“The primordial trauma, the trauma constitutive of the subject, is the very gap that bars the subject from its own ‘inner life’.”
-Slavoj Žižek. Disparities
My friend R. Scott Bakker’s response to this implies what he terms ‘medial neglect’ or the notion that we are blind to the brain’s own processes. In a fine essay describing this issue Scott remarks,
A curious consequence of the neuroscientific explananda problem is the glaring way it reveals our blindness to ourselves, our medial neglect. The mystery has always been one of understanding constraints, the question of what comes before we do. Plans? Divinity? Nature? Desires? Conditions of possibility? Fate? Mind? We’ve always been grasping for ourselves, I sometimes think, such was the strategic value of metacognitive capacity in linguistic social ecologies. The thing to realize is that grasping, the process of developing the capacity to report on our experience, was bootstrapped out of nothing and so comprised the sum of all there was to the ‘experience of experience’ at any given stage of our evolution. Our ancestors had to be both implicitly obvious, and explicitly impenetrable to themselves past various degrees of questioning.
What Zizek says in metaphysical terms (i.e., Lacanian $ – barred – Subject, etc.) can be opted for the neuroscientific model just as easy, and with a great deal more of clarity – at least if you’re a naturalist. The neuroscientific or naturalist path opts for the use of external technics, instruments, or prosthesis to develop its models. Through the modern innovation of computation and imaging technologies scientists can actually observe the brain’s own processes in real time, a feat that philosophers were never able to do in the external medium of language or math*. Of course, interpreting these visual cues is an altogether other matter, and one open to question on both sides of the opposition. Yet, the central insight is obvious: philosophy will never have anything but the circle of its cultural inheritance in language or math, while the sciences escape this circle with the added feature set of external ‘technics’ and artificial machines or processes or prosthesis.
Although some would say that both language and mathematics are just that: artificial constructs and engines of creation that are nothing if not pure technics or prosthesis external to the subject in question, and that what we term the Subject has always already been an artificial construct made possible by the use of language and math in turn. This sense of a dialectical interpellation between the animal we term the ‘human’ and its prosthesis (technics, art) has over time produced this thing we are: an interminable process in transition or becoming.
One reason I like reading Zizek is that his conclusions on this interminable process is part of his anti-Hegelian Hegelizanism (i.e., he goes against the main-stream Hegelian scholars of the final synthesis, and sees the human animal as a transition, a process of becoming that is interminable – and, that even in our age of machinic being the notion of becoming other (in the Deleuzian sense) is not far out there. Becoming machinic in Guattari/Deleuze’s sense of artificial life-forms in either incorporating more and more prosthesis internally or externally is an endless process. One might say that dialectical materialism is naturalist through and through. But if this is so then why not use the naturalist terminology? Why all the impossible talk of metaphysical rubbish that can never have an answer or a terminus? I think that’s where the issue lies: philosophy is chasing its own shadow and will never escape the labyrinth. The natural sciences have externalized the labyrinth and made it possible to observe its inner workings.
The notion of becoming cyborg or of becoming external devices of memory technics is part of the traumatic heritage of which we have always been in process. Even our cultural dreams of immortality in some beyond were dreams of this process that in our age has returned immanently in a bid to make that universal concrete. We are never outside our own mechanisms, caught in language and math we build external tools that are in turn building us in unexpected ways.
*note: many would argue that these external tools – conditions of possibility, were only ever possible because of language and math – i.e., technics-art – I would opt for technics as the enforcer of all these various intrinsic/extrinsic processes of externalization that have created objective culture and tools as time-machines or carriers of shared memory, etc., which in a dialectical reversal have in turn created us through what Bernard Stiegler terms tertiary retention or cultural transmission and shared memory technics.