The overarching theme of these stories is about the perception of reality and the descent into madness as the characters become more aware of the nature of that reality.
—Intro to The King in Yellow and Other Stories: Tales of the Carcosa Mythos
The human project was and is a metaphysical mystification, a metafictional project that has for two thousand years run its course under the rubric of ‘humanism’ and is now in ultimate decline and decadence. The apocalypse of the human is truly the simple revelation of this fatal strategy.
Here, however, lies the task of any philosophical thought: to go to the limit of hypotheses and processes, even if they are catastrophic. The only justification for thinking and writing is that it accelerates these terminal processes.
—Jean Baudrillard, The Vital Illusion
For Jean Baudrillard the sociological imagination was a mute subject, dead on arrival so to speak. In fact society itself in his later works is already vanishing, disappearing of its own accord because of a simple truth: reality itself had been murdered. In fact, toward the end, Baudrillard himself no longer pursued ‘the Real’. Instead he would speak of Integral Reality, of a realm in which the human and humans had dispersed themselves through a fatal strategy of the kind that was already immanent in the very origins of their technicity.
Gilbert Simondon in an essay on technicity would describe the moment when humans entered into this fatal strategy:
The primitive reticulation of the magical world is thus the source of opposing objectivation and subjectivation; at the moment of rupture of the initial structuration, the fact that the figure detaches itself from the ground is translated by another detachment: figure and ground detach themselves from their concrete adherence to the universe and follow opposite paths; the figure fragments itself, while the qualities and forces of the ground universalize themselves: this parceling out and this universalization are, for the figure, ways of becoming an abstract figure, and for the ground, a unique abstract ground.1
This fragmentation, this process of abstraction, of cutting away and reduplication of the ground/figure – a movement at once of universalization and of its duplicitous fragmentation begins the process of technicity. Simondon would describe this process saying that technicity is one of the two fundamental phases of the mode of existence of the whole constituted by man and the world. “By phase, we mean not a temporal moment replaced by another, but an aspect that results from a splitting in two of being and in opposition to another aspect; this sense of the word phase is inspired by the notion of a phase ratio in physics; one cannot conceive of a phase except in relation to another or to several other phases; in a system of phases there is a relation of equilibrium and of reciprocal tensions; it is the actual system of all phases taken together that is the complete reality, not each phase in itself; a phase is only a phase in relation to others, from which it distinguishes itself in a manner that is totally independent of the notions of genus and species.” (ibid.)
In this sense of phases and transitions one can read the hyperbolic statement’s of Nietzsche’s Zarathustra within this context: “Man is something that shall be overcome. Man is a rope, tied between beast and overman – a rope over an abyss. What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not an end.” ― Friedrich Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra
The various phases through which this becoming human has passed are under a new phase shift, one that presents us with a horizon of thought beyond which we can no longer understand the human as ‘human’; instead, we are becoming post-human in the sense defined by David Roden in his Posthuman Life: the conceptualization the posthuman here is in terms of agential independence – or disconnection. Roughly, an agent is posthuman if it can act outside of the “Wide Human” – the system of institutions, cultures, and techniques which reciprocally depend on us biological (“narrow”) humans (Roden 2012; Roden 2014: 109-113). It’s this stepping outside the humanistic worldview, a phase that has bounded us to a two-thousand or more year cycle of thought and affective relations (the metaphysics of the human, Being and Becoming, etc.) that is both in closure and transitioning into another phase – maybe, even the end phase of the human project as we’ve come to know it.
At the heart of the Weird Tale (think of H.P. Lovecraft!) is this keen sense of contact between incommensurable worlds. The notion that one comes up against something that one can neither explain (Explanandum and Explanans) or interpret (reduce to human meaning). As Hempel and Oppenheim would explain it: “It may be said… that an explanation is not fully adequate unless its explanans, if taken account of in time, could have served as a basis for predicting the phenomenon under consideration…. It is this potential predictive force which gives scientific explanation its importance: Only to the extent that we are able to explain empirical facts can we attain the major objective of scientific research, namely not merely to record the phenomena of our experience, but to learn from them, by basing upon them theoretical generalizations which enable us to anticipate new occurrences and to control, at least to some extent, the changes in our environment”.2
It’s in this sense that we are losing control over our reality systems, our sciences are hedging their bets, and the predictive force of the sciences are coming up against the incommensurable. Over and over I’ve related this to R. Scott Bakker’s notion of ‘medial neglect’: the notion that our brains through a long emergence in the evolutionary process were fitted (adapted) to the natural environment for purposes of survival and propagation. But that with the emergence of agricultural civilization our submergence in the natural world was short-circuited, and we began a process of abstraction – a cutting away from our natural environmental constraints through a process of artificial construction of abstract environments. In our latest phase we’ve displaced the natural for the artificial to the point we are entering what Scott terms a ‘crash space’ beyond which our human modes of explanda and meaning are forever lost and cannot be bridged, ever. This will lead David Roden to contemplate our posthuman future:
We imagine posthumans as humans made superhumanly intelligent or resilient by future advances in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology and cognitive science. Many argue that these enhanced people might live better lives; others fear that tinkering with our nature will undermine our sense of our own humanity.3
As Scott in his postscript to the explication of crash space will tell us “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. (Bakker, p. 21)”
Over millennia we developed both mental and physical prosthesis, tools or heuristics that would help us technify our environment. In many ways this goes back to the magical rupture that brought about this splitting and phasing of the human across the temporal spectrum. As Simondon reminds us,
We suppose that technicity results from a phase shift of a unique, central, and original mode of being in the world: the magical mode; the phase that balances out technicity is the religious mode of being. Aesthetic thought appears at the neutral point, between technics and religion, at the moment of the splitting of the primitive magical unity: it is not a phase, but rather a permanent reminder of the rupture of unity of the magical mode of being, as well as a reminder of the search for its future unity. (ibid.)
The British science fiction writer Arthur C. Clarke formulated three adages that are known as Clarke’s three laws, of which the third law is the best known and most widely cited:
- When a distinguished but elderly scientist states that something is possible, he is almost certainly right. When he states that something is impossible, he is very probably wrong.
- The only way of discovering the limits of the possible is to venture a little way past them into the impossible.
- Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic.
It may be that Simondon’s notion that in a time to come we will once again phase shift into a magical mode of being in the world is arriving, but not as expected. In Clark’s sense of technology being “indistinguishable from magic,” we may be merging with the Integral reality of magical fusion of technology and the human. For Simondon scientific knowledge becomes in this phase a “mediation between technics and religion” (ibid.). We’ve become used to the notion of the collapse of meaning and value in the human context, something we’ve termed after Nietzsche nihilism. In the previous generation this collapse would center on human language or better known as ‘the linguistic turn’ – a phase in which the linguistic signs and signifiers that have been so well adapted to the natural world environment suddenly became a problem. This interlude would push the limits of fragmentation and the abstraction process of the current human project to its breaking point. The severing of sign and its referent would end in a realm of total undecidability, a realm in which humans could no longer agree or come together in a consensus about reality; either in its scientific descriptive form, or through aesthetic form. We are now bereft of even the bare minimum of the Real.
From the Enlightenment to now Western Civilization sought to democratize reality, to impose its universalist discourse on reality (i.e., scientific knowledge) onto all remaining cultures of the planet. Because of this tensions and wars broke out between the globalists of this Universal Enlightenment and other cultures that would not accept its premises as their own. We are living through this problematique at this time so that little or no information and analysis on its outcome is available. One might say that a great civil war for reality or the ‘Real’ is taking place across the planet. A war that will in the coming years decide the very fate of the human and the environment upon which it depends.
That the technicity of objects appears as one of two phases of man’s relation with the world engendered by the splitting of the primitive magical unity (Simondon). That there is both “something transitory in technicity, which itself splits into theory and praxis and participates in the subsequent genesis of practical and theoretical thought,” and that “there is something definitive in the opposition of technicity to religiosity, for one can think that man’s primitive way of being in the world (magic) can inexhaustibly furnish an indefinite number of successive contributions capable of splitting into a technical phase and a religious phase; in this way, even though there is effectively a succession in genesis, the successive stages of different geneses are simultaneous within culture, and there exist relations and interactions not only between simultaneous phases, but also between successive stages; not only can technics encounter religion and aesthetic thought, but also science and ethics.” (Simondon)
In this sense we are moving into a phase in which non-representational thought (i.e., diagrammatic thought – Deleuze/Guattari) is bringing the ground/figure back into unity, enforcing the reevaluation of our mediations between technics and religion. In the ancient parlance of Latin the notion of religion (relegare) brought forward the relations between humans and the Outside (gods, unknown, etc.). Etymologically it entailed a binding, a bond between the human and the Outside, an obligation on the part of humans and the aporia of this external ground to form an allegiance or alliance between the them in an intensive interplay of thought and praxis. Because of the machinery of institutionalized systems that would reduce this figure/ground to dogma within the monotheistic frameworks over the past two-thousand years a new phase was instigated during the so called Enlightenment. The Secular Age would cut itself away from the deep seated dogmas and institutions that had forced the figure/ground into a procrustean bed of theory, ritual, and dogma.
Many have termed this phase the Age of Suspicion. A process of demythologization and abstraction from the bindings and obligations to the great institutions of Western Civilization would open a door onto a new science and ethics of the human. This would of course lead to many discoveries as well as dead ends, and yet, it would serve the purpose of decomposing the procrustean bed of dogmas that had covered over the original unity and phases of the continuing human project. It’s this boundary phase, or phase transition between the recent representational construct of the human in which the mirror phase of subject/object became central that is now disappearing. As Baudrillard would term it we are moving into the ecstasy of communication, a world in which the mirror has vanished, and in “place of the transcendence of mirror and scene, there is a non-reflecting surface, an immanent surface where operations unfold – the smooth operational surface of communication” (The Ecstasy of Communication, p. 127).
What Baudrillard would describe in that essay as the miniaturization of “time, bodies, pleasures” is here. Already our mobile devices control our behaviours and our minds, frame our interactions and mediations, exact the algorithmic intensities of our desires and mesh us with the very technologies of communication that are our reality now. The boundaries between public/private spaces has disappeared leaving us stranded in a no-man’s zone of circulation and consumption 24/7 telecommerce. As our visual queues become more and more immersed in 3D coordination of either extrinsic or intrinsic devices adapted to the smart architectures of the artificial cities of the future being showcased around the world in the Neoliberal densified and segmented world we shall all become fractionated or fractalized into time-scapes and securified zones of a new hierarchical Mechanosphere. The reemergence of the magical modes of existence, the unity of technicity and religion will be redefined not in animistic terms, but rather in hyperreal terms of Integral Reality in which technology and religion disappear into the very virtual enactments of our daily lives in an immersive environment of artificial intermediation.
As Baudrillard would remark there “is in effect a state of fascination and vertigo to this obscene delirium of communication” (ibid., 132). Our contemporary culture is phase shifting into the new unity of technology and religion, a magical mode that as Deleuze/Guattari defined it is the schizo matrix of a schizophrenizing process. Baudrillard for his part would describe it as a game of reality construction that is cutting us loose from the previous representational matrix of “scene, mirror, challenge, and duality”; while at the same time shifting us into a realm of “pure fascination, aleatory and psychotropic” (132). The very categories of the Kantian mind are being elided and new perceptions and epistemic systems formed by mutant processes that are as yet ill-defined and even less known or elaborated. With the recent advent of the neurosciences and our current understanding of neuroplasticity we are realizing that the very structures of perception and pleasure are being redefined, revised, and entering a phase shift of mutant selective and artificial adaptation as we merge with our technologies and optimize intelligence (i.e., Superintelligence).
New metafictional systems of selective artificial adaptation such as the Transhumanist movement are elaborating new mythologies of technology, magic, and the sciences in experimental venues that may or may not pan out. With the rise of 3D printing and DIY biogenetics like CRISPR and other technologies the very elaboration, composition, and decomposition of the physical structures not only of our brain but of our bodies is in the offing. With every thing from optimized intelligence to supermen/women being offered at the risk of mutant malformations in biogenetic splicing and transcription, in vitro biogenetic editing, and other manifestations of changes in the genome becoming more and more a possibility. As Yuval Noah Harari said recently in the Guardian,
With rapid improvements in biotechnology and bioengineering, we may reach a point where, for the first time in history, it becomes possible to translate economic inequality into biological inequality. Biotechnology will soon make it possible to engineer bodies and brains, and to upgrade our physical and cognitive abilities. However, such treatments are likely to be expensive, and available only to the upper crust of society. Humankind might consequently split into biological castes.
… Consequently, instead of globalisation resulting in prosperity and freedom for all, it might actually result in speciation: the divergence of humankind into different biological castes or even different species. Globalisation will unite the world on a vertical axis and abolish national differences, but it will simultaneously divide humanity on a horizontal axis.
Our whole pact with the Real is being demolished in a generation. As Baudrillard tells it what characterizes our “loss of the real, the light years of estrangement from the real, the pathos of distance and radical separation” is a new “absolute proximity, the total instantaneity of things, the feeling of no defense, no retreat” (133). Now comes the apocalypse, the “end of interiority and intimacy, the overexposure and transparence of the world” which traverses us without obstacle. We can no longer produce the limits of our own being, can no longer play or stage ourselves in the mirror of representational expression. We are all “pure screen,” switching centers for the elaboration of a magical universe of technicity.
- Simondon, Gilbert. The Genesis of Technicity. e-flux journal #82 – May 2017
- Hempel CG, Oppenheim P (1948). “Studies in the Logic of Explanation”. Philosophy of Science. XV: 135–175.
- Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (p. i). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.