The Neurocognitive Revolution: Triumph or Agony?

Philosophy, in its longing to rationalize, formalize, define, delimit, to terminate enigma and uncertainty, to co-operate wholeheartedly with the police, is nihilistic in the ultimate sense that it strives for the immobile perfection of death.
…….– Nick Land, Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

Donald Merlin in his Origins of the Modern Mind: Three Stages in the Evolution of Culture and Cognition (1993: see a Precise) once argued the australopithecines were limited to concrete/episodic minds: bipedal creatures able to benefit from pair-bonding, cooperative hunting, etc., but essentially of a seize-the-day mentality: the immediacy of the moment. The first transition away from the instant, the present, and toward a more temporal system of knowledge acquisition and transmission was to a “mimetic” culture: the era of Homo erectus in which mankind absorbed and refashioned events to create rituals, crafts, rhythms, dance, and other pre-linguistic traditions. This was followed by the evolution to mythic cultures: the result of the acquisition of speech and the invention of symbols. The third transition carried oral speech to reading, writing, and an extended external memory-store seen today in computer and advanced machine or artificial Intelligence and extrinsic data-memory technologies. The next stage might entail the ubiquitous and autonomous rise of external agencies, intelligent machines, or AI’s that live alongside humans as partners in some new as yet unforeseen cultural matrix or Symbolic Order yet to be envisioned or described.

At the same time that our external systems of culture and transmission were transforming themselves we gained new heuristic systems, adapting to local invariant conditions. Our sciences came to the forefront as external environmental, exploratory and experimental methods of analysis and data-gathering techniques. More and more humans off-loaded memory, intelligence, and analytical capacity and powers to these externalized systems through several transitions over the past few thousand years as both abstract mathematical and sensuous empirical forms of knowledge acquisition were reorganized into a transition from natural to artificial forms. In fact consciousness itself can be seen as the first anti-natural and artificial system within nature.

We still do not know what the conditions were that allowed the forms of consciousness humans attained to arise, whether it was a gradual form of evolution over hundreds of thousands of years; or whether there was some disjunctive great leap, or punctuated equilibria ( a theory developed by Eldredge and Gould’s (1972) own research on trilobites and snails, a macroevolutionary theory, which lead to a greater appreciation of the hierarchical structure of nature and its implications for understanding evolutionary patterns and processes). Today there are three approaches to the emergence of consciousness: evolutionary psychology, human behavioral ecology, duel-inheritance theory.

The neurosciences take a more interdisciplinary approach to science of the brain/consciousness and its evolution that collaborates with other fields such as chemistry, cognitive science, computer science, engineering, linguistics, mathematics, medicine (including neurology), genetics, and allied disciplines including philosophy, physics, and psychology. Of late there have been heated debates between Computational neuroscience (the study of brain function in terms of the information processing properties of the structures that make up the nervous system), and a Modular functional approach. Much of computational neuroscience focuses on properties of single neurons and small circuits. However, computational approaches to cognitive neuroscience (e.g., the interaction of perception, action and language) must deal with diverse functions distributed across multiple brain regions. It is argued that a modular approach to modeling is needed to build cognitive models and to compare them as the basis for further model development.

Also new Non-invasive brain function measurement technologies, such as functional nuclear magnetic resonance imaging, positron emission tomography, near-infrared spectroscopy, electroencephalograph and magnetoencephalograph (MEG), which are used in neuroscience, have been contributing to the development of medical care and neuroscience. At the same time they are making brain function measurement safer and accelerating decipherment of the brain and mind, sense and behavior, and mental activities.

As Slavoj Žižek speaking of the neurosciences and the brain, this three-pound gray mass, we get a sense of this all-devouring, all-consuming force when we look inside the body and specifically the skull—“the realization that, when we look behind the face into the skull, we find nothing; ‘there’s no one at home’ there, just piles of grey matter—it is difficult to tarry with this gap between meaning and the pure Real.” This raw flow of biochemical and electrical energy is so “terrifying” for two reasons. First, it is faceless, personless—it has absolutely nothing to do with either the orbit of phenomenal experience or the human universe of meaning. There is no indication of any genuine human quality: we are only confronted with anonymous, dull palpitations, which resemble the industrial buzzing of automatic machinery, a machinery that may amaze us with its complexity and dynamism (the plasticity of the neuronal network) but that nevertheless exists as a matrix of closed circuitry locked within its own self enclosed, self sustaining movement, a movement that is not only greater than us but also thereby appears to “threaten” our very existence as free subjects at every step. Second, the passage from the pure, senseless Real of nature in its mechanism to the absolute spontaneity of the I—the rupturing advent of a dialectical leap—is stricto sensu inexplicable, for given our inability to locate the full-fledged human subject in nature, there is always a moment of arbitrariness and fiat.5 The latter is the hard question of consciousness which is two-fold: 1) what were the conditions needed to give rise to consciousness to begin with; and 2) is the problem of explaining how and why we have qualia or phenomenal experiences—how sensations acquire characteristics, such as colors and tastes.

In Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness, Chalmers wrote:

It is undeniable that some organisms are subjects of experience. But the question of how it is that these systems are subjects of experience is perplexing. Why is it that when our cognitive systems engage in visual and auditory information-processing, we have visual or auditory experience: the quality of deep blue, the sensation of middle C? How can we explain why there is something it is like to entertain a mental image, or to experience an emotion? It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does.6

For Žižek time and time again it comes down to this, “there are two options here: either subjectivity is an illusion, or reality itself (not only epistemologically) is not-All (incomplete and open).” In fact for him the question is how a parallax gap could emerge from within the self-regulated biochemical and electrical activity inside the skull, how “the ‘mental’ itself explodes within the neuronal through a kind of ‘ontological explosion.’” Of course, like Chalmers, and other neuroscientists, Žižek has more questions than answers concerning this ‘ontological explosion’ of the ‘mental’ out of the biochemical mass of the brain.

Beyond the question of the emergence of consciousness is the more pragmatic and worldly concern of corporate and governmental funding and utilitarian projects for the neurosciences in war, medicine, economics, ethics, governance and any one of a number of other initiatives from the Brain Mapping initiatives in the EU and America that like the Manhattan project, and the Gene Mapping projects before them have spawned great sums of pressure both economic and political, as well as the large funds necessary for such tasks and undertakings.

Delgado dreamed of using his electrodes to tap directly into human thoughts: to read them, edit them, improve them. “The human race is at an evolutionary turning point. We’re very close to having the power to construct our own mental functions,” he told The New York Times in 1970, after trying out his implants on mentally ill human subjects. “The question is, what sort of humans would we like, ideally, to construct?”
……The Neurologist Who Hacked his Brain

Neuroscience is Big Business

The convergence of knowledge and technology for the benefit or enslavement of society (CKTS) is the core aspect of 21st century science initiatives across the global system, which is based on five principles: (1) the interdependence of all components of nature and society (the so called network society, etc.), (2) enhancement of creativity and innovation through evolutionary processes of convergence that combine existing principles, and divergence that generates new ones (control of creativity and innovation by corporate power), (3) decision analysis for research and development based on system-logic deduction (data-analysis, machine learning, AI, etc.), (4) higher-level cross-domain languages to generate new solutions and support transfer of new knowledge (new forms of non-representational systems and mappings, topological, etc.). As civilization and societal challenges become more and more dependent on external and internalized artificial mechanisms and technological systems we are faced with the convergence of “NBIC” technological reorganization of corporate and socio-cultural fields of business, inquiry, and research into: nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, and cognitive and neruosciences. But it is the neuroscientific breakthroughs and initiatives that will underpin the forms of global governance: political and economic systems of rules, negotiations, and navigation systems of impersonal and indifferent regulatory and reason-based imperialism of the future capitalist regimes as they begin to marshal every aspect of life into a data-centric vision of command and control.

Larger initiatives like the Human Brain Project (EU) and the U.S. led Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative. The European Union’s €1-billion (US$1.3-billion) Human Brain Project (HBP) and the United States’ $1-billion Brain Research through Advancing Innovative Neurotechnologies (BRAIN) Initiative are collaborating in their investigation and mapping of the brain’s functions.

These hard sciences have given birth to a plethora of new interdisciplinary business fields with neuroprefix such as neuroeconomics, neuromarketing, neuroaccounting, neurogovernance, neuroethics, and neuroleadership. Such an exotic union of science and the arts may provide better understanding of human nature and behaviour change. Yet, they are already providing us a future where massive surveillance, data-analysis, manipulation, and exploitation of the Human Security Regime under both governmental and private corporate consumerist societies will be enslaved by their desires.   Imaging technologies such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) and positron emission tomography (PET) reveal unseen neural connections in the living human brain along with brain wave analysis technologies such as quantitative electroencephalography (QEEG). All these various systems will be used in peace and war, and this is only the beginning. Welcome to the NeuroEmpire 101:

Neuroeconomics as an emerging discipline combines neuroscience, economics, and psychology; and uses research methods from cognitive neuroscience and experimental economics. It is “the application of neuroscientific methods to analyse and understand economically relevant behaviour” . such as evaluating decisions, categorising risks and rewards, and interactions among economic agents. Neuroeconomics research draws on the convergence of three major trends. First, using fMRI we can measure brain activity associated with discrete cognitive events and study higher cognitive processes like decision making and reward evaluation. Second, by incorporating economic variables into electrophysiological experiments, we can encode motivationally relevant information through novel recognition of neurons at multiple levels of processing pathways. Third, neuroeconomics draws on behavioural economics to consider psychological variables into economic and decision-making models.

Neuroaccounting is a new way to scientifically view accounting and the brain’s central role in building economic institutions. The measure of brain activity during economic decision-making using neuroscientific methods can prove useful for evaluating the desirability of implementing new policies that run contrary to long-established accounting principles. Dickhaut et al. reviewed neuroscientific evidence that suggest the emergence of modern accounting principles based on the mapping of brain function to the principles of modern accounting.

Neuromarketing is the application of neuroscientific methods to analyse and understand human behaviour in relation to markets and marketing exchanges. Applying neuroscience to marketing may form a basis for understanding how human beings create, store, recall, and relate to information such as brands in everyday life. Neuromarketers now use cognitive neuroscience in marketing research that bears implications for understanding organisational behaviour in a social context , for example whether certain aspects of advertisements and marketing activities trigger negative effects such as overconsumption. Going beyond focus groups in traditional advertising methods, we can now use EEG to detect putative “branding moments” within TV commercials and apply brain imaging to discover the “buy button”. In notable research emerging from Stanford University, Carnegie Mellon University and the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, scientists are using fMRI to identify parts of the brain that influence buying decisions.

Neuroethics is the investigation of altruism in neuroeconomic research, which suggests that cooperation is linked to activation of reward areas. Investigations into such problems could in fact be among the most compelling within neuromarketing. As a new field, it has triggered heated debate and questioned the ethics behind neuromarketing in a 2004 editorial of Nature Neuroscience. Now that we have identified certain key regions of the brain that would be implicated in consumer preferences, it may be possible for marketers to “manipulate” their advertisements and target the brain areas that mediate reward processing. Think of how recently the trends in political persuasion have used polling indicators more and more to sway public opinion and make or break a candidate through neuromarketing positivation – is this an outgrowth of neuroethical strategy gaming techniques adapting the dynamics of politics to marketing through neural feedback-loops based on new notions of ideology and propaganda applied to a pseudo-neuroscientific use of the sciences?

Neurogoverance is the promise of the modification of neuro-mnemonic practices on a population scale, a global neurogovernance, becomes imaginable on the population level as world actors, increasingly fearing “traumatized societies” and the intergenerational transmission of trauma, push toward pre-emptive measures. In this form of governance, the experience of the trigger becomes a threat which must be pre-emptively eradicated. Temporally, it is positioned as a fragmented repetition that keeps societies in the past. Happiness is moving forward; traumatized societies are thus “backwards” (Ahmed, 2010)4. In following the pre-emptive logic of inoculating the population against future trauma, now imaginable as brains’ neural networks become understood as interconnected in a kind of vast, global web, the trigger, a painful experience that is fragmented, becomes positioned as a block slowing down time and threatening the future life of the population. This new paradigm, now spreading to non-Western countries like an export, serves to re-interpret the trigger as a true break with the continuity of time. (see Should We Be Triggered? NeuroGovernance in the Future, Kim Cunningham)

Could we see trauma cultures arise in which our memories are erased, wiped out by neural pre-emptive logics after the dark and nefarious imposition of some world-wide civil-war in which billions suffer loss and death; or, after some climatological, ecological, viral, or cosmological catastrophe occurs; else as part of some global campaign and initiative as part of some neurogoverance task force’s imposition? Would we be absorbed into a reorganization and realignment to a false Symbolic Order all in the name of some false or real emergency: plague, civil-war, climate catastrophe etc.? One almost thinks this is all paranoid conspiracy if one had not all realized that indeed large corporate and government institutions world-wide are heavily invested in backing and funding such problematique investigations in the neurosciences and the other NBIC technologies. As Cunningham suggests among its unexpected gifts, the trigger traumas is that it offers an affective, embodied critique of the normative uses of objects, and a critique of Euclidean notions of space and time as chronological. The trigger’s connective ontology also makes it a creative force for critiquing the social. In my own view we might displace this as a retroactive enactment, a test-run of modeling process, a future forecasting in philo-fictional or hyperstitional scenarios that allow us to push the extremes of these various scenarios to their (not-so) logical conclusions and see what takes effect? What we need to accept or reject in such extrapolations, to counter the nefarious uses of such future situations in a pre-emptive strike against their misuse and abuse against the greater multiplicity.

“Your brain will be infinitely more powerful than the brains we have now,” Kennedy continues, as his brain pulsates onscreen. “We’re going to extract our brains and connect them to small computers that will do everything for us, and the brains will live on.”

“You’re excited for that to happen?” I ask.

“Pshaw, yeah, oh my God,” he says. “This is how we’re evolving.”

……
The Neurologist Who Hacked his Brain – Conversations with Phil Kennedy

Onlife 24/7 and the Intelligent World of the Future?

As we begin to interface with our machinic cousins on a more permanent based (i.e., already the iPod, iPad, tablet universal connectivity culture of Onlife 24/7 is apparent), will we begin to accept the slow inclusive absorption into the neurosphere of information, marketing, and consumerist info-glut as just part of the Order of things? In the  onlife-world, artefacts have ceased to be mere machines simply operating according to human instructions. They can change states in autonomous ways and can do so by digging into the exponentially growing wealth of data, made increasingly available, accessible and processable by fast-developing and ever more pervasive ICTs. Data are recorded, stored, computed and fed back in all forms of machines, applications, and devices in novel ways, creating endless opportunities for adaptive and personalised environments. A sort of solipsistic or infernal paradise for full-blown psychopaths and nerds, where filters of many kinds continue to erode the illusion of an objective, unbiased perception of reality, while at the same time they open new spaces for human interactions and new knowledge practices. (Floridi)

Will such a world become so ubiquitous and naturalized to our children and their children that the age without machines, the age when men and women thought on their own without external systems of artificial intelligence and memory will be a thing of history? An age in which we will have already crossed the Rubicon of the artificial divide and entered the post-human world without even an acknowledgement or nod or recognition? Will the moment of dreaded Singularity that so many fear become at that moment in the future just one more ubiquitous and invisible, even transparent underpinning of the new Symbolic Order of Governance and business as usual?  Will we already be so cyborgized that this unique and ubiquitous AI in our midst will become an acceptable risk, allowing it to take over more and more of our decisions, our governmental and corporate, political and economic tasks without ever questioning why this must be? Will we be phased out over time, allowing our more intelligent heirs and machinic children to inherit our place in the Sun? Will we at some point face the situation of the last human, Oligarchs include being excluded from the inevitable world of machinic civilization, existing in zoos or some form of commons enclosure, farmed out into the ancient and tributary worlds of non-machinic life as quaint but organic artifacts of pre-machinic life?

As J.G. Ballard reminded us: “We are all living in fictions at the moment, one need not write about it; instead the task of the writer, or any astute inquirer is to uncover what is left of reality.” Like insomniacs in some nightmare land out of joint we wander the new world of ubiquitous computing, AI, informational organisms as if in a science fiction novel that has taken over reality. Insomnia corresponds to the necessity of vigilance, to a refusal to overlook the horror and injustice that pervades the world. It is the disquiet of the effort to avoid inattention to the torment of the other. But its disquiet is also the frustrating inefficacy of an ethic of watchfulness; the act of witnessing and its monotony can become a mere enduring of the night, of the disaster . As John Crary tells us history has shown, war-related innovations are inevitably assimilated into a broader social sphere, and the sleepless soldier would be the forerunner of the sleepless worker or consumer. Non-sleep products, when aggressively promoted by pharmaceutical companies, would become first a lifestyle option, and eventually, for many, a necessity. …24/ 7 markets and a global infrastructure for continuous work and consumption have been in place for some time, but now a human subject is in the making to coincide with these more intensively.2

Yet, once the organic worker can no longer keep up the pace, and is outstripped by his machinic cousins, will he not be made obsolete? Already the functions and computational relations of the brain are being mapped to external systems, wired and wireless devices used in experimental laboratories to interface with laptops. Tomorrow the human will become a mere appendage to the 24/7 universe of data, a cog in the wireless mill of electronic heaven. As nanotech and pharmatech strive to revise the human, extending life, health, pleasure the other convergence technologies will incorporate humans into the new machinic environments of the future. A mutation and transformation is well underway, and while many are skeptical of such a transition the corporate, governmental, and global initiatives are hedging their bets and funding the nerds who will offer this posthuman future on a performative platter.

“All the groups working on BCIs are working toward wireless solutions. They are very superior,” said Frank Guenther. Using a neurological model constructed by Guenther, Ramsey’s brain activity is mapped to corresponding mouth and jaw movements. Another program decodes the signals, and synthesizes them in the sound of a tinny, but human-like voice.
……..On Brain to Computer Interfaces

Neurohyperstitional Enactment: Performance Art Invents the Future

Welcome to the neocameral global world vision where humans are machines in a sleepless universe of illuminated unending work. Maybe the parody corporation of ByoLogc is the template for all future syntech dominators: “The modern world expects more from the people who claim to take care of them, and at ByoLogyc, we think they deserve it.” And, although this is a parody, dreamed up by a Toronto art ensemble (Zed.To) to portray the dangers of this future world one can imagine that this is the future that will be portrayed to us down the pipe: beauty, health, happiness, immortality… the dream of perfectibility. ZED.TO was an 8-month narrative told in real-time through an integrated combination of interactive theatrical events and online content. It told the story of the beginning of the end of the world, from a viral pandemic created by ByoLogyc, a fictional Toronto-based biotech company. As one commentator reported: “ByoLogyc’s CEO Chet Getram is a ruthless and manipulative fictional character — a living experiment designed to explore how the language of human-centred design, sustainable business, and social innovation could be used to obscure a nefarious and short-sighted vision of profit as generated by a new biological economy.” 3 This is a parody… but eerily hyperstitional and strangely uncanny of trends we see emerging all around us.

Like a model for the future this parody took on a life of its own, a hyperstitional enactment:

Rather than engaging stakeholders through written scenarios, inaccessible white papers, and policy recommendation PowerPoints, ByoLogyc’s rise and fall was designed as a warning that would surface across media platforms, and come to life all around the people engaged in it. By the time the BRX Pandemic hit full stride in November of 2012, more than 3,500 members of the public, the academic community, and the private sector had engaged with the ByoLogyc story through live-action experiences, with another 40,000 engaging online through the consumption and active creation of content that brought the dystopian scenario to life. Many of these audiences paid premium ticket prices for their participation in the beginning of the end of the world, birthing a new business model for this kind of futures work, though we also managed to make half of our live performances and most online content available free of charge. … The Mission Business is tackling a new audience altogether — the visionaries, entrepreneurs, and engineers who spend their days (and often nights) working at the intersection of scientific and technological advancement and social change. We believe that by creating living and breathing scenarios that spill across media and seem like another element of the real world, we can provide a tremendously useful backdrop for rehearsing crisis response, encouraging out-of-the-box thinking, and understanding the social impacts of the singularity at a personal and communal level. When we share an experience of the future that is believable enough to be real, we internalize and remember what happened in powerful new ways. Things get powerful when teams can refer to a memory of a scenario’s implications, rather than just a memo.

Culture of Death or The Death of Culture?

As we can see from the above the economic and political powers of techno-capitalism are investing heavily in these new sciences seeking to further enable command and control techniques and technologies for purposes of economic, political, social, media, medical, military, and governance knowledge and power. In our time we are witnessing an epochal, unprecedented migration of humanity from its Newtonian, physical space to the neurosphere within the neurosciences are subordinated to economic and political, corporate goals and initiatives of socio-cultural command and control governance. As a result, humans will become more and more dependent on pharmaceutical, transhumanist, and posthuman technologies as inforgs – informational organisms tied to both neural-tech and drug induced therapies and political forms of coercion and heuristics.

Among other (possibly artificial) neuro-inforgs and agents operating in an external/virtual environment that is neither friendly nor built specifically for human beings, but rather more and more for the artificial informational creatures which will begin to supplant humans for the non-human civilizations of the future. As digital immigrants like us are replaced by digital natives like our children, the latter will come to appreciate that there is no ontological difference between Neurosphere and physical world, only a difference in levels of abstraction (Floridi). When the migration is complete, we shall increasingly feel deprived, excluded, handicapped, or impoverished to the point of paralysis and psychological trauma whenever we are disconnected from the Neurosphere, like fish out of water. One day, being an neuro-inforg will be so natural that any disruption in our normal flow of information, communication, and intrinsic/extrinsic messaging and flows will make us sick.1

As we banally battle over outmoded forms of speculative philosophy, Left or Right politics and its depleted traditions of meditainment and dramatized sovereignty collapse of national and economic entities a new world is rising in our midst, out of the ruins of a two-thousand year old farce: Western Civilization and its Judeo-Christian worldview. Without even a whimper our lives are about to change forever and we sit idly by as if all these modern marvels of science were being developed for our benefit, when in fact they are as always being developed for the smaller initiatives of petty Bankers, Oligarchs, and the elite minions that form both private and governmental authority, ideology, and utopian/fantasy.

Caught up within the daily grind of mere survival the masses of the uneducated, the excluded, the neglected workers of the world that are forced into menial labor and no jobs at all situate their lives within the prison house of a circular madhouse of street-drugs, alcohol,  or mindless mediatainment systems of escape and fantasy without every thinking past their daily non-lives. Too tired to belabor the point these beings are trapped within a system that if they even understood a glimmer of its power over their lives would die of sheer horror or enter the asylums of psychotic and schizophrenic inmates.

Am I being a little hyperbolic? Sure I am. This is no laughing matter. But how else approach the madhouse of civilization? Laughter or tears? Maybe Zizek is right, we need our jokes to awaken us out of our stupor, our mundane numb indifference. Dark humor or the older forms of violent farce and comic nihilism were meant to shock and awaken rather than to put you asleep like the canned laughter of your TV. We seem to relish our oblivion, our decadent body-games of mental masturbation, hiding in video games of violence and disaster as if this collective fantasy of catastrophe might keep at bay the real one ticking like a bomb in our environment. While those on the Right deny climatological apocalypse as a Left-wing conspiracy, and the Left belabors the Right-wing conspiracies of religious and a terrorist ingrown warriors and gunmongers the real world just beyond both ideological constructs moves forward with its own impervious and impersonal death drives. We move in a circle of pleasure and pain, driven by those biological forces of violence and death that have for millennia served our competitive and conflict ridden need for master over the natural order. But what served our kind well for hundreds of thousands of years in our emergence from the slime is not turning on us, imploding and bringing the house down around us in one fell swoop of self-lacerating judgment as if we were in this generation moving in two directions at once: Janus faced we wonder from ourselves in amazement, not knowing what we are doing or what we are seeking. Mindless we grasp for external authority and ethical footholds when every last one of the old religious and ethical myths has fallen into silence and disrepute. Now we stand alone or together like fish out of water expecting some grand savior to return and redeem us before it is too late. It is too late. We are responsible for the mess, children afraid to grow up and face the truth of our ignorance and failures to adapt.

Is there a silver lining in there somewhere? Hope? A second chance? Yes, for the very death drive that keeps us restlessly churning for the systems of death, is also the very force of creativity and inventiveness we need to get ourselves out of this mess if we would just act, take a stand, face the truth of things as they are not as we would like them to be. The Real is the great horror vacui of our age, the antagonistic calamity that forced us into the crack of consciousness to begin with. The wound opened up by the poison of existence can only be healed by the instrument of that poison: a conscious decision. Decisions have repercussions, they need commitment and education, pain and memory, an ethical stance not of some external god-infested power but of the very real truth of our semantic depletion and knowledge of our limitations and ignorance, our finitude. Philosophers think we can move past such outmoded notions of limit and finitude when in deed and fact we have and will remain in the circle of consciousness unknowing of the very ground of real physical powers that intervene and create the very freedom and determinations of our being-in-the-world.

Caught between external networks of knowledge and power, and internal drives of biological evolution we act as “vanishing mediators” (Zizek) between these intrinsic/extrinsic forces. The sciences are neither good or evil (non-ethical), but are suborned at the moment to economic and political pressures of a global system that seeks to serve the dictates of larger corporate and governmental institutions (as are academic and think-tanks, Trusts, Funds, NCO’s, R&D’s, Shadow Corps. etc.). We live in a time when these forces of global and corporate governance seek to suborn the great knowledge and power of technology and the sciences to their own agendas. It is men not there knowledge systems that remain as always bound to the determinate forces of good or ill. As we learned from WWII knowledge is power (an old cliché) in which the discovery of atom smashing initiated processes that could lead to either new energy sources or to war mongering systems of annihilation. We know what happened then. Will we repeat the same mistakes with the new NBIC technologies and sciences?

It is only the courage of our acts, our decisions that sets us apart from the impersonal and indifferent forces of the natural without and within us. It is the unnatural in us, the artificial gap of consciousness irreducible to internal or external natural forces of determinism that is both our glory and continuing sorrow; this crack between environment and brain, our conscious mind is the only apotropaic charm we have against being absorbed back into the pre-critical Spinozoism continuum of the Absolute energetic Real. We must forever desuture thought from being, allow this oscillation between the internal/external powers of the natural to play out in the gap of our subjectivity and subjectivation otherwise we will be reorganized into the impersonal and indifferent universe of power out of which our ancestors by some unforeseen leap entered the freedom of conscious awareness millennia ago. The future remains open and incomplete as does the Real and reality, what we do is up to our acts and decisions, our commitments and collective determinations. Will we remain passive victims of indecisiveness and apathy letting our false leaders in government and corporate enclaves dictate their own economic and political agendas, or will we come together in solidarity and cooperation across the globe and say NO to these minions of command and control? It’s truly up to us to act*, no one else will do it for us; in fact, the powers that be are betting on it.


What is an act in the strict Lacanian sense of the term?

“In a way, everything is here: the decision is purely formal, ultimately a decision to decide, without a clear awareness of WHAT the subject decides about; it is non-psychological act, unemotional, with no motives, desires or fears; it is incalculable, not the outcome of strategic argumentation; it is a totally free act, although one couldn’t do it otherwise. It is only AFTERWARDS that this pure act is “subjectivized,” translated into a (rather unpleasant) psychological experience. …[T]he subject reaches the level of a true ethical stance only when he moves beyond this duality of the public rules (Laws, Religion, Ethical authority externalized, etc.) as well as their superego shadow (big Other, Police, all authority figures of governmental and corporate power)… First, we get the straight morality (the set of explicit rules we choose to obey…); then, we experience its obscene underside (the literal and figurative intermedia enactments of crime, revolution, terror, etc.); finally, when, based on this experience, we acknowledges the necessity to BREAK the explicit moral rules of the accepted Culture and Civilization (our Culture of Death), we begin to reach the level of ethics proper.” (from The Act and its Vicissitudes)

Ultimately we enter the no-man’s land of the excluded, the outcast, the non-human realms beyond the current “culture of death”: creating interzones between-the-times, outlaw cultures of the traumatized community and its secret rules, where we begin to subtract ourselves at first through de-education and re-organized cognitive and ethical forms, and then toward a re-organization of the very Symbolic Order itself. Inventing the possibility of the future out of the impossible ruins of global capitalist degradation and collapse. A future open and incomplete, worthy of hope and life, a place where human and non-human alike can begin to cooperate in a world based not of some malformed fantasy of peace, but on the hard-nosed truth of our incomplete and open universe of real and catastrophic existence. Accepting that conflict and antagonism will not go away, that there can be no ultimate closure between thought and being, some total enclosure of imagination and reason in some Utopian Civilization, but rather that the tensions between intrinsic and extrinsic forces, capacities, and powers of the natural Real will remain in excess of all our conceptual and heuristic tools. Born in time we are partners in the labors of temporal change, not its victims. Act like it. Yet, this too is a hyperstitional fantasy, part science, part imaginative science fiction: one that seeks a way out of the overdetermined global fantasy regimes of techno-capitalist command and control. Is this possible? Which path forward: triumph or agony?


 

  1. Floridi, Luciano (2013-10-10). The Ethics of Information (pp. 16-17). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
  2. Crary, Jonathan (2013-06-04). 24/7: Late Capitalism and the Ends of Sleep (pp. 1-2). Verso Books. Kindle Edition
  3. Trevor Haldenby April Fools: The Truth about ByoLogyc (Singularity)
  4. Ahmed, Sara. (2010) The Promise of Happiness. Duke University Press; Durham, NC.
  5. Carew, Joseph. Ontological Catastrophe: Zizek and the Paradoxical Metaphysics of German Idealism (New Metaphysics). (Michigan Publishing, University of Michigan Library, October 29, 2014)
  6. David Chalmers (1995). “Facing Up to the Problem of Consciousness””. Journal of Consciousness Studies 2 (3): 200–219.

20 thoughts on “The Neurocognitive Revolution: Triumph or Agony?

  1. Reblogged this on Senselogi© and commented:
    Hickman truly weighs in this time… Many so called academics locked up in their vicious circles, driving and driven by the axiomatics of militarist-capitalism, feeding and fed by the contemporary culture of death, have a lot to learn from him yet again… What is clearly depicted herein is nothing but the mechanism of the exploitation of mortality on a massive scale…

    “Is there a silver lining in there somewhere? Hope? A second chance? Yes, for the very death drive that keeps us restlessly churning for the systems of death, is also the very force of creativity and inventiveness we need to get ourselves out of this mess if we would just act, take a stand, face the truth of things as they are not as we would like them to be. The Real is the great horror vacui of our age, the antagonistic calamity that forced us into the crack of consciousness to begin with. The wound opened up by the poison of existence can only be healed by the instrument of that poison: a conscious decision. Decisions have repercussions, they need commitment and education, pain and memory, an ethical stance not of some external god-infested power but of the very real truth of our semantic depletion and knowledge of our limitations and ignorance, our finitude. Philosophers think we can move past such outmoded notions of limit and finitude when in deed and fact we have and will remain in the circle of consciousness unknowing of the very ground of real physical powers that intervene and create the very freedom and determinations of our being-in-the-world. Caught between external networks of knowledge and power, and internal drives of biological evolution we act as “vanishing mediators” (Zizek) between these intrinsic/extrinsic forces. It is only the courage of our acts, our decisions that sets us apart, not the impersonal and indifferent forces of the natural without and within us. It is the unnatural in us, the artificial that is both our glory and continuing sorrow; yet, it is this crack between environment and brain, our conscious mind that is the only apotropaic charm we have against being absorbed back into the pre-critical Spinozoism continuum of the Absolute energetic Real. We must forever desuture thought from being, allow this oscillation between the internal/external powers of the natural to play out in the gap of our subjectivity and subjectivation otherwise we will be reorganized into the impersonal and indifferent universe of power out of which our ancestors by some unforeseen leap entered the freedom of conscious awareness millennia ago.”

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  2. Wonderful essay.

    I think it’s possible to ask the question differently than Chalmers phrased it:

    “It is widely agreed that experience arises from a physical basis, but we have no good explanation of why and how it so arises. Why should physical processing give rise to a rich inner life at all? It seems objectively unreasonable that it should, and yet it does.”

    It’s possible to turn this around and look at physical reality, including the brain and the nervous system, as manifestations of a creativity that is implicit in the universe from the get-go. Not in some abstract or ethereal sense. But implicit in matter itself. Certainly not a purpose-driven, goal-oriented conscious force, like the fight/flight reactions we raise on a pedestal as “intelligence.” Not an external driver, not some intelligent designer, but a kind of spontaneous, creative Impulse. What is the Big Bang if not creativity? One doesn’t need a deity for that. We are that creativity.

    Maybe this suggests that the Big Bang is not merely an explosion of matter and energy, but of meaning. Meaning is inherent in nothingness one way or another. The three seem to be inseparable phases of one another. Matter is more like a kind of subtle mud giving shape to meaning. Facial expressions, volcanoes, planets – they all manifest the shape of subtle orders. Chalmers and the rest seem to introduce a cause and effect relationship in moving from matter to consciousness. But that seems clumsy. They are implicit in one another.

    After all, there is no real material basis to matter. The deeper physicists plunge into material reality, the more subtle the fields become, until we run into fields of information, of a kind of pattern without form, as the physicist Hans-Peter Duerr more or less describes it.

    I think these techno-utopian thinkers are getting a-head of themselves.
    There is a strangely unconscious faith-based intention to restrain inquiry to the field of matter that plagues these techno-utopian thinkers and all controlling mentalities. They are like the man searching for his keys under the streetlight, even though he didn’t lose them there, but in the park. But here is where the peculiar light of a rather limited consciousness shines.

    Even though this discussion dates from the 1980s, and has been far surpassed in many ways by your own present detailed considerations, the basic issues raised in this discussion are still of enormous relevance, and tend to be skirted: http://www.jiddu-krishnamurti.net/en/the-way-of-intelligence/1980-12-04-jiddu-krishnamurti-the-way-of-intelligence-intelligence-computers-and-the-mechanical-mind

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    • You say: “It’s possible to turn this around and look at physical reality, including the brain and the nervous system, as manifestations of a creativity that is implicit in the universe from the get-go.”

      Of course this is the thesis of Freud’s notion of the “death-drives” as the creative restlessness of repetition compulsion that drives us forward, accelerating between solipsistic self-laceration and creative explosion: “if we did not love another we would surely die of our excess desires, our exuberance…”. This is where the three-fold dilemma of crash space (Bakker), transcendental subject (Badiou, Zizek, etc.), and libidinal subject (Deleuze/Guattari, Land) of three differing materialisms: scientific natural, Transcendental materialism (dialectical and spectral), and base or libidinal of the Real (death drives as central to the Unconscious Subject of creativity).

      The horror for Badiou/Zizek is that any return to the Real such as the Parmedian: “thought and being” as One is to reenter the mechanistic deterministic universe all around us: the universe of pure process and entropy, decay, and death without return.

      While for Land we must situate ourselves in this Real, let the Subject of the Real have its way with us – allow necessity, Ananke, determinism to rule the forward movement of machinic desire.

      And, for Bakker, forget the speculations of philosophy, let the naturalist sciences of neurosciences reveal the functions of the brains deterministic processes, thereby enabling us to gain a range of heuristic capacities and freedoms over them by sheer knowledge of their determining factors.

      Choose your poison.

      You also says: “After all, there is no real material basis to matter. The deeper physicists plunge into material reality, the more subtle the fields become, until we run into fields of information, of a kind of pattern without form, as the physicist Hans-Peter Duerr more or less describes it.”

      Of course this is the point of current new materialisms and their shift away from the older notions of physicalism and reductionism. Badiou and his math = ontology; Zizkek and Transcendental (dialectical) materialism of the Subject and Gap: materialism as the bare minimum of den: two voids – absolute zero and less than nothing in oscillation within the flux of quantum matrix giving rise to the baryonic matter we see (think of dark energy and dark matter as making up 90% of the universe, etc.); Land/Deleuze/DeLanda of energetic or viatlistic immaterialism materialism of death drives, etc.

      All these influenced by modern quantum physics transformation of the older substance of sphere/solid based materialisms.

      Zizek would even say that Democritus’s atomistic philosophy was always a misrecognition of his concept of “den” or less than nothing; that all those from Aristotle onward who saw atoms as solid were wrong… atoms are Voids…. think of Graham Harman and OOO as the real object is a vacuous actuality, a energetic or volcanic void.

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  3. I concur with the comments above! Fantastic stuff, Craig, truly.

    Zizek’s ‘two options,’ that subjectivity is either illusory or nature is incomplete, provides only a cartoon of the dilemma, I think. Subjectivity as theorized by any given tradition-bound thinker (as an ‘ontological explosion,’ say) is clearly illusory, but subjectivity as a domain of inquiry is a *crash space.* The idioms involved do real work in practical contexts, which is a large part of the reason that theorists misapply them in theoretical contexts at all.

    In other words, there’s at least two different levels of semantic catastrophe involved here, one involving theoretical explicitations of meaning, our traditional second-order understandings of ourselves (all of which trade in cognitive illusions), and the other involving the biopragmatics of meaning, the ways that intentional idioms allow us to solve (absent any second-order understanding) local and/or global social problems. The collapse of the former is simply the superficial first phase of the semantic apocalypse. It’s the collapse of the latter that will lead to the Big Splat.

    Check out: https://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2015/06/05/the-case-against-humanism-writing-after-the-death-of-meaning/

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  4. ” I being a little hyperbolic? Sure I am. This is no laughing matter. But how else approach the madhouse of civilization? Laughter or tears? Maybe Zizek is right, we need our jokes to awaken us out of our stupor, our mundane numb indifference. ”

    Don’t tell me this is not reactionary.

    I am tending to think your reading of Zizek is missing the forest for a few trees here and there. There is no partiality in Zizek.

    Humanity will always have an out. It is the ‘out’ which allows you to make your analysis that there is no ‘out’. Even with the encroachment of all this neuro- cyber- tech upon our biology, it always s comes down to the question of if humans change from one era or cultural form to another , then 1) how are we comprehending the previous one ? And 2) why are we writing toward the new one? And 3) what is new about it when it changes so much as to effect a dismissal of the previous era?

    The constant is human. The vissisitudes of object reality is caused by the objects themselves ; paradigms shift due to the ending of the previous assertion of agency finding its impotency.

    It’s not that Im saying it’s all false; merely that recognition of what is occurring can change the manner of the catalyzing effort.

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    • Bravo! Bravo, the humanist in you lives, and seems appropriately angry with all this talk of inhumanism, posthumanism, anti-humanism, etc. Obviously if you’ve read my blog long enough you know very well where I stand on this issue. So there would be know point for rebuttal from me, since its everywhere on my site: I’m and inhumanist to the core, because we are all artificial and unnatural creature, misfits and accidental mistakes in the experimental continuum of natural process. Zizek, of course, has no answer to why we are as we are, for him consciousness is a “miracle”. Such religious language for an atheist. We can of course speak of all those various naturalist explanations, but as of yet none of them scientific or otherwise have yet to explain what it is to be “human” and “conscious”. All speculation and surmise. Scientists can show you what the brain does, how it works, but they cannot explain the “is” of it, they leave that to the metaphysicians. Even the evolutionary cognitive sciences reduce it to biogenetics and biocultural interaction, etc.

      Not being a philosopher I would be the last to give answer since I have more questions than answers. Anti-dogmatic in spirit I sit here with an open mind knowing as my friend Scott Bakker keeps pounding in “medial neglect” unknowing of even the things I don’t know. Which is a great deal of darkness…

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      • Thank you; I don’t really know if I would say I’m a humanist, only that human is that by which I ‘base’ the extended ramifications of meaning. What ever else there might be, you may be the correspondence that allows for my human being to continue. 😉

        I didn’t remember Zizek saying ‘miracle’, but I do remember him calling it a disaster , that something went terribly wrong.

        😜

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      • I’ll find the other quote on “miracle”, but for now:

        We cannot pass directly from nature to culture. Something
        goes terribly wrong in nature: nature produces an unnatural
        monstrosity and I claim that it is in order to cope with, to
        domesticate, this monstrosity that we symbolize. Taking
        Freud’s fort/da as a model: something is primordially broken
        (the absence of the mother and so on) and symbolization
        functions as a way of living with that kind of trauma.

        In short, the ontological necessity of “madness” resides
        in the fact that it is not possible to pass directly from the
        “animal soul” immersed in its natural life-world to “normal”
        subjectivity dwelling in its symbolic universe—the vanishing
        mediator between the two is the “mad” gesture of radical
        withdrawal from reality that opens up the space for its
        symbolic reconstitution.

        Here is the quote with “miracle” in Conversations with Zizek:

        Žižek. What I am currently engaged with is the paradoxical idea that, from a strict evolutionary standpoint, consciousness is a kind of mistake—a malfunction of evolution—and that out of this mistake a miracle emerged. That is to say, consciousness developed as an unintended by-product that acquired a kind of second-degree survivalist function.
        Basically, consciousness is not something which enables us to function better. On the contrary, I am more and more convinced that consciousness originates with something going terribly wrong—even at the most personal level. For example, when do we become aware of something, fully aware? Precisely at the point where something no longer functions properly or
        not in the expected way.

        Daly. Consciousness comes about as a result of some Real encounter?

        Žižek. Yes, consciousness is originally linked to this moment when “something is wrong,” or, to put it in Lacanian terms, an experience of the Real, of an impossible limit. Original awareness is impelled by a certain experience of failure and mortality—a kind of snag in the biological weave. And all the metaphysical dimensions concerning humanity, philosophical self-reflection, progress and so on emerge ultimately because of this basic traumatic fissure.

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  5. …ah. I missed the very end. Like. But I do not agree with the ‘nothing’. It is contrary to what actually occurs . For it is the nothing that returns. In all its glory. Every time.

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