I have not once had the least idea who or what I am,
But that before all my arrogant poems the real
Me stands yet untouch’d, untold, altogether unreach’d,
Withdrawn far, mocking me with mock-congratulatory signs and bows,
With peals of distant ironical laughter at every word I have written,
Pointing in silence to these songs, and then to the sand beneath.
…….– Walt Whitman, “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.”
“I have not once had the least idea who or what I am,” says the Gray Bard of America. The nihilist undertones ringing out in that last dark hinterland of “ironical laughter” of the unknown “real Me” who outside our thinking, our intentional directedness stands in the unconscious libidinal matrix of the impossible Real, the indelible stamp of the withdrawn and “mocking me with mock-congratulatory signs and bows,” pointing in silence to old Walt’s “songs, and then to the sand beneath”. A dark vision indeed. Most think of Walt as the happy camper, the wild and free poet of optimism, democracy, and sunshine. But under it all is this moody and terrible being of pessimism and nihilistic despair who believed that all his vein striving, all the metaphoric display, the grand gesture of the Leaves of Grass were but the spume and spray of rolling sand flecks on the edge of the Mother, the Ocean. Necessity, Ananke, Fate: the triune power of the ebb and flow of life bound within the circular motion of the death drives that move among the impersonal and indifferent stars and galaxies like a blind god, mindless and alone. But there is no mind in the universe of death, only the endless entropic madness of the Real.
Nick Land in his essay Machinic Desire remarks “In the near future the replicants — having escaped from the off-planet exile of private madness – emerge from their camouflage to overthrow the human security system. Deadly orphans from beyond reproduction, they are intelligent weaponry of machinic desire virally infiltrated into the final-phase organic order; invaders from an artificial death.”
Ever since P.W. Singer’s Wired for War, analysts have debated whether or not we are truly moving towards what Manuel Landa dubbed “war in the age of intelligent machines” in his 1992 book of the same name. This sense that in our future replicants and other specimens of our posthuman adaptation will like the drones of today fight our wars, wander the stars, adventure into the galaxy, mine asteroids, build terraforming systems, live and serve our lives for us from a distance in the inhuman environments of war, space, and deep oceanic worlds pervades many posthuman, transhuman, and inhuman visions in art (cinema, sci fi, performance art, music, theater, dance), philosophy, and the sciences.
Adam Eklus tells us in an article that Google has just invested a substantial amount of money on deep learning, which takes inspiration in large part from neuroscience. But the goal in general is to develop algorithms that do needed jobs (and make money), not make replicas of human minds. As Facebook’s Yann LeCun writes, the goal of mainstream AI research is to allow humans to focus on the things that make us distinctively human and offload the rest to computers. And LeCun isn’t alone in his dream of using the machine to enhance, not replicate, homo sapiens. The dream of machines enhancing human potential has been with us ever since the first automated tools sprung to life.
Land sees a future of pure war, a world of PODS: “Politically Organized Defensive Systems. Modelled upon the polis, pods hierarchically delegate authority through public institutions, family, and self, seeking metaphorical sustenance in the corpuscular fortifications of organisms and cells.” This is a world or neocameral City-States, mini-states, or neostates where the rich and elite gather behind protective macropodic security systems to fend off the excluded, anarchic, and outcase outlaws and renegades of a new dark age of man.
He remarks that the macropod has one law: “the outside must pass by way of the inside”. Where humans are no longer singular and free, but rather are machines in an assemblage of desiring machines, plugged into “segmented and anthropomorphized sectors of assembly circuits as the attribute of a personal being”. Rather than following those such as Badiou, Zizek, Johnson, et. al. into a dialectical materialism of the Transcendental Subject that seeks its irreducibility to the Real, Land follows Deleuze/Guattari into the unconscious Subject:
Schizoanalysis methodically dismantles everything in Kant’s thinking that serves to align function with the transcendence of the autonomous subject, reconstructing critique by replacing the syntheses of personal consciousness with syntheses of the impersonal unconscious. Thought is a function of the real, something that matter can do. (MD, p. 3)
Rather than the autonomous Subject Land supports a base materialism wherein “thought and Real” co-habit a space of non-utilitarian pragmatic praxis, a transitional zone or space in which the “eradication of law, or of humanity, is sketched culturally by the development of critique, which is the theoretical elaboration of the commodification process. The social order and the anthropomorphic subject share a history, and an extinction.”
In his reading of Anti-Oedipus he observes a philosophy of the machine, one which advances an “anorganic functionalism that dissolves all transcendence,” and “mobilizes a vocabulary of the machine, the mechanic, and machinism” (MD, p. 4). This is a black-box theory of use and pragmatic endeavor that asks the question(s) ‘What are your desiring-machines, what do you put into these machines, what is the output, how does it work, what are your nonhuman sexes?’ (Anti-Oedipus, p. 322).
In fact this is a virtual materialism that names an “ultra-hard antiformalist AI program, engaging with biological intelligence as subprograms of an abstract post-carbon machinic matrix, whilst exceeding any deliberated research project” (MD, p. 5). This is Land’s attack on all those systems of Transcendental logic like the medieval construction kits of the New Prometheans, Brassier and Negarestani, who seek (after Sellars/Brandom) to build navigational systems in the “space of reasons” into command and control centers of the deontological giving and asking of reasons in a normative throwback of an age when ethics and the epistemological world still believed in itself: – a world updated only in its speculative status as hyperfictional philo-fiction. Land instead following in that other tradition of the dark vitalist curve from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Freud, Deleuze/Guattari, et. al. brings us the machinic desires at the heart of the Real, where a hidden impulsive, desiring machine flows through the compositional and decompositional realms of economics, politics, and scientific endeavor.
Land would have us enter the death realms of Synthanatos – the terminal productive outcome of human history as a machinic process, yet it is virtually efficient throughout the duration of this process, functioning within a circuit that machines duration itself. In this way virtuality lends its temporality to the unconscious, which escapes specification within extended time series, provoking Freud to describe it as timeless. (MD, p. 5) Much like J.G. Ballard’s Chronotopia, or City of Timeless duration and assemblages of interlocked labyrinthine systems actively pursuing the eternity of desire without end, Land offers an ironic take on Anti-Oedipus as less a philosophy book than “an engineering manual; a package of software implements for hacking into the machinic unconscious, opening invasion channels” (MD, p. 5).
Deleuze and Guattari’s works inform Land’s visionary materialism, hyperbolical and poetic. Their rogue scholarship and inclusion of a multiplicity of scholarly examples of provocative examples from the encyclopedia of politics, sciences, philosophy, arts, economics etc., all flowing into a rhizomatic thought form that is anti-formalist and anti-representationalist, more diagrammatic and topological is apparent in the sparse and elegant notes of current gnomic Landian cultural critique.
Alien Invasion from the Future
This sense of invading the Real and seeking its desiring Subject, the inhuman core of life-as-process and energetic thrill-ride within the death-drive inventiveness of pure creativity is central to this vision. To be more philosophical about it Land states:
Machinic desire is the operation of the virtual; implementing itself in the actual, revirtualizing itself, and producing reality in a circuit. It is efficient and not aspirational, although this is an efficiency irreducible to progressive causality because immanent to effective time. Machinic desire is operative wherever there is the implementation of an abstract machine in actuality, and not merely the mechanical succession of actual states. (MD, p. 5)
This sense of movement or feed-back loops or self-reflecting short-circuiting ride between the virtual Real of the unconscious Subject, and the actual world of the conscious active negativity and self-relating nothingness (Zizek) of awareness is an immanent process of gift exchange and excess. Following Freud (Death-drives, repetition compulsion, narcissism, solipsism, etc.), and Lyotard (libidinal materialism) he will describe certain issues “…the convergence of cybernetic, economic, and libidinal discourses, virtual materialism has considerable problems with this passage” (MD, p. 6). After explicating in detail the inner problems in the several discourses he will reduce it to a minimal statement, saying, that these machinic processes of desiring machines “are either cyberpositive-nomadic, with a deterritorializing outcome, or cybernegative-sedentary, with a reterritorializing outcome” (MD. p. 6). Again, the sense of a circuit or feedback, but one that works to construct, while the other tears down and deconstructs, composition and decomposition.
Inorganic Thanatos wrecks order, organic Eros preserves it, and as the carbon-dominium is softened-up by machine plague, deterritorializing replicants of nomad-cyberrevolution close in upon the reterritorializing reproducers of the sedentary human security system, hacking into the macropod. (MD, pp. 6-7)
This is a world where Capitalism is hijacked by an alien future, a death-driven Subject-of-the-Real that seeks by way of a retroactive intervention to control the historical sequences and events of its own unique emergence and destiny. Land has equated this hyperobject (Morton) with the engine of creative drive at the core of the capitalist project: “The thermospasm is reality as undiluted chaos. It is where we all came from.” He will point out the basic premise of ‘libidinal materialism’ as being outside the probabilistic universe of thermodynamics because of the simple fact that “libidinal energy is chaotic, and pre-ontological” (p. 43).1 Against the laws of thermodynamics which is situated in an ontology of energy, of particles (Boltzmann), of space/time, and then interprets distributions and entropy levels as attributes of energy, libidinal materialism accepts only chaos and composition (p. 43). I’ll refer the reader to a previous post on Land’s materialism: The Curse of the Sun: Libidinal Materialism as the Composition of the Universe for a more in depth study. In such a world Being is an effect of chaos rather than something that exists in-itself.
These replicant mimetic creatures are almost undetectable. – “Thanatos mimics the anthropomorphic desiring-cycle — anticipating, enveloping, and simulating it — but it is on its way somewhere else. Because thanatropic replicants are dissimulated as erotic reproducers, they initially appear as traitors to their species, especially when the shamanic xenopulsions programming their sexuality are detected. Nothing panics the reproducers more traumatically than the discovery that erotic contact camouflages cyberrevolutionary infiltration, running matrix communications channels across interlocked skin sectors.” (MD, p. 7)
This is a world far beyond human capacity to detect or know with our puny critical apparatuses. A realm of alien invasion in which chameleon beings co-habit in parallel our zones of disturbance, our Real without our awareness – being bound to our Enlightenement ideologies and progressive philosophies. We are old school, bound within the narrow chinks of outmoded forms of thought and being. So says Land. Deleuze/Guattari were trying to breakthrough this façade of instrumental reason and transcendental subjectivity with what success? Land tells us it is a traumatic world full of fissures and horror, and “Freud characterizes trauma as an ‘invasion’, ‘a breach in an otherwise efficacious barrier against stimuli’, infiltrating alien desires — xenopulsions
– into the organism.” (MD, p. 8)”.
Describing this invasion from the future as a revised and recalibrated mythos of a new Necessity and Anake (Fate, amor fati): “In an age of sophisticated and distributed cyberviral invasion this assumption is no longer compelling. Instead the psychoanalytical diagram for trauma delineates a ruthless parasite on the way to autoreplicator deterritorialization; Kali creeping in.” (MD, p. 8). Never one to mince words, and always adept at a poetry of the nihilistic extravagance and excess Land informs us that the “arrival of the aliens has no interpretative space marked out for it in the schema of macropod erotics, and thus emerges from its camouflage as an encrypted message, ‘an enormous X’, a signal from beyond the pleasure principle.” (MD, p. 9).
The subtle irony and black humor of this inhuman xenomythology describes an updated alien allegory of hip Lovecraftian and high-cultural xeno-critique:
Machinic desire can seem a little inhuman, as it rips up political cultures, deletes traditions, dissolves subjectivities, and hacks through security apparatuses, tracking a soulless tropism to zero control. This is because what appears to humanity as the history of capitalism is an invasion from the future by an artificial intelligent space that must assemble itself entirely from its enemy’s resources. Digitocommodification is the index of a cyberpositively escalating technovirus, of the planetary technocapital singularity: a self-organizing insidious traumatism, virtually guiding the entire biological desiring-complex towards post-carbon replicator usurpation. (MD, p. 10)
He’ll back this up with a nosedive critique and elaboration of current technocapitalism and technoecoomics (of which I’ll let the reader pursue), finally remarking that this whole system is driven and accelerated by the “escape velocity of self-reinforcing machinic intelligence propagation,” and the notion that the “forces of production are going for the revolution on their own” (MD, p. 11). The unconscious Subject at the heart of the Real is driving this daemonic systems toward the Singularity, enabling desire to irrevocably abandon the social, in order to explore the libidinized rift between a disintegrating personal egoism and a deluge of post-human schizophrenia” (MD, p. 12). Ultimately this is all leading up to this: “something is climbing out of the machinic unconscious and onto the screen, as if the end itself were awakening. The end of the global market-place.” (MD, p. 12). And as he sums it up: “Here it Comes.” –
The terminal social signal blotted out by technofuck buzz from the desiring-machines. So much positive feedback fast-forward that speed converges with itself on the event horizon of an artificial time-extinction. Suddenly it’s everywhere: a virtual envelopment by recyclones, voodoo economics, neo-nightmares, death-trips, skin-swaps, teraflops, Wintermute-wasted Turing-cops, sensitive silicon, socket-head subversion, polymorphic hybridizations, descending data-storms, and cyborg catwomen stalking amongst the screens. Zaibatsus flip into sentience as the market melts to automatism, politics is cryogenized and dumped into the liquidhelium meat store, drugs migrate onto neurosoft viruses, and immunity is grated-open against jagged reefs of feral AI explosion, Kali culture, digital dance-dependency, black shamanism epidemic, and schizolupic break-outs from the bin. (MD, p. 13)
Is this the poetry of extinction? The last gasp of the transition phase into alien mutation? Or, as my friend Scott Bakker says in the postscript to “Crash Space” (pdf):
Reverse engineering brains is a prelude to engineering brains, plain and simple. Since we are our brains, and since we all want to be better than what we are, a great many of us celebrate the eventuality. The problem is that we happen to be a certain biological solution to an indeterminate range of ancestral environments, an adventitious bundle of fixes to the kinds of problems that selected our forebears. This means that we are designed to take as much of our environment for granted as possible—to neglect. This means that human cognition, like animal cognition more generally, is profoundly ecological. And this suggests that the efficacy of human cognition depends on its environments.
[…] We neglect all those things our ancestors had no need to know on the road to becoming us. So for instance, we’re blind to our brains as brains simply because our ancestors had no need to know their brains for what they were in the process of becoming us. This is why our means of solving ourselves and others almost certainly consists of ‘fast and frugal heuristics,’ ways to generate solutions to complicated problems absent knowledge of the systems involved. So long as the cues exploited remain reliably linked.
[…] Herein lies the ecological rub. The reliability of our heuristic cues utterly depends on the stability of the systems involved. Anyone who has witnessed psychotic episodes has firsthand experience of consequences of finding themselves with no reliable connection to the hidden systems involved. Any time our heuristic systems are miscued, we very quickly find ourselves in ‘crash space,’ a problem solving domain where our tools seem to fit the description, but cannot seem to get the job done.
[…] And now we’re set to begin engineering our brains in earnest. Engineering environments has the effect of transforming the ancestral context of our cognitive capacities, changing the structure of the problems to be solved such that we gradually accumulate local crash spaces, domains where our intuitions have become maladaptive. Everything from irrational fears to the ‘modern malaise’ comes to mind here. Engineering ourselves, on the other hand, has the effect of transforming our relationship to all contexts, in ways large or small, simultaneously. It very well could be the case that something as apparently innocuous as the mass ability to wipe painful memories will precipitate our destruction. Who knows? The only thing we can say in advance is that it will be globally disruptive somehow, as will every other ‘improvement’ that finds its way to market.
[…] Human cognition is about to be tested by an unparalleled age of ‘habitat destruction.’ The more we change ourselves, the more we change the nature of the job, the less reliable our ancestral tools become, the deeper we wade into crash space.
Read “Crash Space” (pdf).
Beyond the Crash Space
We seem to float between extremes: on the one hand, is the dialectical materialist tradition shaped out of Democritus-Leucippas, Plato, Lucretius, German Idealism, and the combined attraction/repulsion of Marxian, Lacan, and Hegelianism into Badiou, Zizek, Johnston, etc.; and, on the other of the vitalistic materialism Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, Deleuze/Guattari, Land; both, working from either an Transcendental immanence (dialectical materialism) of a pure immanence (libidinal materialism) of the Subject. The one sitting on this side of the Real, defending the gap between two vacuums: the brain and the environment, inner Real and outer Real, death drive and solipsistic defense system (Human Security Regime). The other siding with the Subject in the Real, the unconscious libidinal force or energetic violence and volcanic core of being revealed indirectly by its effects in social, political and economic registers. While the third way is that of the naturalist perspectives of the neurosciences such as Scott Bakker represents where philosophy, speculation, and fantasy give way to the pragmatics of neurocognitive heuristics and crash space.
As Bakker said in a recent comment to another post:
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.
What Bakker calls the Semantic Apocalypse, Nick Land might qualify as part of the Great Filter:
The Great Filter is a proposed solution to the Fermi Paradox, which can be summarised as follows – the Universe is very big and very old, thus life should be common enough to be noticeable throughout: so, where are the aliens? Why haven’t we spotted evidence of at least one interstellar civilisation yet? The Great Filter may be the answer to that question. The Great Filter is an unknown force that radically reduces the probability of life creating an interstellar civilisation. It may apply at an early stage (i.e. whatever the Filter is, it may simply reduce the chance of life occurring in the first place, or of multi-cellular life occurring, or of intelligence occurring, and so on) or it may apply later (reducing the chance of agricultural civilisation, or of technological civilisation, or of space-faring civilisation, and so on). If the Filter is early, then we’re probably ok: we passed it long ago. If it’s late, then there’s a greater chance that we still have it ahead of us. Maybe technological civilisations just don’t tend to last long enough to become space-faring…
If we think on Scott’s notions we could be entering a moment of “crash space” when our cognitive resources can no longer keep up with the accelerating pace of change around us, our Mind-tools or heuristical devices built up to solve problems our primitive ancestors needed to solve in the environment of the bush, jungles, ice-worlds of the North are gone; now, we are trying to solve problems of advanced complexity, computation, and function by way of math, physics, neuroscientific, and naturalist extensions of self-reflexivity, recursive or otherwise onto problems of society, civilization, and the universe that our brains are little prepared to solve, which will lead us into a zero-point of either total meltdown of meaning, or annihilation due to the filter being applied too fast for our human coping mechanisms leading to civil-war of both psyche and civilization.
Yet, there is another possibility. We may be entering the moment of a phase transition in which the inhuman death drive is enabling a machinic explosion of intelligence based on quantum mechanics and other NBIC technologies (nanotech, biotech, Information and Communications Tech, etc.) that will lead to the Singularity wherein a more advanced AI civilization will make the break into hyperstitional awareness, a more advanced artificial intelligence with greater capacities and powers of mind and thought than current humans would ever dare imagine.
Place your bets… the wheel of Lady Luck is spinning!