The Posthuman Disconnection

The battle between myth and reason begins in an understanding of techné – art, skill, rhetoric, and memory, etc., as opposed to Plato’s early digitalization (binarization), and cutting of the ties between techné and Form. For Plato’s war against the Sophists was that between mythic transmission based on myth as cultural memory, and that of reason and the external hyperworld of Forms-Ideas. For Plato this fixed external hyperworld of Forms-Ideas acts in much the same fashion as our computational worlds of inscription that we rely on everyday: the computer. For most of us memory is no longer relevant in the sense that we use recall and programmatic search algorithms to instantaneously produce the knowledge we need for a task through selection, analysis, filtering, collating, indexing, etc.. We become enamored of these external devices to do the work for us as if “magically”.

Of course Plato would use terms such as anamnesis against techné to elaborate a metaphysics of reincarnation, soul transmission, et. al. – a new mythology of deep memory recall from the transcendental realm or true world as opposed to our illusionary world of time, etc. In this way Plato opened up a backdoor for myth into philosophy. Aristotle would go another path…

Ancient humans had no such luxury. Anthropologists studying indigenous cultures, as well as philosophers discovering the battle between writing and memory (i.e., Derrida, Stiegler, etc.) agree that ancient humans relied on prodigious feats of memory and mimetic systems to store vast quantities of data about the collective systems of their respective communities in the internal device we know as the brain. Many such as the aborigines of Australia would map this information onto the natural world environment as “songlines”, others such as the ancient Celts of Ireland and Wales mapped memory into Tree systems and mimetic recitation of vast stores of poems as cultural transmission. In Medieval memory systems of Ramon Lull and others a system of “Ars Memorativa” which is also often translated as “art of memory” although its more literal meaning is “Memorative Art” was developed. It is sometimes referred to as mnemotechnics, too.

Against this ancient tradition of mnemotechnics modern thinkers would reverse the place of technics and develop theories of originary technicity in which techné not memory invents-conditions the human. As one turns to contemporary thought we discover Bernard Stiegler who argues that what Heidegger disavows in Being and Time is the technical constitution of temporality. There can be no access to the past, no anticipation of the future without technical objects. Developing the Derridean thought of originary technicity as well as insights in recent paleontology, Stiegler convincingly shows that technical objects constitute the very process of Dasein’s experiencing of time, that is, of remembering and anticipating. Without memory support systems – from a tool to a digitalized archive – there would be no experience of the past and nothing from which to ‘select’ in order to invent the future.

Jacob Hohwy (The Preditive Mind) and Andy Clark (Surfing Uncertainty) in their recent work on the predictive mind-brain take on this whole complex and update it into the auspices of the neurosciences showing just how interesting the evolutionary interactions between brain/environment have produced the intricate rules of prediction in uncertain data. As Hohwy puts it:

“The mind exists in prediction. Our perceptual experience of the world arises in our attempts at predicting our own current sensory input. This notion spreads to attention and agency. Perception, attention, and agency are three different ways of doing the same thing: accounting for sensory input as well as we can from inside the confines of the skull. We are good at this, mostly, but it is a precarious and fragile process because we are hostages to our prior beliefs, our noisy brains, the uncertain sensory deliverances from the world, and to the brain’s urge to rid itself efficiently of prediction error.

The mind is shaped by how we manage these predictive efforts. We continually need to adjust, regulate, and revisit the balances and checks on prediction. The way we do this determines how we bind sensory attributes and how much our preconceptions can penetrate experience; more chronic, systematic failures to manage prediction can tip us into mental illness.

The predictive mind has extreme explanatory reach. Conscious unity, emotion, self, and introspection can all seemingly be brought under the prediction error minimization mechanism that maintains and shapes the mind. With this mechanism we can see ourselves as mere cogs in nature’s causal machinery and also as mental islands set over against the world, which is hidden behind the veil of sensory input.”

Our minds function on several phylogenetically new representational planes, none of which are available to animals. We act in cognitive collectivities, in symbiosis with external memory systems (i.e., books, computers, media, etc.). As we develop new external symbolic configurations and modalities, we reconfigure our own mental architecture in nontrivial ways.

Whereas we once were locked into a brain / environmental system of survival and sex within a natural world, we are more and more beginning to disconnect from this ancient system and re-ontologize ourselves and environment as an artificial world. In this sense the so called Infosphere, the whole informational environment constituted by all informational entities (thus including information agents as well), their properties, interactions, processes, and mutual relations, is becoming our world. It is an environment comparable to, but different from, cyberspace, which is only one of its sub-regions, as it were, since it also includes offline and analogue spaces of information. Maximally, it is a concept that, given an informational ontology, can also be used as synonymous with reality, or Being.1

As the Internet of Things becomes over the next few generations an almost invisible background to everyday life, and the informational entities that exist in these external environments take on more active participation in our lives we will for all intents and purposes live in an animated technological systems. As this happens the intelligent environments of the future will become predictive, become anticipatory and develop almost sentient powers of material intelligence as the power of deep learning algorithms and AGI technologies become embedded into everyday objects surrounding us. As Floridi put it,

The infosphere will not be a virtual environment supported by a genuinely ‘material’ world behind; rather, it will be the world itself that will be increasingly interpreted and understood informationally, as part of the infosphere. At the end of this shift, the infosphere will have moved from being a way to refer to the space of information to being synonymous with Being itself. We are modifying our everyday perspective on the ultimate nature of reality, from a materialist one, in which physical objects and processes play a key role, to an informational one. (10)

We’re turning the world outside-in creating the engines of intelligence that will re-write humanity in ways that cannot be foreseen or known. Such a future will be as David Roden suggests in his “disconnection thesis”: informally, the disconnection thesis proposes that posthumans would be cases of former Wide Humans becoming feral: becoming able to fulfil an independent career as an agent outside the human socio-technical assemblage WH.2 Or as he sums it up:

While the disconnection thesis makes no detailed claims about posthuman lives, it has implications for the complexity and power of posthumans and thus the significance of the differences they could generate. Posthuman entities would need to be powerful relative to WH (Wide Humanity: “Whereas narrow humanity can be identified, if we wish, with the biological species Homo sapiens, wide humanity is a technogenetic construction or “assemblage” with both narrowly human and narrowly nonhuman parts.” (110)) to become existentially independent of it (§ 6.1). The disconnection relation is thus multiply realizable by entities with, conceivably, very disparate natures. But since all these would be powerful enough to become “feral”, the majority of these would be hot cores of influence of a kind humans have not encountered before. (167)

This wilding of the human as “feral” possibility – a moving into something existing outside the current socio-cultural assemblage is realize it as an unknown unknown.  What we do know is that we are in our time, and have been since the Enlightenment and the rise of the Industrial Age, been undergoing modifications that have disconnected us from our roots in Agricultural Civilization. In this sense originary technicity which reverses the old notions that technology is a tool or prosthesis – an extension of the human mind, has now entered the stage in which we’ve become the tools-extensions of technics and technology which is more and more independent and autonomous of the human and rewiring what it means to be human – or, even posthuman. Technics is reinventing or revising human nature as it has been known from Plato to Derrida. We are being re-written, re-programmed, and re-engineered by these new ICT technologies to inhabit the artificial worlds of the Infosphere. How this will proceed is part of the task ahead of us…

 


  1. Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (p. 6). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.
  2. Roden, David. Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (p. 113). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

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