Reza Negarestani: The Promethean Enlightenment


For Reza the enemies of AI are the enemies of thought itself, because the history of the Mind is one of its artificialization artifactually enacted across time:

“Exploring the meaning of the mind coincides with artificially realizing it, and the artificial realization changes the very conditions by which this meaning used to be determined.” (151).

“Realizing the mind through the artificial by swapping its natural constitution or biological organization with other material or even social organizations is a central aspect of the mind. Being artificial, or more precisely, expressing itself via the artifactual is the very meaning of the mind as that which has a history rather than an essential nature. Here the artificial expresses the practical elaboration of what it means to adapt to new purposes and ends without implying a violation of natural laws. To have a history is to have the possibility of being artificial—that is to say, expressing yourself not by way of what is naturally given to you but by way of what you yourself can make and organize. Denouncing this history is the same as rejecting freedom in all its forms. Denying the artificial truth of the mind and refusing to take this truth to its ultimate conclusions is to antagonize the history of the mind, and therefore, to be an enemy of thought.” (151).

Below as if Reza had read David Roden’s Disconnection Thesis he will report that the melding of the human mind to machine in the future elaborates a “discontinuity that we do not have the cognitive means to fathom”:

“­­A project that in theory and practice articulates the possibility of realization and implementation of the human experience in machines is a project that concretely undermines what the human experience is and how it looks. ” (152). “By attempting to realize the human mind in the machine, such a program realizes a mind that shatters the canonical picture of the mind we use to recognize ourselves, distinguishing ourselves from the machine we regard as inherently disabled. What the mind was and what it is, how it was originally realized and how it is presently constituted no longer bear any determining significance on the multiply realizable mind. Such a program genuinely belongs to the future, its present theoretic-practical dimension elaborates a discontinuity that we do not have the cognitive means to fathom.” (152).

In continuation of the project of the radical enlightenment, Turing’s project is in fact a program for amplifying the imports of enlightened humanism insofar as it fully conforms to the following principle: The consequentiality or significance of the human is not in its given meaning or a conserved and already decided definition. Rather, it is in the ability to bootstrap complex abilities from primitive abilities. These complex …abilities define what the human consists in. But insofar as they are algorithmically decomposable (cf. different types of computation for different functions, different kinds of algorithms for different activities and abilities), they present the definition of the human as amenable to modification, reconstruction, and implementation in artifacts. (153). … The significance of the human lies not in its uniqueness or in a special ontological status but in its functional decomposability and computational constructability through which the abilities of the human can be upgraded, its form transformed, its definition updated and even become susceptible to deletion.( 153)

Reza Negarestani: Dethroning the Human – Narcissus is Dead, Long Live… the Empty Mirror!

“Turing’s computational project contributes to the project of enlightened humanism by dethroning the human and ejecting it from the center while acknowledging the significance of the human in functionalist terms. For what is the expandable domain of computers if not the strongest assault upon the ratiocentricity of the human mind in favor of a view that the ratiocinating capacities of the human mind can be reconstructed and upgraded in the guise of machines?” (154). … “What used to be called the human has now evolved beyond recognition. Narcissus can no longer see or anticipate his own image in the mirror. The recognition of the blank mirror is the sign that we have finally left our narcissistic phase behind. Indeed, we are undergoing a stage in which if humanity looks into the mirror it only sees an empty surface gawking back.” (154).

Yet, Reza takes a cautious approach toward both functionalism and computationalism, realizing that there must be a better formulated implementation and strategy than has been enacted in the past. For him the is no one-fits-all way of combining the two since both work with multiple realiziabilities and perform a multiplicity of both functional algorithms and computational paradigms. What will work for a discursive/linguistic/semantic computational algorithm and its functional systems may not work for a system/environment search and track based computational and functional system. It may involve an interaction of a multiplicity and pluralist approach to computational functionalism. As he suggests below there is a long history:

“The history of functionalism has deep philosophical roots going back to Plato, to the Stoics (the functional account of emotions) and extending to Kant, Hegel, Sellars, Brandom, and Wimsatt. Similarly, computationalism has alsoa long history passing through scholastic logicians, the early mechanistic philosophy, the project of mathesis universalis, and in the wake of revolutions in mathematics and logics leading to modern computation and ultimately, the current advances in computational complexity theory and computational mechanics (as represented by figures such as Charles Bennett and James Crutchfield). However, computational functionalism—at least its rigorous elaboration—is a recent alliance. Among its forerunners, one name particularly stands out, Alan Turing. The significance of Turing’s computationalist project is that it simultaneously pushes the boundaries of theory and experimentation away. Computational functionalism is presented by Turing as a theory that gestures toward its own realization and in fact, it is the theory that has to keep up the pace with the escalating rate of its concrete realization.­­” (146).

So theory and praxis work hand and glove at an ever accelerating pace if such a experimental computational project is to move forward. Ultimately he suggests that even though this might be a controversial claim, in recognizing thinking as an activity that ought to be theoretically and practically elaborated, philosophy turns itself into an implicitly functionalist project. A philosopher should endorse at least one type of functionalism insofar as thinking is an activity and the basic task of the philosopher is to elaborate the ramifications of engaging in this activity in the broadest sense and examine conditions required for its realization. Pursuing this task inevitably forces philosophy to engage with other disciplines, and depending on its scope and depth, it demands philosophy to rigorously acquaint itself with social and natural sciences, political economy as well as neuroscience, computational linguistics as well as evolutionary biology. (141)

For Reza the Promethean project offers to radicalize Turing’s computational project contributing to this project of enlightened humanism by dethroning the human and ejecting it from the center while acknowledging the significance of the human in functionalist terms.(154). To provide a path forward that allows for a revisioning of the human in functional terms that is a blueprint for the reconstruction of the human and the functional evolution of its significance beyond its present image.(154). The image of the human as bounded by its organic heritage is obsolete, what comes next is anyone’s guess; yet, for Reza the Mind has always already been artificial, and its history has been one of successive evolutionary updates, revisions, and exchanges. There is no valid reason why it cannot situate itself from an organic to an anorganic substrate in his view, and that this is as it should be, pragmatic, functional, and computationally feasible. The human will migrate from its present image as organic life-form into machinic organism. How and when that may come about is anyone’s guess, and in what form it will take shape  – that, too, remains to be seen.


– Reza Negarestani, Revolution Backwards: Functional Realization and Computational Implementation (Alleys of Your Mind: Augmented Intelligence and Its Traumas ed. Matteo Pasquinelli)

3 thoughts on “Reza Negarestani: The Promethean Enlightenment

  1. I like it. But i think by grounding in’mind’ definition thereby finds a vector, again, away from some sort of ‘given immenence’ that without having to say it, Does stuff, creates things: has artificial things.

    I think that is all fine and well but i would add that if we go further and remove ‘mind’ and thus ‘thought’, we find these too are ‘artificial’ things.

    Hence we can open up a whole different way to view ‘theory’ but more, just what the ‘previous historical’ ohilosophers were really saying.

    Dont you think?

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    • Not sure if I follow you or not… you’re saying several things here. I don’t think he’s grounding anything per se. In the essay which is part of the book at the bottom of the post it was an essay on computation and functionalism and how they can be used to develop a neo-rational system that allows for intelligence to detach itself from organic to anorganic substratums. Something that many in the AGI community have been seeking a way forward. Those that argue it’s impossible, do so from the erroneous (at least according to Reza) notion that we need to have mapped the brain and know what the Mind ‘is’ before we can succeed. Reza argues that we don’t need to have the brain totally mapped, nor do we need to know what the Mind ‘is’, rather that all we need is to know how it works… and he proceeds to document and describe this process. He’s not addressing past philosophers or even philosophy per se, except as it pertains to this specific problem set.

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