ ideas led to scepticism. And finally Democritus incorporated modified Protagorean ideas and arguments into his theory of knowledge and perception.

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Thomas Nagel: Idealism and the Theological Turn in the Sciences

The view that rational intelligibility is at the root of the natural order makes me, in a broad sense, an idealist— not a subjective idealist, since it doesn’t amount to the claim that all reality is ultimately appearance— but an objective idealist in the tradition of Plato and perhaps also of certain post-Kantians, such as Schelling and Hegel, who are usually called absolute idealists. I suspect that there must be a strain of this kind of idealism in every theoretical scientist: pure empiricism is not enough.

– Thomas Nagel, Mind and Cosmos

Now we know the truth of it, and why Thomas Nagel has such an apparent agenda to ridicule and topple the materialist world view that he seems to see as the main enemy of his own brand of neutral monism: a realist of the Idea, whether one call it mind or matter – it’s neutral. What’s sad is his attack on scientific naturalism and its traditions even comes to the point where he offers the conclusion that even religion upholds a more appropriate view of reality than the naturalist:

A theistic account has the advantage over a reductive naturalistic one that it admits the reality of more of what is so evidently the case, and tries to explain it all. But even if theism is filled out with the doctrines of a particular religion (which will not be accessible to evidence and reason alone), it offers a very partial explanation of our place in the world.(25)

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The Mind-Body Debates: Beginnings and Endings

Jaegwon Kim tells us it all started with two papers published a year apart in the late fifties: “The ‘Mental’ and the ‘Physical'” by Herbert Feigl in 1958 and “Sensations and Brain Processes ” by J. J. C. Smart the following year. Both of these men brought about a qualitative change in our approach to the study of the brain and its interactions with the physical substrate. Each of them proposed in independent studies an approach to the nature of mind that has come to be called the mind-body identity theory, central-state materialism, the brain state theory, or type physicalism. That the identity theory in itself would lose traction and other theories would come to the fore, the actual underlying structure of the debates would continue to be set by the framework they originally put in place. As Kim suggests:

What I have in mind is the fact that the brain state theory helped set the basic parameters and constraints for the debates that were to come – a set of broadly physicalist assumptions and aspirations that still guide and constrain our thinking today.1

This extreme form of reductionist Physicalism was questioned by the multiple realizability argument  of Hilary Putnum and the anomalous argument by Donald Davidson. At the heart of Putnum’s argument as the notion of functionalism, that mental kinds and properties are functional kinds at a higher level of abstraction than physicochemical or biological kinds. Davidson on the other hand offered the notion of anomalous monism that the mental domain, on account of its essential anomalousness and normativity , cannot be the object of serious scientific investigation, placing the mental on a wholly different plane from the physical. At first it seemed to many of the scientists of the era that these two approaches, each in its own distinctive way, made it possible for “us to shed the restrictive constraints of monolithic reductionism without losing our credentials as physicalists” (4). Yet, as it turned out this, too, did not last.

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Thomas Nagel: Constitutive Accounts – Reductionism and Emergentism

Thomas Nagel in his Mind and Cosmos: Why the Materialist Neo-Darwinian Conception of Nature Is Almost Certainly False starts from the premise that psychophysical reductionism, a position in the philosophy of mind that is largely motivated by the hope of showing how the physical sciences could in principle provide a theory of everything has failed to prove its case. As he states the case:

This is just the opinion of a layman who reads widely in the literature that explains contemporary science to the nonspecialist. Perhaps that literature presents the situation with a simplicity and confidence that does not reflect the most sophisticated scientific thought in these areas . But it seems to me that, as it is usually presented, the current orthodoxy about the cosmic order is the product of governing assumptions that are unsupported, and that it flies in the face of common sense.1

You notice the sleight of hand was move from “unsupported” to “flies in the face of common sense”. He seems over an over in his book to fall back on this common sense doxa approach when he’s unable to come up with legitimate arguments, admitting his amateur status as “nonspecialist” as if this were an excuse; and, then qualifying his own approach against the perceived “sophisticated scientific literature” as a way of disarming it in preference to his own simplified and colloquial amateurism.  The sciences of physics, chemistry, and biology are the key sciences that he wishes to use to prove his case. Behind it is a notion of a philosophy of “neutral monism” that he seems to favor: he tells us he “favors some form of neutral monism over the traditional alternatives of materialism, idealism, and dualism” (KL 71-72). As he tells it: “It is prima facie highly implausible that life as we know it is the result of a sequence of physical accidents together with the mechanism of natural selection. We are expected to abandon this naïve response, not in favor of a fully worked out physical/ chemical explanation but in favor of an alternative that is really a schema for explanation, supported by some examples.(KL 85-88)” To support his book’s overall theme he asks two major questions of the scientific community of reductionists:

First, given what is known about the chemical basis of biology and genetics, what is the likelihood that self-reproducing life forms should have come into existence spontaneously on the early earth, solely through the operation of the laws of physics and chemistry? The second question is about the sources of variation in the evolutionary process that was set in motion once life began: In the available geological time since the first life forms appeared on earth, what is the likelihood that, as a result of physical accident, a sequence of viable genetic mutations should have occurred that was sufficient to permit natural selection to produce the organisms that actually exist?(KL 89-93)

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The Rise of Science and the Mathematization of Reality: Competing Views

It [Mathematics] did not, as they supposed, correspond to an objective structure of reality; it was a method and not a body of truths; with its help we could plot regularities—the occurrence of phenomena in the external world—but not discover why they occurred as they did, or to what end.

– Isaiah Berlin, from an entry in Dictionary of the History of Ideas – The Counter-Enlightenment

Isaiah Berlin in his entry on what he termed the “counter-Enlightenment” tells us that opposition “…to the central ideas of the French Enlightenment, and of its allies and disciples in other European countries, is as old as the movement itself”. 1 The common elements that these reactionary writers opposed in the Enlightenment project were notions of autonomy of the individual, empiricism and scientific methodology, its rejection of authority and tradition, religion, and any transcendent notions of knowledge based on faith rather than Reason. Berlin himself places Giambattista Vico (1668-1744) and his Scienza nuova (1725; radically altered 1731) as playing a “decisive role in this counter-movement”. He specifically uses the term “counter-movement” rather than the appellation “counter-Enlightenment”.

I’ve been following – – blog Persistent Enlightenment, and one of the interesting threads or series of posts on his site deals with the concept of “Counter-Enlightenment,” a term coined by none other that Isaiah Berlin in the early 50’s (see his latest summation: here). I believe that he correct in his tracing of this concept and its history and use in scholarship. Yet, for myself, beyond tracing this notion through many different scholars I’ve begun rethinking some of the actual history of this period and of the different reactions to the Enlightenment project itself as well as the whole tradition of the sciences. One really needs to realize the Enlightenment itself is the culmination of a process that started centuries before with the emergence of the sciences.

Stephen Gaukroger’s encyclopedic assessment of the sciences and their impact on the shaping of modernity has been key in much of my own thinking concerning the history and emergence of the sciences as well as the understanding of the underpinnings of the mechanistic world view that informs it in this early period. One of the threads in that work is the battle between those traditionalist scholars of what we now term the “humanities” who seek to protect human learning – the study of ancient literature along with philosophy, history, poetry, oratory, etc. – as Gaukroger says, “as an intrinsic part of any form of knowledge of the world and our place in it” (1).1  He mentions Gibbon’s remark that during his time that the study of physics and mathematics has overtaken the study of belles lettres as the “pre-eminent form of learning” (1). In our own time this notion that philosophy and the humanities are non-essential to the needs of modern liberal democracies has taken on a slight edge as well.

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Sophie Wahnich: Mimesis, Sacrifice, and Terror

My hypothesis is mimetic: because humans imitate one another more than animals, they have had to find a means of dealing with contagious similarity, which could lead to the pure and simple disappearance of their society. The mechanism that reintroduces difference into a situation in which everyone has come to resemble everyone else is sacrifice. Humanity results from sacrifice; we are thus the children of religion.1

In my post yesterday Brassier reminded us that for Adorno and Horkheimer, both “mimesis and subsumption are intimately connected to fear: a nexus of terror links civilization’s fear of regression, the individual’s fear of social disapprobation, the fear of conceptual indistinction, and the prey’s fear of its predator” (45-46).2

Jean Delumeau in his magisterial Sin and Fear – The Emergence of Western Guilt Culture 13th-18th Centuries describes the new “siege mentality” which overtook citizens of Europe during the medieval era, and by the 14th Century would be accompanied by an oppressive sense of guilt, an unprecedented movement toward introspection, and the development of a new moral conscience. With the growth of Humanism came what he termed, the “scruple sickness”:

It was as if the aggressivity directed against the enemies of Christendom had not entirely spent itself in incessant religious warfare, despite constantly renewed battles and an endless variety of opponents. A global anxiety, broken up into “labeled” fears, discovered a new foe in each of the inhabitants of the besieged city, and a new fear – the fear of one’s own self.(1)

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Quick note on Brassier’s reading of Adorno and Horkheimer

Civilization proscribes mimetic behavior as a dangerous regression.

— Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound Enlightenment and Extinction

Brassier reminds us that for Adorno and Horkheimer, both “mimesis and subsumption are intimately connected to fear: a nexus of terror links civilization’s fear of regression, the individual’s fear of social disapprobation, the fear of conceptual indistinction, and the prey’s fear of its predator” (45-46).1 The point being that these concepts are bound to terror: “the terror of mimetic regression engenders a compulsion to subsume, to conform, and to repress, which is itself the mimesis of primitive organic terror” (46). At the end of a long passage he quotes form Adorno and Horkheimer they summarize what we face today: “The camouflage used to protect and strike terror today is the blind mastery of nature which is identical to farsighted instrumentality” (46).

As Brassier sees it mimicry is both a “defense mechanism and a weapon” (46). He describes the notion of reversibility as being central to this mimetic process of mimicry:

Mimetic sacrifice effectuates a reversibility between the threatening power which is to be warded off, and the threatened entity which seeks to defend itself through sacrifice. It installs a reversible equivalence between dominating and dominated force, power and powerlessness, the organic and the inorganic. Ultimately, this reversibility renders the anthropomorphic vocabulary of fear and intimidation inappropriate…(46)

Pertinent to our later age of computers and instrumental reason Brassier tells us that the “Enlightenment consummates mimetic reversibility by converting thinking into algorithmic compulsion: the inorganic miming of organic reason. Thus the artificialization of intelligence, the conversion of organic ends into technical means and vice versa, heralds the veritable realization of second nature – no longer in the conciliatory aspect of a reflexive commemoration of reason’s own natural history, but rather in the irremediable form wherein purposeless intelligence supplants all reasonable ends (47)”.

Brassier hones in on the fatal flaw within Adorno’s and Horkheimer’s project as he sees it:

Disavowing the irreflexive nature of natural history, Adorno and Horkheimer’s speculative naturalism ends up reverting to natural theology. It is the failure to acknowledge the ways in which the socio-historical mediation of nature is itself mediated by natural history – which means not only evolutionary biology but also geology and cosmology – which allows philosophical discourses on nature to become annexes of philosophical anthropology. (48)


1. Ray Brassier. Nihil Unbound Enlightenment and Extinction (Palgrave McMillan 2007)

Michael Hardt: On Deleuze’s Theory of Control

Michael Hardt in an essay on Deleuze’s Postscript for Societies of Control published in Discourse Journal for Theoretical Studies in Media and Culture aligns his notion of Empire contra Foucault’s ‘regimes of biopower’ saying: “I would like to suggest that the social form of this new Empire we are living today is the global society of control” (140). I’ve written on Deleuze’s essay before: here, so will not go back over the details (and one can read it the full essay by Deleuze: here).

Hardt in furthering Deleuze’s initiative sees the change from the Foucauldian  disciplinary society to the society of control as a breakdown in the outside/inside distinctions in conceptions of sovereignty and power over time as manifest in the concept of territory. As he tells it the older forms of sovereignty were always measured in concepts of territory and of the relations of territory to some outside: as a boundary term between opposing spatial claims. Hardt sees this outside in as a historical process culminating in the modern era with what he terms the internalization of nature: or, as he calls it the “civilization of nature”.(141)1

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Neuroethics: The Dilemmas of Brain Research

Henry T. Greely in a recent article Neuroethics: The Neuroscience Revolution, Ethics, and the Law paints a gloomy picture of our posthuman future. In this paper he breaks down the revolution in neuroethics into four domains: prediction, litigation, confidentiality and privacy, and patents. He tells us it is the responsibility of any ethicist to understand the ethical, legal, and social consequences of new technologies to look disproportionately for troublesome consequences. Neuroethics is specific to the new branches of neurosciences.

Ethical problems revolving around neuroscientific research have induced the emergence of a new discipline termed neuroethics, which discusses issues such as prediction of disease, psychopharmacological enhancement of attention, memory or mood, and technologies such as psychosurgery, deep-brain stimulation or brain implants. Such techniques are capable of affecting the individual’s sense of privacy, autonomy and identity. Moreover, reductionist interpretations of neuroscientific results challenge notions of free will, responsibility, personhood and the self which are essential for western culture and society. They may also gradually change psychiatric concepts of mental health and illness. These tendencies call for thorough, philosophically informed analyses of research findings and critical evaluation of their underlying conceptions of humans. The stakes are high, for it entails nothing less and nothing more that the core values that have guided since the Enlightenment.

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Neuromilitary: The Dark Side of Government Spending

Michael N. Tennison and Jonathan D. Moreno report that National security organizations in the United States, including the armed services and the intelligence community, have developed a close relationship with the neuroscientific community. The latest technology often fuels warfighting and counter-intelligence capacities, providing the tactical advantages thought necessary to maintain geopolitical dominance and national security. Neuroscience has emerged as a prominent focus within this milieu, annually receiving hundreds of millions of Department of Defense dollars. Its role in national security operations raises ethical issues that need to be addressed to ensure the pragmatic synthesis of ethical accountability and national security. (abstract)

They make the obvious observance that the military establishment’s interest in understanding, developing, and exploiting neuroscience generates a tension in its relationship with science: the goals of national security and the goals of science may conflict. An understatement, or is this the wave of the future? The sciences have not been neutral for a long while now. As John Brockman once said “Where the money flows the science flows.” This should be no surprise.

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Kant and the Paradox of the Enlightenment

Enlightenment is man’s release from his self-incurred tutelage. Tutelage is man’s inability to make use of his understanding without direction from another. Self-incurred is this tutelage when its cause lies not in lack of reason but in lack of resolution and courage to use it without direction from another. Sapere aude! “Have courage to use your own reason!”- that is the motto of enlightenment.

– Immanuel Kant,   What Is Enlightenment?

Sometimes when I reread Kant I discover the strangest things. Take the passage above. It’s not what he’s saying that is as important as what he is implying. Obviously he tries to tell us that the humans of his era were controlled by exterior forces, rules, regulations, authorities and that most of them, being passive, allowed these regulatory mechanisms of morality, ethics, etc. enforced by the social institutions of the day to rule there lives because of sheer laziness and cowardice. But was it laziness and cowardice, or was it that these regulatory and normative mechanisms had become so naturalized for most people that they couldn’t see beyond them, didn’t know that other forms of thought might exist? Even if many of these people were literate enough to have access to such thought and thinkers as Kant, would their ideas alone make a difference? The institutions of authority that bound most average citizens of that age formed a nexus of material and social authority, based systems of enforcement and reinforcement, that mostly went unchallenged by the average citizenry. Most citizens lived in the shadow of these historical institutions under the illusion that they held the best interest toward them as the guardians of public trust, etc. The religious and social institutions for most citizens went without question, and even after the French Revolution these timeworn institutions reinstated themselves within the new social setting, mutated and mangled, but still alive and well.

Tutelage comes from the Latin tutela “a watching, protection,” from variant past participle stem of tueri “watch over,” which implies both a form of paternal and maternal protective imposition. Kant implies that most people do not have the ability to think or act for themselves, that they’ve become passive followers of familial, religious and political authorities external to their own lives. They are blinded to the internalization of this authority and have neither the resolve or courage to struggle free of these external and internalized regulatory processes. And, then, he says, wake up, you have a power within yourself to combat this authoritative order both within and without you: it is name reason. But what is this power of reason? What did Kant himself mean by the term “reason”? Why would it bring such freedom from authority to humanity so that they would no longer fall under the spell of custom and tradition?

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