David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 4.2)

The problem of interpretation arises because there are empirical and theoretical grounds for holding that some phenomenology is “dark”.
– David Roden,  Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human

Again I take up from my previous post David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. In section 4.2 he will introduce us to the notion that not all phenomenology deals with the pure world of surfaces and light. There is a dark side, or should we say ‘A Dark Tale of Phenomenology’. It will be a tale of twined realms: one of perception, and one of time. It will be a tale in which we will never be sure whether what is alien and posthuman can ever be known or shared by our own mental states, or that we will even be able to control or forecast what the posthuman is or could be. We will be in the dark with that which is alien and alienating.

David Roden will give us a beginning to our tale: “Let’s call a feature of experience “dark” if it confers no explicit or implicit understanding of its nature on the experiencer (Roden, KL 1961)”.1 Unlike the phenomenology of Husserl or even Heidegger in which the surface detail that we can intuit and see within the realm of appearance and presence, dark phenomenology would deal with that which cannot directly be seen, touched, felt, smelled, etc., yet affects us and influences our dispositions, feelings, or actions in indirect and strange ways that we cannot describe with any precision. Our access to this dark side would be by indirect ways, much like scientist who uncover the truth of dark energy and dark matter which make up 99% of our universe and yet we never have direct access to such things except through a combination of mathematical theorems and instruments that measure aspects of these unknown unknowns indirectly through experimentation and analyses.

Reading Roden’s surmises about color theory, and of how there are millions of shadings of color that we cannot intuit or describe from a firs-person-singular perspective because we do not have access or it is a form of loss or neglect reminded my of what many in the neurosciences are suspecting. As I suggested from Bakker’s BBT theory in a previous post the brain only ever gives us the information we need to deal with the things evolution and survival have adapted us too in our understanding or ‘intuiting’ of the environment we are embedded within. Yet, as Roden is suggesting there is an amazing realm of experience we never have direct access to, and that in fact we are blind too not because we cannot intuit it, but because the brain only offers our ‘first-person’ of subjective self or temporary agency certain well-defined and filtered pieces of the puzzle. It filters out the rest accept as Roden said previously, there are times when we are affected by things we cannot perceive but are part of reality. Phenomenology is unable to discuss such things because it is not science, it lacks both the conceptual and instrumental technology to graze even a percent of this unknown or blind territory surrounding us. Philosophers like to talk of chaos, etc. When in fact it is a sea of information that the brain analyses at every moment, but delivers to us packaged in byte size representations that we can handle as its evolutionary agents of choice.

(A personal aside: I must admit I wish David would have sunk the philosophy for neuroscience and hard-sciences rather than wasting time with the philosophical community. It always seems reading such works that one must spend an exorbitant amount of time clarifying concepts, ideas, notions for other professional philosophers who will probably reject what your saying anyway. To me science is answering these sorts of questions in terms that leave the poor phenomenological philosopher in a quandary. Maybe its part of the academic game. I’ve never been sure. Yet, as we will see David himself will make much the same gesture later on.)

Either way as I read dark phenomenology is actually trying to deal not with appearance but with what Kant used to call the ‘noumenal’ realm. Which was closed off from philosophical speculation two-hundred years ago as something that could never be described or known. Yet, both philosophy and the sciences have been describing aspects of it ever since and doing it by indirect means without ever name it that. It’s as if we’ve closed our selves off from the truth of our own blindness, and told ourselves we’re not blind.

As Roden will affirm of all these representationalist philosophers in discussing the possibility that time may have a dark side: “For representationalist philosophers of mind who believe that the mind is an engine for forming and transforming mental representations there is good reason to be sceptical about the supposed transcendental role of time” (Rode, KL 2068). Then he will tells us why: “For where a phenomenological ontology transcends the plausible limits of intuition its interpretation would have to be arbitrated according to its instrumental efficacy, simplicity and explanatory potential as well as its descriptive content” (Roden, KL 2081).

 And as if he heard me he will tell us that phenomenology must provide an incomplete account of those dark structures that are not captured in appearance through other modes of inquiry, saying: “If phenomenology is incompletely characterized by the discipline of phenomenology, though, it seems proper that methods of enquiry such as those employed by cognitive scientists, neuroscientists and cognitive modellers should take up the interpretative slack. If phenomenologists want to understand what they are talking about , they should apply the natural attitude to their own discipline. (Roden, 2120)”

And, of course most practicing scientists in these fields would tell Roden and the others: Why don’t you just give it up and join us? Maybe philosophy is not suited to describe or even begin to analyze what we’re discovering, maybe you would be better off closing down philosophy of mind and becoming scientists.” But of course we know what these philosophers would probably say to that. Don’t we. 

Ultimately after surveying phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger and others Roden will come to the conclusion:

Dark phenomenology undermines the transcendental anthropologies of Heidegger and Husserl because it deprives them of the ability to distinguish transcendental conditions of possibility such as Dasein or Husserl’s temporal subject (which are not things in the world) from the manifestation of things that they make possible. They are deconstructed insofar as they become unable to interpret the formal structures with which they understand the fundamental conditions of possibility for worlds or things. … As bruited, this failure of transcendentalism is crucial for our understanding of SP. If there is no a priori theory of temporality, there is no a priori theory of worlds and we cannot appeal to phenomenology to exclude the possibility that posthuman modes of being could be structurally unlike our own in ways that we cannot currently comprehend. (Roden, KL 2194 – 2206)

 What we’re left with is an open and indescribable realm of possibility that is anyone’s guess. As he will sum it up there is no reason to be bound by a transcendental or anthropological posthumanism, instead SP will have no truck with constraints on the open-endedness of posthumanism (” This is not to say, of course, that there are no constraints on PPS”):

Posthuman minds may or may not be weirder than we can know. We cannot preclude maximum weirdness prior to their appearance. But what do we mean by such an advent? Given the extreme space of possible variation opened up by the collapse of the anthropological boundary, it seems that we can make few substantive assumptions about what posthumans would have to be like.  (Roden, 2378)

In the next post Roden takes up the formal analysis rather than an a priori or substantive account of posthuman life, suggesting that we will not be able to describe the posthuman till we see in in the wild. We will follow him into the wild.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.


18 thoughts on “David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 4.2)

  1. Great stuff. It makes me realize how much I miss sharing your reading journals!

    Much of the stuff David touches on here actually thoroughly traverses the philosophy/science divide. The big thing about these ‘phenomenological overflow’ examples from a scientific standpoint is that they seem to give rise to what Block calls the ‘measurement problem.’ If phenomenology outruns our capacity to report, it not only poses problems for representational theories of phenomenality, it also raises a potentially disastrous confound for consciousness research – for heterophenomenology, in fact. You have the neurophysiology of consciousness and the neurophysiology of verbal reports: if the former is distinct from the latter, and yet the latter provides the only way of tracking what the brain is doing during conscious episodes, then you might not be measuring conscious activity after all.

    I think the phenomenologist could blunt David’s critique, however, by relying on the old implicit/explicit saw. The fact that some features of consciousness can only be made explicit via cunning scientific experimentation, the phenomenologist could argue, merely demonstrates the *need to adopt the transcendental approach,* which actually accommodates the nonthematic aspects of consciousness via the concept of ‘horizons.’ Heterophenomenology, on the other hand, possesses no such conceptual resource.


    • As you say both phenomenology and Heterophenomenology are of no use in explanatory terms. I still side with a materialist perspective, not physicalist, nor the kind espoused by the Idealists Hegel/Marx, Badiou/Zizek, but following Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Freud, Land, etc. and even such as Roger Penrose who sides with the quantum effects in the brain, along with the open endedness and incompleteness theorems of Godel, etc. a materialism that takes of the a non-dialectical and non-teleological stance. One that opts for energia/forces and chaos and composition preexisting Being and ontology. As Michio Kaku observed in his journalistic report if it turns out that the reverse-engineered brain cannot reproduce human behavior, then scientists may be forced to admit that there are unpredictable forces at work (i.e., quantum effects inside the brain). Dr . Penrose argues that inside the neuron there are tiny structures, called microtubules, where quantum processes dominate.

      So if phenomenology and Heterophenomenology are of no use, what about a new take on materialist discourse that sides with science anyway?

      We know that the three materialisms that still wander:

      1. Physicalism
      2. Hegel/Marx
      3. Base or Libidinal Materialism – which is based mainly in thermodynamics – not its ontology but its basic premises of energy and force, entropy and negentropy etc.

      The first two or fairly much out of the picture. So we know the brain applies so many filters before this thing we call our ‘first-person singular’ self ever receives its little piece of the pie called consciousness… if as Nietzsche once surmised there is nothing but interminable interpretations, and this seems to be the case with Quantum Mechanics – Copenhagen interpretations won out, but there were other equal and valid interpretations as well of this paradoxical world below the surface. I think of David Armstrong the Australian philosopher who spent most of his life building a systematic philosophy based on direct realism and contingency, but who at the end of his life began moving back toward a necessesatarian view of laws and necessity etc. The notion of powers and dispositons etc. When one studies certain strong sensations like disgust one begins to see a for of this libidinal materialism in the work of many thinkers. Are there any in the scientific community dealing with such things?

      Kaku, (2014-02-25). The Future of the Mind: The Scientific Quest to Understand, Enhance, and Empower the Mind (Kindle Locations 5987-5989). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


      • I wouldn’t hold out much hope for the Penrose-Hameroff thesis, or any thesis that explains the apparently extraordinary features of human consciousness in terms of something extraordinary in the natural world, as opposed to theses that explain those extraordinary features away. They may be right, but they are definitely the longshot. Either consciousness is super special, or we’re blinkered idiots. Only the counterintuitivity of the latter obscures its epistemic modesty.

        Otherwise, I guess my question to you is the same as the last interview question I sent to David: Why worry about these kinds of metaphysical issues? What do the interminable controversies that occasion them add to our understanding? Why not rather practice an ad hoc, ‘ontology on the go,’ where you posit only where those posits actually seem to bring you closer to this or that set of scientific virtues?

        So BBT, for instance, actually delivers a ‘flat ontology’ not by making any grand ontological claims, but rather by making empirically responsive claims regarding metacognition which have the effect of eliminating intentionality, leaving us with an admittedly fuzzy, incomplete and ill-defined but nonetheless incredibly useful notion of biomechanics…

        Which may or may not ‘reduce to fundamental physics,’ but then, aside from neat freaks, who cares?

        The Standard Model and the Copenhagen Interpretation actually provide a good example of our cognitive straits: we simply did not evolve the capacity to intuit subatomic realities – our onboard heuristics will only take us so far. We’re stranded in ways our machines likely will not be.

        For me, given what we know about human cognition, metaphysics amounts to the search for the ‘god-heuristic,’ the key, expressible and comprehendable in natural language, that unlocks the master problem. This reeks of neglect, the illusion of universality that falls out the inability to cognize the limits of cognition.


      • Why worry about these kinds of metaphysical issues? What do the interminable controversies that occasion them add to our understanding? Why not rather practice an ad hoc, ‘ontology on the go,’ where you posit only where those posits actually seem to bring you closer to this or that set of scientific virtues?

        LOL on an ad hoc ‘ontology on the go’… Ontology is first metaphysics! Even your notion of a ‘flat ontology’ is questionable. Graham Harman and Levi R. Bryant, both Speculative Realists say their philosophies are ‘flat ontologies’. Bryant is more of a machine-ontologist of late and a die hard Lucretian and materialist, but of another mode than Physicalism or the Hegel/Marx variety. Does this mean your an Object-Oriented Ontologist? There is no such thing as an ad hoc ontology: all ontologies are situated in some tradition of ontology whether we like it or not: it has a history of controversy. And, What are these ‘scientific virtues’? As you said in your own recent post… bringing observation and description together is the problem we’re all facing; there is no easy solution. So being dismissive, saying one should come up with an ad hoc ontology seems almost flippant. It’s not even a good question. It would be like me asking: Why don’t you practice BBT rather than philosophizing it? It’s all metaphysics and theoretical ad hoc composition… obviously I could just shut up, because the first thing I realize is that I’m not a scientist, I’m just a man thinking…

        Obviously most scientists have practice, but are also obviously raised like the rest of us in a discursive cultural matrix and once that leave off being scientists and decided to sit down and write about their observations they enter into that quagmire of metaphysics we’re all talking about: how to convey one’s concepts in a language that one can share with others. That’s the problem… that’s why there are so many battles over what your scientist is actually reporting on his observations: it’s couched in some kind of linguistic mesh – and, usually the scientist who would write about his work is not schooled in the finer nuances of either philosophical or linguistic frameworks, conceptuality, etc. Think about your own writing on neurosciences etc.: it’s couched in years of studying these various sciences, yet on your blog your speaking to people who do not have your vast knowledge of this subject, nor of all the various linguistic terms, tropes, signs, semiotical shades of meaning etc. that you do, so that many have difficulty understanding you, and many even beg the question and get wrong what you do convey. So there can’t be a separation of theory and practice: there has to be some equitable way of bringing theory and practice together, otherwise we’re all living in our separate black boxes.

        I guess you missed my point. The materialism I’m espousing is neither metaphysical or idealist or ontological. It’s actually based on many of Boltzmann’s notions of thermodynamics yet not his ontology. “Libidinal matter is that which resists a relation of reciprocal transcendence against time, and departs from the rigorous passivity of the physical substance without recourse to dualistic, idealistic, or theistic conceptuality. It implies a process of mutation which is simultaneously devoid of agency and irreducible to the causal chain. It holds a conception of the drives as an irruptive dynamics of matter in advance of natural law.This new energetic research program is based on four essential concepts: Chance, Tendency, Energy, and Information. As a notion of chance: entropy is the core of a probabilistic engine, the absence of law as an automatic drive. Tendency: the movement from improbable to the probable is an automatic directionality; an impulsion (it is not purpose driven, there is no intentionality connected to this impulsion). Energy: everywhere only a quantitative vocabulary (“The nature of the intelligible cosmos is energetic improbability, a differentiation from entropy”). Information: the laborious pieties of the Geisteswissenschaften; signs, thoughts, ideologies, cultures, dreams, all of these suddenly intelligible as natural forces, as negentropies. Libidinal materialism as thermodynamics tells us that we must realize that it has no ontology, it does not predicate any substantial or subsistent being: in “contrast to the energy of physical thermodynamics, libidinal energy is chaotic, or pre-ontological” (from Land). With a theory of composition at the core of this there is no sense of a substantial formalism involved, there are only layers and degrees of being as becoming, as process not some static fixed ratio of solid Being.


      • “LOL on an ad hoc ‘ontology on the go’… Ontology is first metaphysics! Even your notion of a ‘flat ontology’ is questionable. There is no such thing as an ad hoc ontology: all ontologies are situated in some tradition of ontology whether we like it or not: it has a history of controversy.”

        Of course they’re situated, but this is an argument for ontologizing on the go, not otherwise. How can any metaphysics count as ‘first’ when we’re forever trapped in-between? Always ad hoc? This is my complaint: fundamental ontology presumes we can bootstrap our way out of neglect altogether, when it all so obviously seems to a matter of groping forward and preening backward.

        Otherwise, if you can show me a way to definitively demonstrate that individuals have natural-language-like ‘ontological assumptions’ as opposed to having them foisted on them by ontologists with a point to make, I might be inclined to think fundamental ontology possibly has a future, as opposed to more of the same. Pragmatically speaking, metaphysics has no regress enders, no way to end the interminable blah-blah-blah. So again, why bother? Personally I think we’ve run out of time for that particular discursive game – thanks to scientific virtues.

        Scientific virtues (whatever they amount to ‘fundamentally’) are so powerful because, well, they are so powerful. No one I know has won an argument with a detonated thermonuclear weapon. You can turn your back on this power, or stare it in the eye. But’s going to gobble you up all the same, whatever your ontology happens to be!

        On the final day, the ontologist’s last words will be, “Wait! We haven’t consi–“


      • I forgot to mention the darkness that comes before… So by ‘pre-ontological’ you mean the darkness that comes before the darkness that comes before? I’m being glib, I know. I’m just exhausted by all the my primordial is more primordial than your primordial stuff. It was my life once – the shelves about me creak for weighty ontological tomes – but now, not so much. We have a claim-making institution that is about to leverage effects more profound than any in the *history of life* – before our very eyes! Giving it a canonical ‘backstory’ owes more to the human hunger for narrative than anything important or essential, I think.


      • Yeah, it’s true. I’m a skeptical hardass. This is what an eliminativist does–crash traditional parties. When I say philosophy is dead as the continental community knows it I genuinely mean it. When I talk about theoretical incompetence, I mean it. Humans ain’t all that good at philosophy, and it shows. I consistently cite evidence that this is the case. I also think the fact that cognitive science will revolutionize our understanding of the human is a certainty, and a near-future one, given the resources invested. Meanwhile it remains a fact that everything cognitive science reveals utterly escapes conscious cognition.

        I try to map different philosophical commitments across all the above, to connect them to things that we now know. And I have the tone of someone warning others to pre-fucking-pare.

        Why philosophy? Damn good question.

        I’ve heard you ask it yourself.


      • I think philosophy, before the fall into this Mind/World crapology since Descartes, Leibniz, Spinoza, Hume, etc… was more about understanding the world itself. Let’s face it Socrates is still right: we’re all a bunch of ignorant bastards in search of Wisdom. Point me to the first philosopher who thinks he has the corner on Wisdom, and I’ll name him a Fool. Science grew out of this divide between questioning the world and questioning ourselves. Science took the world, philosophy took the inward turn till science came along and said: “Hey, I think I can show you the problem your trying to solve… now if I could just tell you what it is we’d all be great but your natural language just isn’t built to tell you about yourself.”

        That’s our problem: so Plato was wrong, we need the poets because they were the creators of language not philosophers or scientists. So maybe we need to take up listening to music and poetry like Socrates and forget philosophy… irony of an old man on death row.


      • Not cricket, you do realize, provoking a response, then concealing the provocation. The ‘Why philosophy?’ question was yours, uttered in a moment of honest, and likely justified, frustration. And you made a heap of accusations regarding my evangelical tone. I was trying to honestly respond… You should just let it out. If you had that frustration with my tack then I guarantee a good number of others did too.

        Air it out.

        You can be sure that I’ll let you know what it smells like! 😉


    • The human hunger for narrative is the mark of the human, Scott. Gazzinga and Ledoux hone in on this as possibly the sole mark or function of consciousness. incidentally i just picked up Gazzinga’s text on cog-neuro-sci from the library. There’s a great quote in the intro from Kierkegaard where he expresses his true fear and trembling at the rise of the sciences but transposed into indignation at the ‘absurdity’ of trying to measure or observe consciousness instrumentally. I’ll post it when I get home.

      Liked by 1 person

      • That a man should simply and profoundly say that he cannot understand how consciousness comes into existence—is perfectly natural. But that a man should glue his eye to a microscope and stare and stare and stare—and still not see how it happens is perfectly ridiculous, and it particularly ridiculous when it is supposed to be serious. . . If the natural sciences had developed in Socrates’ day as they are now, all the sophists would have been scientists. One would have hung a microscope outside his shop to attract custom, and then would have had a giant sign painted saying: “Learn to see through a microscope and see how a man thinks (and on reading the advertisement Socrates would have said:’This is how men who do not think behave’)”

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Hey Scott, Steven. Thank you for such a incisive summary of what is, to be frank, the most crepuscular chapter of the book. Sorry this is a bit brief. It’s last thing at night and I’m back late after seeing The Final Programme at our Microplex art cinema, but, yes this feels right. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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