Mutant Culture: Metamorphosis and the Dividual

My experience is what I agree to attend to.

—William James, Pragmatist and Philosopher

Algorithmic governmentality, by its perfect ‘real time’ adaptation, its ‘virality’ and its plasticity, makes the very notion of ‘failure’ meaningless…

—Desrosières, The Politics of Large Numbers

There is no biosphere or noosphere, but everywhere the same Mechanosphere.

—Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

With the advent of the Digital Age time has been out of joint, “the symptoms of a sort of dissonance and of temporal unbalance are multiplying in the sphere of aesthetic sensibility”.1 The rhythm of life is haunted by a sense of acceleration that fragments living experience and sensory perception itself. Time is out of joint—disjointed. As more and more humans in the past twenty years have become netizens, joining with hundreds of millions of others across the planet in the virtual environments of our networks the power of the mind, the cognitive activity coupled to the linguistic machines (i.e., interfaces, computers, mobile devices, etc.) has brought about a disjunction between our natural and artificial environments, allowing us to mutate and metamorphically decouple ourselves from our animal heritage and reliance of age old mental categories that over tens of thousands of years naturalized the mind. Whereas we for thousands of years developed mimetic techniques of memory to internalize information for recall, we now rely more and more on external devices and artificial intelligence to do our memory work, gather our information, search and index the world of knowledge that our ancestors used to do at the pace of attention.

Attention is the key.

“My experience is what I agree to attend to,” as my epigraph from William James suggests, attention serves as a gatekeeper for consciousness. It determines what one is conscious of. Our brains only ever give us what it needs to survive or reproduce the organism within which it is housed. So that most of what we term reality is blurred, excluded, and ill-defined for us. We come upon reality by way of accidents, stumbling upon aspects of this unruly world and cosmos as it acts upon us. And, yet, we do not know it, it is not an aspect of our attention, our awareness, our visible knowledge, our memories or experience stored or datafied. Reality is the excess that escapes our tools, our lives, our minds. All we have is the reflections grafted from this cosmic stream that our brain has forged for us over eons of evolutionary trial and error: our sex and survival depended on it, our natural environment as a hostile force that put pressure on us to block out everything but what was essential. Reality became essentialized, reduced to the bare minimum of sex and survival. Later the early philosophers would codify this process without every fully understanding the underlying mechanisms, nor realizing that what we think we know and the wider spectrum of the unknown within which we are encompassed is something of which we are blind.

One might say we are wired for deception.

Apollo Robbins, self-described “gentleman thief” and public speaker, describes his technique as a pick-pocket this way,

It’s all about the choreography of people’s attention. Attention is like water. It flows. It’s liquid. You create channels to divert it, and you hope that it flows the right way . . . I use framing the way a movie director or a cinematographer would. If I lean my face close in to someone’s . . . it’s like a closeup. All their attention is on my face, and their pockets, especially the ones on their lower body, are out of the frame. Or if I want to move their attention off their jacket pocket, I can say, “You had a wallet in your back pocket—is it still there?” Now their focus is on their back pocket . . . and I’m free to steal from their jacket.2

This sense of framing and focus is attention, and the span of our attention and focus on something distracts us from everything outside the frame of our mind’s eye. Deception is the rule, rather than the exception.

Watching one of those spoofy television shows about people’s involvement with their mobile devices and how it is eating up our attention was a humorous reminder of how humans have suddenly shifted focus and become enmeshed in their technological and artificial environments to the point of distraction. Because of this they no longer are in touch with the natural world around them. The television crew set up situations where people were busily texting, or talking to someone on their mobile phones while a group of actors walked around them doing crazy and humorous to distract them from their involvement with the closed circuit of their attention: it being locked in a eye/machine, or face/interface closed frame. In one segment they had a woman walk past a man in a very tight skin colored suit that otherwise reminded one of nakedness. While other people gawked on and on at this charade of the woman rubbing up against the seated man speaking and texting, he barely even noticed her or her antics. Even after rubbing up against him in obscene ways he never disconnected from his digital device, never once stopped and put it down and looked at the woman to see what was going on. His mind was hooked to his machine and all his attention, his focus was on it at the expense of everything outside the frame of that interaction.

As Sebastian Waltz informs us, petty tricksters and light entertainment, of course, are only the beginning. Attention framing and misdirection pervade the very big and very real world. Spin doctors work hard to ensure that some aspects of reality are shoved into our faces, while others are swept under the rug. Our world is attentionally engineered—quite literally so. Channels for attention are carved into the fabric of our homes, the news we watch, the social media we consume, and into the urban landscapes around us. By creating channels of attention, agendas are generated and policies are framed.3 Truth is our brain is the great deceiver, it has wired us to accept a reduced vision of reality so that we can propagate and survive. So we are already wired for deception.

All of us succumb to distractions all the time. As a product of the texting and Facebook generation, we find it impossible to avoid Reddit, Gmail, and Netflix or other systems of attention capture like Twitter, Linked In, or any number of online gathering places. Before retiring I sometimes at work would have no fewer than fifteen windows and twenty-five tabs open on two monitors at any time. I’d track tech, entertainment, media, and science news across six Twitter accounts in a desktop app called TweetDeck. It whizzes by with a constant stream of updates like a trader’s Bloomberg Terminal.

William James once spoke of attention this way,

[Attention] is the taking possession by the mind, in clear and vivid form, of one out of what seem several simultaneously possible objects or trains of thought. Focalization, concentration, of consciousness are of its essence. It implies withdrawal from some things in order to deal effectively with others, and is a condition which has a real opposite in the confused, dazed, scatterbrained state which in French is called distraction, and Zerstreutheit in German.

Distraction might be the key term in our quest to understand inattention which is the unfocused or deceptive trick of those agents of the con, whether it is a pick-pocket seeking to refocus out attention or an advertisement pop-up on the net. Dominic Pettman in Infinite Distraction disparagingly reminds us that there is certainly no shortage of polemics out there, pleading with us to stop “clicking ourselves to death,” to stop using the unprecedented reach and power of the Internet to distract ourselves from the late capitalist conspiracy to suck what’s left of our souls, our bodies, our bank accounts, and everything of value in the environment, whether it be the interactions we have online or the minerals that are mined in order to make our communications gadgets in the first place. Every new technology brings with it a new McLuhan, a new Toffler, a new Postman, or a new Turkle, warning us against the dangers of the reflex adoption of new cybernetic arrangements, which themselves form the contours of new modes of cultural and political compliance.4

As Matthew B. Crawford in World Beyond Your Head : On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction admonishes us intrusive advertising is just the tip of a larger cultural iceberg; some of the positive attractions of our attentional environment are no less troubling than the unwanted aspects. It’s hard to open a newspaper or magazine these days without reading a complaint about our fractured mental lives, diminished attention spans, and a widespread sense of distraction. Often the occasion for such a story is some new neuroscience finding about how our brains are being rewired by our habits of information grazing and electronic stimulation. Though it is in the first place a faculty of individual minds, it is clear that attention has also become an acute collective problem of modern life—a cultural problem.5

As Ben Parr explains it in Captivology part of the reason for this rise in consumption is due to how easy it is today to create content. In 1986, there were no blog posts, status updates, YouTube channels, or Instagrams. If you wanted people to read your opinion piece, you had to send a letter to the editor of your local newspaper. If you wanted to share a photo with your friends, you had to take the film to the camera store, get it developed, print multiple copies, and physically hand the photos to your friends. Today, the only thing you need to share any content is a keyboard or a touch screen. Our attention just can’t keep up with all this information. The more data available to us, the more our attention has to be divided to consume it. As a result, attention has become a scarce resource. We have the same 1,440 minutes per day our ancestors had but far more information and distractions to fill that time. There are clear limits to how much and how long humans can pay attention. The combination of increased information and our brain’s limits has changed our habits—and not necessarily for the better. Many of us have turned to multitasking as a way to keep up.6

Tim Wu in The Attention Merchants describes how companies capture our desires, our attentions. Describing one private firm that offered a failing school district of a small town a way to end its monetary problems stepping in with the perfect solution. As he explains,

Acting as broker, the firm promised that it could bring the district as much as $500,000 in private money per year. And, EFP stressed, its services would cost nothing. “EFP is paid solely out of corporate contributions,” the pitch explained, “essentially providing a free service to districts.”

To gain this free bounty, the board didn’t actually have to do anything. It needed only to understand something: that the schools were already holding an asset more lucrative than any bake sale. That asset, simply stated, was their students, who by the very nature of compulsory education were a captive audience. If the schools could seize their attention for the purpose of educating them, why not sell off a bit of it for the sake of improving the educational experience? Specifically, EFP was proposing that Twin Rivers allow corporate advertising within the schools. Moreover, EFP explained, it would bundle students from Twin Rivers with those in other school districts around the nation so as to appeal to bigger brands—the Fortune 500 companies—with deeper pockets.

If EFP was promising the district free money, its pitch to corporate advertisers was no less seductive: “Open the schoolhouse doors,” it said, promising “authentic access and deep engagement with audiences in the school environment.” Advertisers have long coveted direct access to the young, who are impressionable and easier to influence. Establishing a warm association with Coca-Cola or McDonald’s at an early age can yield payoffs that last a lifetime—or, in the lingo, “drive purchase decisions and build brand awareness.” That in essence is what EFP offered its clients: “an unparalleled system for engagement in the K–12 market”—a chance to mold the consumers of the future.7

Capturing Desire: Attention and its Dark Side

Philosophy is no longer synthetic judgment; it is like a thought synthesizer functioning to make thought travel, make it mobile, make it a force of the Cosmos (in the same way as one makes sound travel).

—Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

In A Thousand Plateaus the duet of these two thinkers will describe how our attention, our focus, our desires are captured in Strata:

Professor Challenger who made the Earth scream with his pain machine, as described by Arthur Conan Doyle, gave a lecture after mixing several textbooks on geology and biology in a fashion befitting his simian disposition. He explained that the Earth — the Deterritorialized, the Glacial, the giant Molecule — is a body without organs. This body without organs is permeated by unformed, unstable matters, by flows in all directions, by free intensities or nomadic singularities, by mad or transitory particles. That, however, was not the question at hand. For there simultaneously occurs upon the earth a very important, inevitable phenomenon that is beneficial in many respects and unfortunate in many others: stratification. Strata are Layers, Belts. They consist of giving form to matters, of imprisoning intensities or locking singularities into systems of resonance and redundancy, of producing upon the body of the earth molecules large and small and organizing them into molar aggregates. Strata are acts of capture, they are like “black holes” or occlusions striving to seize whatever comes within their reach. They operate by coding and territorialization upon the earth; they proceed simultaneously by code and by territoriality.8

One could say that our mobile devices, televisions, CD or listening devices, Movies, etc. are all strata devices for capturing our attention and our desires. In another statement D & G remark: “Matters of expression are superseded by a material of capture. The forces to be captured are no longer those of the earth, which still constitute a great expressive Form, but the forces of an immaterial, nonformal, and energetic Cosmos.” (TP) One might equate the material substrate of networks that give rise to the immaterial and electronic environments based on digital and binary codes of capture we term the Internet – and, even now, the Internet of Things (i.e., all those smart devices that are begin installed in everything from Security Systems, Refrigerators, Microwave Ovens to Lawnmowers, Automobiles, etc.).

In fact, D&G would as if proselytizing for a future arising and emerging out of this global transformation tell us: “We thus leave behind the assemblages to enter the age of the Machine, the immense mechanosphere, the plane of cosmicization of forces to be harnessed.” (TP) For D&G the ultimate capturing machine or apparatus is capitalism itself:

Capitalism arises as a worldwide enterprise of subjectification by constituting an axiomatic of decoded flows. Social subjection, as the correlate of subjectification, appears much more in the axiomatic’s models of realization than in the axiomatic itself. It is within the framework of the nation-State, or of national subjectivities, that processes of subjectification and the corresponding subjections are manifested. The axiomatic itself, of which the States are models of realization, restores or reinvents, in new and now technical forms, an entire system of machinic enslavement. (TP)

D&G will speak of the first apparatus of capture as the Urstaat: “We shall call the first pole of capture imperial or despotic. It corresponds to Marx’s Asiatic formation. Archaeology discovers it everywhere, often lost in oblivion, at the horizon of all systems or States — not only in Asia, but also in Africa, America, Greece, Rome. Immemorial Urstaat, dating as far back as Neolithic times, and perhaps farther still.” (TP) Following Marx they align the State apparatus upon this mythical system of agricultural communities stretching across the Neolithic Age. The Ursaat becomes the model of the first “system of machinic enslavement: the first “megamachine” in the strict sense, to use Lewis Mumford’s term.” (TP)

They will differentiate machinic enslavement and social subjection under two separate concepts (and I quote at length):

There is enslavement when human beings themselves are constituent pieces of a machine that they compose among themselves and with other things (animals, tools), under the control and direction of a higher unity. But there is subjection when the higher unity constitutes the human being as a subject linked to a now exterior object, which can be an animal, a tool, or even a machine. The human being is no longer a component of the machine but a worker, a user. He or she is subjected to the machine and no longer enslaved by the machine. This is not to say that the second regime is more human. But the first regime does seem to have a special relation to the archaic imperial formation: human beings are not subjects but pieces of a machine that overcodes the aggregate (this has been called “generalized slavery,” as opposed to the private slavery of antiquity, or feudal serfdom). We believe that Lewis Mumford is right in designating the archaic empires megamachines, and in pointing out that, once again, it is not a question of a metaphor: “If a machine can be defined more or less in accord with the classic definition of Reuleaux, as a combination of resistant parts, each specialized in function, operating under human control to transmit motion and to perform work, then the human machine was a real machine.” (Mumford) Of course, it was the modern State and capitalism that brought the triumph of machines, in particular of motorized machines (whereas the archaic State had simple machines at best); but what we are referring to now are technical machines, which are definable extrinsically. One is not enslaved by the technical machine but rather subjected to it. It would appear, then, that the modern State, through technological development, has substituted an increasingly powerful social subjection for machinic enslavement. Ancient slavery and feudal serfdom were already procedures of subjection. But the naked or “free” worker of capitalism takes subjection to its most radical expression, since the processes of subjectification no longer even enter into partial conjunctions that interrupt the flow. In effect, capital acts as the point of subjectification that constitutes all human beings as subjects; but some, the “capitalists,” are subjects of enunciation that form the private subjectivity of capital, while the others, the “proletarians,” are subjects of the statement, subjected to the technical machines in which constant capital is effectuated. (TP)

Anyone who has noticed the movement from the desktop computer as a tool of choice to the mobile device which now has tens of thousands of apps to capture our attention will understand what D&G are describing above. The mobile device which accesses our email, our news, our offices and homes, our lives in a 24/7 online environment will know of what they speak. We are all enslaved by machinic processes of which for most of us have been presented a convinces, time-savers, entertainment, part of the ritual of our daily lives and communications online. We do not think of this as being enslaved. And, yet, we are being controlled, manipulated, modulated by advertising hooks and other invasive and invisible for the most part systems of capture (i.e., FBI surveillance, Corporate tracing and feed-back loops promoting, tempting, shaping our desires for gadgets, things; and, of course all the little aspects of government, corporation, and sale off of our dividual lives online (i.e., tracing everything we do as we move through the virtual infosphere, leaving traces of our likes, dislikes, textual messages, thoughts on blogs, FaceBook, Twitter, etc., that are then fed back into anonymous systems to be looped back into the swarm mind of the net itself).

Luciano Floridi an information philosopher tells us in The Ethics of Information that our increasing re-ontologization of artefacts (ie., the Internet of things, etc.) and of whole (social) environments suggests that it is becoming difficult to understand what life was like in pre-digital times, and, in the near future, the very distinction between online and offline will become blurred and then disappear. To someone who was born in 2000 the world will always have been wireless, for example. To her and any other member of what Janna Quitney Anderson calls Generation AO, the Always-On Generation, the peculiar clicking and whooshing sounds made by conventional modems while handshaking, also known as the whale song, will be as alien as the sounds made by a telegraph’s Morse signals are to us. To put it dramatically, the infosphere is progressively absorbing any other ontological space.9

In this sense the natural world is being absorbed into the virtual in a great ontological twist and reversal. Rather than the virtual becoming actual, the actual is becoming virtualized. In the coming century our homes, our cities, our world will take on more and more the outward appearance of the digital environments within which we work and play. Already signs of this have become apparent with such online games as Pokémon Go a free-to-play, location-based augmented reality game developed by Niantic for iOS and Android devices. This augmentation of actual real world through the invasive influence of the virtual is just the start of a process that will lock us into a pre-fab modeled and modulated virtual world that will be based on an Algorithmic Governmentality.

Algorithmic Government: The Enslavement of Desire and Attention

There is a machinic enslavement, about which it could be said in each case that it presupposes itself, that it appears as preaccomplished; this machinic enslavement is no more “voluntary” than it is “forced.”

—Deleuze and Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus

Of late one of the new ploys companies are using to enforce our compliance to use mobile devices is Security. I’ve noticed that banks, MMO’s, Online Stores, Government access to Social Security etc. are all requiring one have a mobile phone that they can text a security code to as a handshake to insure your access to information remains private. Because of online hacking by private or governmental agencies this has been presented as a necessary step in protecting your information. And, yet, for many of us who have kept attached to our land lines, to our old analog systems this seems a coercion to buy into the newer digital tools. Even my local cable company took analog offline, and only provides digital signals and protocols to its customers now (except for emergency broadcasts which must be analog for Federal Regulations, etc.).

In another generation all this will seem passé, as our children and their children grow up in a fully augmented virtual world. Our governments and corporations are banking on it.

We learn from Bernard Stiegler in Automatic Society: The Future of Work that a new regime of truth is in town,

Algorithmic governmentality is based on ‘ubiquitous’, territorial and environmental spatial technologies, through which the programs of ‘smart cities’ are today being designed, based on ‘autonomic computing’ and ‘ambient computing’, on technologies whose invisibility just makes them all the more active and efficient, as Mark Weiser states: ‘The most profound technologies are those that disappear. They weave themselves into the fabric of everyday life until they are indistinguishable from it.’8

The new regime of truth ‘is embodied in a multitude of new automated systems modelling the “social”, both remotely and in real time, highlighting the automatic contextualization and personalization of interactions to do with security, health, administration and business’.(AS)

As our daily lives become more enmeshed in augmentation we will begin to see our Cities take on this algorithmic governmentality. Computational urbanism is promoted by large equipment manufacturing firms who become at the same time its service providers, and they are currently designing the new infrastructure that will be built and managed regionally. Algorithmic governmentality will thus be exploited and managed on a regional scale and in a systemic and systematic way at all levels of space and time.

According to Saskia Sassen:

The best known example of an instant smart city is Songdo International Business District, an intelligent city near Seoul that’s equipped with advanced sensors and monitors from Cisco Systems, features that are humorously described by John Kasarda and Greg Lindsay in the new book Aerotropolis: The Way We’ll Live Next. The city’s multitasking devices are able to open and close, turn on and off, or stop and start everything from the toaster to the videoconference with your boss to the video camera view of your child at play. All of this can be done from both your home and your office, though the distinction between the two becomes increasingly fuzzy in a fully ‘sensored’ city. Songdo is also about recycling and greening. It is built on reclaimed land and deploys all the latest green technologies.10

As Stiegler puts it algorithmic governmentality operates via ‘three moments [that] feed into each other’ and through the automatized confusion that calculation outstrips, and in the form of automatized understanding. This is an automatized understanding not just of reason in its scientific forms, but also will, law and the administration of decision-making in general – in the most basic dimensions of everyday life as well as in the military field. (AS)

Algorithmic governmentality is based on calculation and statistics. But unlike the earlier forms of statistical analysis as one might see in Bayes or Quételet, the new forms continuously traced and collected statistics constitute and mobilize an ‘(a)normative and (a)political rationality based on the harvesting, aggregation and automatic analysing of data in massive quantities in order to model, anticipate and affect in advance possible behaviours’. (TP) As we saw above in Deleuze and Guattari’s notion of systems of capture, what is being harvested by this newer machinic and algorithmic processes of code are our online life, our desires, our attention and focus. And, as Stiegler explains it, this affecting in advance – which is, it should be emphasized, a new regime of affect within this ‘new regime of truth’ – affects all ‘powers to act’ as the automatic production of the possible reduced to the probable. It is based on a ‘passage from statistical government to algorithmic government’, which is also the passage from a public governmentality of the state – statistics is the science of the state and of governmentality strictly conceived as the administration of the public thing, of the res publica – to governmentality as governance by generalized privatization, which is the destruction, by a ‘hypertrophied private sphere’, of ‘private life’ as well as of the public thing. (AS)

For the most part we are blind to these processes which go on anonymously in the networks we are attached too. While we think we are just chatting with  friends, or buying a new purse, or seeing a new movie, youtube, or doing Pokémon Go or any number of activities on the network behind the scenes everything you do is being tracked, analyzed, traced into a data enclave where both corporations, governments, and even more disreputable crime syndicates etc. can through high-speed algorithmic systems – soon to be AI based, etc. – can splice and dice your dividual online life for their nefarious reasons. All of this done without either our approval or for the most part, knowledge, attention, awareness. Just as we are blind to many of the brain’s processes, so are we becoming blind to many of the social brain’s (read: General Intellect) processes of the net itself.

As Saskia Sassen, Stiegler and others have suggested the colonization of public space by major players of the ‘private sector’ passes through the promotion of digital regions based on the infrastructures of this algorithmic governmentality, from ‘smart cities’ to the management of household and domestic space by home automation and ambient computing, but more generally the ‘internet of things’ as a totally integrated environment of hyper-control, made ‘reactive and intelligent […] by the proliferation of sensors […] in order to adapt constantly to specific needs and dangers’.11

As a part of this process we are being de-individualized, de-personalized, and universalized and standardized as dividuals of algorithmic citizens whose online life as avatars becomes the signature of our becoming in the world. Rather than the liberal subject, there is now this binary encoded and traceable system of code attached to dataclaves (i.e., Big Data) that can be manipulated, massaged, fed into endless commercial or governmental agencies for analysis, modulation, and decisioning processes then looped back through the system to alter the behavior of our buying, relationships, or any number of aspects of our fake lives online. Digitized and reformatted for machinic consumption our online life is part of an never ending 24/7 system of capture, regulation, and enslavement. One that we believe gives us freedom, power, and possibilities undreamed of before. The discrepancy between our personal investment in the network and the actual systems of capture roaming within its hidden streams goes without saying. We are oblivious to these algorithmic measures that are affecting and effecting changes in our lives and behaviors in subtle ways we are totally blind too.

As Stiegler remarks,

Algorithmic government is an automatic government that claims to be able to function on autopilot, that is, without pilots or thinking. It ‘dispenses with institutions and public debate; it replaces prevention (in favour only of preemption)’. In short, it installs an automatic society – in which there develops a computational, technological performativity, itself supposedly totally autonomized. (AS)

Human kind is in our age being reformatted by processes of a machinic civilization that are subtly recoding and reontologizing our lives, de-naturing our minds and brains, grafting our psyches onto digital environments that are reversing the age old metaphysical categories (i.e., virtual > actual becomes actual > virtual: Plato’s Cave is no longer projection but a metamodel of the labyrinth rewiring the Outside in) and rewiring our neuroplasticity to the point that we are becoming neohumans in a world captured by the mechanosphere.

Mechanosphere: Gateway to Exit

Deleuze and Guattari once stated that what “we call the mechanosphere is the set of all abstract machines and machinic assemblages outside the strata, on the strata, or between strata”. (TP) It would be at this point that D&G left off with Professor Challenger:

Challenger muttered that he was taking the earth with him, that he was leaving for the mysterious world, his poison garden. He whispered something else: it is by headlong flight that things progress and signs proliferate. Panic is creation. A young woman cried out, her face “convulsed with a wilder, deeper, and more hideous epilepsy of stark panic than they had seen on human countenance before.” No one had heard the summary, and no one tried to keep Challenger from leaving. Challenger, or what remained of him, slowly hurried toward the plane of consistency, following a bizarre trajectory with nothing relative left about it. He tried to slip into an assemblage serving as a drum-gate, the particle Clock with its intensive clicking and conjugated rhythms hammering out the absolute: “The figure slumped oddly into a posture scarcely human, and began a curious, fascinated sort of shuffle toward the coffin-shaped clock The figure had now reached the abnormal clock, and the watchers saw through the dense fumes a blurred black claw fumbling with the tall, hieroglyphed door. The fumbling made a queer, clicking sound. Then the figure entered the coffin-shaped case and pulled the door shut after it…. The abnormal clicking went on, beating out the dark, cosmic rhythm which underlies all mystical gate-openings” — the Mechanosphere, or rhizosphere. (TP)

Like all diagrams it cannot be represented. It is:

Everything becomes imperceptible, everything is becoming-imperceptible on the plane of consistency, which is nevertheless precisely where the imperceptible is seen and heard. It is the Planomenon, or the Rhizosphere, the Criterium (and still other names, as the number of dimensions increases. At n dimensions, it is called the Hypersphere, the Mechanosphere. It is the abstract Figure, or rather, since it has no form itself, the abstract Machine of which each concrete assemblage is a multiplicity, a becoming, a segment, a vibration. And the abstract machine is the intersection of them all. (TP)

Or,  “Let us recall Nietzsche’s idea of the eternal return as a little ditty, a refrain, but which captures the mute and unthinkable forces of the Cosmos. We thus leave behind the assemblages to enter the age of the Machine, the immense mechanosphere, the plane of cosmicization of forces to be harnessed” (TP). It is the place outside the capture systems, the zero point of intensity.  Else in the final analysis:

We have seen in particular that if abstract machines open assemblages they also close them. An order-word machine overcodes language, a faciality machine and overcodes the body and even the head, a machine of enslavement overcodes or axiomatizes the earth: these are in no way illusions, but real machinic effects. We can no longer place the assemblages on a quantitative scale measuring how close or far they are from the plane of consistency. There are different types of abstract machines that overlap in their operations and qualify the assemblages: abstract machines of consistency, singular and mutant, with multiplied connections; abstract machines of stratification that surround the plane of consistency with another plane; and axiomatic or overcoding and abstract machines that perform totalizations, homogenizations, conjunctions of closure. Every abstract machine is linked to other abstract machines, not only because they are inseparably political, economic, scientific, artistic, ecological, cosmic — perceptive, affective, active, thinking, physical, and semiotic — but because their various types are as intertwined as their operations are convergent. Mechanosphere. (TP)

We have reached the exit point of the capture system: “The plane of consistency is the abolition of all metaphor; all that consists is Real. These are electrons in person, veritable black holes, actual organites, authentic sign sequences. It’s just that they have been uprooted from their strata, destratified, decoded, deterritorialized, and that is what makes their proximity and interpenetration in the plane of consistency possible. A silent dance. The plane of consistency knows nothing of differences in level, orders of magnitude, or distances. It knows nothing of the difference between the artificial and the natural. It knows nothing of the distinction between contents and expressions, or that between forms and formed substances; these things exist only by means of and in relation to the strata.” (TP)

One might also say: Thermospasm – the place of no place, the transcendental unconscious: the energetic and creative realm of our hyperstitional vectors emerging from their darkness. As Nick Land would in his dark Deleuzeguattarian reflections say,

The thermospasm is reality as undilute chaos. It is where we all came from. The deathdrive is the longing to return there (‘it’ itself), just as salmon would return upstream to perish at the origin. Thermospasm is howl, annihilating intensity, a peak of improbability. Energetic matter has a tendency, a Todestrieb. The current scientific sense of this movement is a perpetual degradation of energy or dissipation of difference. Upstream is the reservoir of negentropy, uneven distribution, thermic disequilibrium. Downstream is Tohu Bohu, statistical disorder, indifference, Wärmetod. The second law of thermodynamics tells us that disorder must increase, that regional increases in negentropy still imply an aggregate increase in entropy. Life is able to deviate from death only because it also propagates it, and the propagation of disorder is always more successful than the deviation. Degradation ‘profits’ out of life. Any process of organization is necessarily aberrational within the general economy, a mere complexity or detour in the inexorable death-flow, a current in the informational motor, energy cascading downstream, dissipation. There are no closed systems, no stable codes, no recuperable origins. There is only the thermospasmic shock wave, tendential energy flux, degradation of energy. A receipt of information—of intensity—carried downstream.12 (TA: 30)

That which cannot be captured, controlled, molded, modulated: the Outside. This is the pre-ontological realm of quantum physics. Libidinal materialism (Nietzsche) is not, however, a thermodynamics. This is because it does not distinguish between power and energy, or between negentropy and energy. It no longer conceives the level of entropy as a predicate of any substantial or subsistent being. In contrast to the energy of physical thermodynamics, libidinal energy is chaotic, or pre-ontological. Thus Nietzsche’s devastating attacks of the notions of ‘being’, ‘thing-in-itself’, of a substratum separable from its effects, etc. Where thermodynamics begins with 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. (TA: 30)

It is in chaos and composition that we may find a way out, an exit.


  1. Berardi, Franco “Bifo”. And: Phenomenology of the End. Semiotext(e) (November 6, 2015) (A)
  2. Greene, A. (2013). A pickpocket’s tale. New Yorker, 88(42), January 7, 38–47.
    (Page 294).
  3. Waltz, Sebastian. Structuring Mind: The Nature of Attention and How It Shapes Consciousness. Oxford Univ. Press, 2017
  4. Pettman, Dominic. Infinite Distraction (Kindle Locations 149-154). Wiley. Kindle Edition
  5. Crawford, Matthew B.. World Beyond Your Head : On Becoming an Individual in an Age of Distraction (9780374708443) (Kindle Locations 72-77). Macmillan. Kindle Edition.
  6. Ben Parr. Captivology (Kindle Locations 39-47). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
  7. Tim Wu. The Attention Merchants (Kindle Locations 74-87). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition
  8. Gilles Deleuze; Felix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press; 1St Edition edition (December 21, 1987)
  9. Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (p. 8). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
  10. Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 4202-4207). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  11. Saskia Sassen, ‘Talking Back to Your Intelligent City’, available at: http://voices.mckinseyonsociety.com/talking-back-to-your-intelligent-city/.
    Stiegler, Bernard. Automatic Society: The Future of Work (Kindle Locations 4897-4899). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  12. Land, Nick. A Thirst for Annihilation. Routledge, 1991.

13 thoughts on “Mutant Culture: Metamorphosis and the Dividual

  1. Reblogged this on synthetic zerø and commented:

    Hickman continues to dazzle and arch-enlighten us this time using the notions of attentional capture and algorithmic enslavement to look at how our characteristic desires are in danger of assimilation into the machinic blur. I say we resist and shape our futures in ways that retain some semblance of the human..

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yea, I need to address how to combat all this at some point. Uncovering what is going on is difficult enough, to find a way out of the labyrinth of capture is altogether another matter and even more difficult and complex.

      Liked by 1 person

      • I’m enjoying (if horrified) your framing and exposure of these systems, which fit perfectly with my own research and interests, but I’m feeling more and more unconformable looking at these issues without trying to figure ways and tools for resistance, or redirection, or exploitation. What can those ontopunks among us who see ‘crash spaces’ as ontological opportunities within zones of proximal contestation do to bricolage and design adaptive futures for humans?

        Liked by 1 person

      • I think Land and Ccru’s use of hyperstition is one avenue: a way out of the labyrinth is through a magical invocation that bypasses the very algorithmic processes for diagrammatic intensities (i.e., our narratives, our fictions of escape and exit are already an opening out to the possible, a way of unhooking us, de-plugging us from the Security Regimes that hinge us in cages of the Mind).

        Liked by 1 person

      • I like the idea of hyperstitional resistance as well, not just through words but images, design, and practices, but fear these semiotic processes can easily be captures by machincs as well. Information processing is the forte of the machines. I’m also reminded of how the machines captures not just the desires but flesh and total being of humanity in the film The Matrix. They gave us our consensual hallucination while still enslaving us. Maybe within some massive structure filled with quantum servers humanity as digitized and downloaded code will still be allowed to play out its fantasies in the virtual sans flesh?

        Narratives are codes to be manipulated. What is best about us humans is that we are slightly more than our codes. We are bodily-distinct individual difference engines who can dream… but who can also act. Maybe we need a plan of attach that disrupts actual infrastructures as much as discourses?

        Like

      • You hit the nerve center: What if we are already in a simulated universe? Of course this notion is not new, Baudrillard and even certain physicists have used this model. Yet, the eerie thing is that ancient mythologies of repetition (karma in Hindu, transmigration in Kabbalah, etc., Gnostic third-body, etc. ) have attested to the model and pattern. Our own mythos of the cyberspace upload model is another of this strange outgrowths of metaphysical, religious, and now secularized thought-forms. It’s all part of a ill-defined reality that probably has nothing to do with any of our models, and much more to tell about our own brain and its processes.

        Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! Yea, I need to read this!

      I had to laugh out loud when I read this: “I believe that our fascination with AI is actually a projected fascination with ourselves. A sort of technological narcissism. One of the reasons that the next generation of artificial intelligence solutions excites me is because I think it will lead to a much better understanding of our own intelligence.”

      Exactly… due to ‘medial neglect’ we’ve always been technological narcissists: it is the natural in us. Bound to our brain’s natural grooves we can only think in its cued differentials.

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      • The suite of biological capacities generating our cognitive simulacra doesn’t require integration (homuncularity) to recursively self-objectify and conjure desire-tinged motivations and interests. Obviously so. It just depends on what we want to make of that strange bundle we call the human, and if we are capable of designing/resisting for its continuance.

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      • Of course humanity will co-exist for some time, maybe even hundreds of years with machinic intelligences. I doubt that will change (even if the hype artists continue to fill the mediascape with horror shows). What’s more at stake is our conceptions of the ‘human’, of whether the older liberal subject and the humanist systems of representation will continue. My bet is no… we’ve been undermining them for far too long, with all the metaphysical baggage, the knock-about linguistic turn, the deconstruction of presence/absence… all the Romantic appeal to Hegel/Marx dialectic, Lacanian lack, will go the way of the dinosaur… only the fossils of that worldview and culture will remain. What will replace it? That’s the sight of all this exploration and experimentation in diagrammatic and conceptual thought at hand… such is the work of R. Scott Bakker, David Roden, and so many others of late into the Crash Space and Dark Phenonmenological realms… the resurgence in libidinal materialism, the noumenal realms with fangs, etc. An opening out of the cage of ‘Being’, and into the open chaosmosis of ‘Process’. What mutations in concept and diagram will come about? Who knows? We probe the extremes to see what is happening at the edges of thought. That is all.

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