Evgeny Morozov on The Taming of Tech Criticism

Good article by Evgeny Morozov on The Glass Cage: Automation and Us, by Nicholas Carr on The Baffler. As he admits most tech criticism has become conservative rather than radical:

A personal note is in order, since in surveying the shortcomings of thinkers such as Nicholas Carr, I’m also all too mindful of how many of them I’ve shared. For a long time, I’ve considered myself a technology critic. Thus, I must acknowledge defeat as well: contemporary technology criticism in America is an empty, vain, and inevitably conservative undertaking. At best, we are just making careers; at worst, we are just useful idiots.

Since truly radical technology criticism is a no-go zone for anyone seeking a popular audience, all we are left with is debilitating faux radicalism. Some critics do place their focus squarely on technology companies, which gives their work the air of anti-corporate populism and, perhaps, even tacit opposition to the market. This, however, does not magically turn these thinkers into radicals.

In fact, what distinguishes radical critics from their faux-radical counterparts is the lens they use for understanding Silicon Valley: the former group sees such firms as economic actors and situates them in the historical and economic context, while the latter sees them as a cultural force, an aggregation of bad ideas about society and politics. Thus, while the radical critic quickly grasps that reasoning with these companies—as if they were just another reasonable participant in the Habermasian public sphere—is pointless, the faux-radical critic shows no such awareness, penning essay after essay bemoaning their shallowness and hoping that they can eventually become ethical and responsible.


Read more: The Taming of Tech Criticism

Terence W. Deacon: What is missing from theories of information?

Memory-LOSS

Where there is no evolutionary dynamic there is no information in the full sense of the concept. – Terrence W. Deacon

In his essay What is missing from theories of information? Terence W. Deacon tells us:

The “intentional inexistence” of the content of a thought, the imagined significance of a coincidental event, the meaning of a reading from a scientific instrument, the portent of the pattern of tea leaves, and so on, really is something that is not there. In this sense the Cartesian-derived notion that the content of mind is without extension, whereas the brain processes that realize this content do have extension, is at least partly correct. But to say that this absent content is extensionless is not quite right. The non-produced signal (that is, reduced entropy) that is the basis for Shannonian informative capacity, the non-present work that was or was not the basis for the reference of this signal, and the interpretive options (organism trait variations) selected in an evolutionary process, all have a definite negative extension in the sense that something specific and explicit is missing. In other words, like the space within a container, these are absences that are useful because of the way what is present can exemplify them.

Continue reading

Stanislaw Lem: 1964 – Envisioning the InfoSphere

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The emergent “cybernetic – sociotechnical” shell will enclose the civilization under discussion within itself. – Stanislaw Lem, 1964

Stanislaw Lem wrote this in 1964 long before the Internet as we know it existed. He was of course well read in structuralism, cybernetics, and the sciences. Here he envisions what would become the future of the InfoSphere, Internet, and Cyberspace:

Every civilization creates an artificial environment for itself while transforming the surface of its planet, its interior, and its cosmic neighborhood. Yet this process does not cut it off from Nature in any radical way; it only moves it further away from Nature. But the process can be continued so that an “encystment” of a civilization in relation to the whole Universe eventually takes place. Such “encystment,” which could be enacted through a particular application of cybernetics, would facilitate the “tamponing” of excess information and the production of information of an entirely different kind.  A civilization that is experiencing an information crisis and that already has access to feedback from Nature, and to sources of energy that will guarantee its existence for millions of years— while realizing that an “exhaustion of Nature’s information potential” is not possible, whereas continuing with the current strategy may result in a defeat (because the constant march “inside Nature” will eventually lead to the dismantling of science as a result of its hyperspecialization and thus, possibly, to a loss of control over its own homeostasis)— will be able to construct an entirely new type of feedback, from within itself. Producing such “encystment” will involve having to construct “a world within a world,” an autonomous reality that is not directly connected with the material reality of Nature. The emergent “cybernetic–sociotechnical” shell will enclose the civilization under discussion within itself. The latter will continue to exist and grow, but in a way that is not visible to an external observer anymore (especially one in outer space).1


  1. Lem, Stanislaw (2013-03-01). Summa Technologiae (Electronic Mediations) (Kindle Locations 1926-1940). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.

Romancing the Machine: Intelligence, Myth, and the Singularity

“We choose to go to the moon,” the president said. “We choose to go to the moon in this decade and do the other things, not because they are easy, but because they are hard, because that goal will serve to organize and measure the best of our energies and skills, because that challenge is one that we are willing to accept, one we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win, and the others, too.”

I was sitting in front of our first Motorola color television set when President Kennedy spoke to us of going to the moon. After the Manhattan Project to build a nuclear bomb this was the second great project that America used to confront another great power in the race to land on the moon. As I listened to the youtube.com video (see below) I started thinking about a new race going on in our midst: the intelligence race to build the first advanced Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). As you listen to Kennedy think about how one of these days soon we might very well hear another President tell us that we must fund the greatest experiment in the history of human kind: the building of a superior intelligence.

Why? Because if we do not we face certain extinction. Oh sure, such rhetoric of doom and fear has always had a great effect on humans. I’ll imagine him/her trumping us with all the scientific validation about climate change, asteroid impacts, food and resource depletion, etc., but in the end he may pull out the obvious trump card: the idea that a rogue state – maybe North Korea, or Iran, etc. is on the verge of building such a superior machinic intelligence, an AGI. But hold on. It gets better. For the moment an AGI is finally achieved is not the end. No. That is only the beginning, the tip of the ice-berg. What comes next is AI or complete artificial intelligence: superintelligence. And, know one can tell you what that truly means for the human race. Because for the first time in our planetary history we will live alongside something that is superior and alien to our own life form, something that is both unpredictable and unknown: an X Factor.

 

Just think about it. Let it seep down into that quiet three pounds of meat you call a brain. Let it wander around the neurons for a few moments. Then listen to Kennedy’s speech on the romance of the moon, and remember the notion of some future leader who will one day come to you saying other words, promising a great and terrible vision of surpassing intelligence and with it the likely ending of the human species as we have known it:

“We choose to build an Artificial Intelligence,” the president said. “We choose to build it in this decade, not because it is easy, but because it is for our future, our security, because that goal will serve to organize our defenses and the security of the world, because that risk is one that we are willing to accept, one we are not willing to postpone, because of the consequences of rogue states gaining such AI’s, and one which we intend to win at all costs.”


Is it really so far-fetched to believe that we will eventually uncover the principles that make intelligence work and implement them in a machine, just like we have reverse engineered our own versions of the particularly useful features of natural objects, like horses and spinnerets? News flash: the human brain is a natural object.

—Michael Anissimov, MIRI Media Director

 We are all bound by certain cognitive biases. Looking them over I was struck by the conservativism bias: “The tendency to revise one’s belief insufficiently when presented with new evidence.” As we move into the 21st Century we are confronted with what many term convergence technologies: nanotechnology, biotechnology, genetechnology, and AGI. As I was looking over PewResearch’s site which does analysis of many of our most prone belief systems I spotted one on AI, robotics, et. al.:

The vast majority of respondents to the 2014 Future of the Internet canvassing anticipate that robotics and artificial intelligence will permeate wide segments of daily life by 2025, with huge implications for a range of industries such as health care, transport and logistics, customer service, and home maintenance. But even as they are largely consistent in their predictions for the evolution of technology itself, they are deeply divided on how advances in AI and robotics will impact the economic and employment picture over the next decade. (see AI, Robotics, and the Future of Jobs)

 This almost universal acceptance that robotics and AI will be a part of our inevitable future permeates the mythologies of our culture at the moment. Yet, as shows there is a deep divide as to what this means and how it will impact the daily lives of most citizens. Of course the vanguard pundits and intelligent AGI experts hype it up, telling us as Benjamin Goertzel and Steve Omohundro argue AGI, robotics, medical apps, finance, programming, etc. will improve substantially:

…robotize the AGI— put it in a robot body— and whole worlds open up. Take dangerous jobs— mining, sea and space exploration, soldiering, law enforcement, firefighting. Add service jobs— caring for the elderly and children, valets, maids, personal assistants. Robot gardeners, chauffeurs, bodyguards, and personal trainers. Science, medicine, and technology— what human enterprise couldn’t be wildly advanced with teams of tireless and ultimately expendable human-level-intelligent agents working for them around the clock?1

As I read the above I hear no hint of the human workers that will be displaced, put out of jobs, left to their own devices, lost in a world of machines, victims of technological and economic progress. In fact such pundits are only hyping to the elite, the rich, the corporations and governments that will benefit from such things because humans are lazy, inefficient, victims of time and energy, expendable. Seems most humans at this point will be of no use to the elite globalists, so will be put to pasture in some global commons or maybe fed to the machine gods.

Machines will follow a path that mirrors the evolution of humans. Ultimately, however, self-aware, self-improving machines will evolve beyond humans’ ability to control or even understand them.

—Ray Kurzweil, inventor, author, futurist

In the game of life and evolution there are three players at the table: human beings, nature, and machines. I am firmly on the side of nature. But nature, I suspect, is on the side of the machines.

—George Dyson, historian

Kurzweil and Dyson agree that whatever these new beings become, they will not have our interests as a central motif of their ongoing script.  As Goertzel tells Barrat the arrival of human-level intelligent systems would have stunning implications for the world economy. AGI makers will receive immense investment capital to complete and commercialize the technology. The range of products and services intelligent agents of human caliber could provide is mind-boggling. Take white-collar jobs of all kinds— who wouldn’t want smart-as-human teams working around the clock doing things normal flesh-and-blood humans do, but without rest and without error. (Barrat, pp 183-184) Oh, yes, who wouldn’t… one might want to ask all those precarious intellectual laborers that will be out on the street in soup lines with the rest of us that question.

As many of the experts in the report mentioned above relate: about half of these experts (48%) envision a future in which robots and digital agents have displaced significant numbers of both blue- and white-collar workers—with many expressing concern that this will lead to vast increases in income inequality, masses of people who are effectively unemployable, and breakdowns in the social order.

Sounds more like dystopia for the mass, and just another nickelodeon day for the elite oligarchs around the globe. Yet, the other 52% have faith that human ingenuity will create new jobs, industries, and ways to make a living, just as it has been doing since the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Sounds a little optimistic to me. Human ingenuity versus full-blown AI? Sound more like blind-man’s bluff with the deck stacked in favor of the machines. As one researcher Stowe Boyd, lead researcher at GigaOM Research, said of the year 2025 when all this might be in place: What are people for in a world that does not need their labor, and where only a minority are needed to guide the ‘bot-based economy?’ Indeed, one wonders… we know the Romans built the great Circus, gladiatorial combat, great blood-bath entertainment for the bored and out-of-work minions of the Empire. What will the Globalists do?

A sort of half-way house of non-commitment came from Seth Finkelstein, a programmer, consultant and EFF Pioneer of the Electronic Frontier Award winner, who responded, “The technodeterminist-negative view, that automation means jobs loss, end of story, versus the technodeterminist-positive view, that more and better jobs will result, both seem to me to make the error of confusing potential outcomes with inevitability. Thus, a technological advance by itself can either be positive or negative for jobs, depending on the social structure as a whole….this is not a technological consequence; rather it’s a political choice.” 

I love it that one can cop-out by throwing it back into politics, thereby washing one’s hands of the whole problem as if magically saying: “I’m just a technologist, let the politicians worry about jobs. It’s not technology’s fault, there is no determinism on our side of the fence.” Except it is not politicians who supply jobs, its corporations: and, whether technology is determined or not, corporations are: their determined by capital, by their stockholders, by profit margins, etc. So if they decide to replace workers with more efficient players (think AI, robots, multi-agent systems, etc.) they will if it make them money and profits. Politicians can hem and haw all day about it, but will be lacking in answers. So as usual the vast plebian forces of the planet will be thrown back onto their own resources, and for the most part excluded from the enclaves and smart cities of the future. In this scenario humans will become the untouchables, the invisible, the servants of machines or pets; or, worst case scenario: pests to be eliminated.

Yet, there are others like Vernor Vinge who believe all the above may be true, but not for a long while, that we will probably go through a phase when humans are augmented by intelligence devices. He believes this is one of three sure routes to an intelligence explosion in the future, when a device can be attached to your brain that imbues it with additional speed, memory, and intelligence. (Barrat, p. 189) As Barrat tells us our intelligence is broadly enhanced by the mobilization of powerful information technology, for example, our mobile phones, many of which have roughly the computing power of personal computers circa 2000, and a billion times the power per dollar of sixties-era mainframe computers. We humans are mobile, and to be truly relevant, our intelligence enhancements must be mobile. The Internet, and other kinds of knowledge, not the least of which is navigation, gain vast new power and dimension as we are able to take them wherever we go. (Barrat, p. 192)

But even if we have all this data at our braintips it is still data that must be filtered and appraised, evaluated. Data is not information. As Luciano Floridi tells us “we need more and better technologies and techniques to see the small-data patterns, but we need more and better epistemology to sift the valuable ones”.2 As Floridi will explain it what Descartes acknowledged to be an essential sign of intelligence— the capacity to learn from different circumstances, adapt to them, and exploit them to one’s own advantage— would be a priceless feature of any appliance that sought to be more than merely smart. (Floridi, KL 2657) Floridi will put an opposite spin on all the issues around AGI and AI telling us that whatever it ultimately becomes it will not be some singular entity or self-aware being, but will instead be our very environment – what he terms, the InfoSphere: the world is becoming an infosphere increasingly well adapted to ICTs’ (Information and Communications Technologies) limited capacities. In a comparable way, we are adapting the environment to our smart technologies to make sure the latter can interact with it successfully. (Floridi, KL 2661)

For Floridi the environment around us is taking on intelligence, that it will be so ubiquitous and invisible, naturalized that it will be seamless and a part of our very onlife lives. The world itself will be intelligent:

Light AI, smart agents, artificial companions, Semantic Web, or Web 2.0 applications are part of what I have described as a fourth revolution in the long process of reassessing humanity’s fundamental nature and role in the universe. The deepest philosophical issue brought about by ICTs concerns not so much how they extend or empower us, or what they enable us to do, but more profoundly how they lead us to reinterpret who we are and how we should interact with each other. When artificial agents, including artificial companions and software-based smart systems, become commodities as ordinary as cars, we shall accept this new conceptual revolution with much less reluctance. It is humbling, but also exciting. For in view of this important evolution in our self-understanding, and given the sort of ICT-mediated interactions that humans will increasingly enjoy with other agents, whether natural or synthetic, we have the unique opportunity of developing a new ecological approach to the whole of reality. (Floridi, KL 3055-62)

That our conceptions of reality, self, and environment will suddenly take on a whole new meaning is beyond doubt. Everything we’ve been taught for two-thousand years in the humanistic traditions will go bye-bye; or, at least will be treated for the ramblings of early human children fumbling in the dark. At least so goes the neo-information philosophers such as Floridi. He tries to put a neo-liberal spin on it and sponsors an optimistic vision of economic paradises for all, etc. As he says in his conclusion we are constructing an artificial intelligent environment, an infosphere that will be inhabited for millennia of future generations. “We shall be in serious trouble, if we do not take seriously the fact that we are constructing the new physical and intellectual environments that will be inhabited by future generations (Floridi, KL 3954).”  Because of this he tells us we will need to forge a new new alliance between the natural and the artificial. It will require a serious reflection on the human project and a critical review of our current narratives, at the individual, social, and political levels. (Floridi, 3971) 

In some ways I concur with his statement that we need to take a critical view of our current narratives. To me the key is just that. Humans live by narratives, stories, tales, fictions, etc., always have. The modernists wanted grand narratives, while the postmodernists loved micro-narratives. What will our age need? What will help us to understand and to participate in this great adventure ahead in which the natural and artificial suddenly form alliances in ways never before seen from the beginning of human history. From the time of the great agricultural civilizations to the Industrial Age to our own strange fusion of science fiction and fact in a world where superhuman agents might one day walk among us what stories will we tell? What narratives do we need to help us contribute to our future, and to the future hopefully of our species? Will the narratives ultimately be told a thousand years from now by our inhuman alien AI’s to their children of a garden that once existed wherein ancient flesh and blood beings once lived: the beings that once were our creators? Or shall it be a tale of symbiotic relations in which natural and artificial kinds walk hand in hand forging together adventures in exploration of the galaxy and beyond? What tale will it be?

Romance or annihilation? Let’s go back to the bias: “The tendency to revise one’s belief insufficiently when presented with new evidence.” If we listen to the religious wing of transhumanism and the singulatarians, we are presented with a rosy future full of augmentations, wonders, and romance. On the other side we have the dystopians, the pessimists, the curmudgeons who tell us the future of AGI leads to the apocalypse of AI or superintelligence and the demise of the human race as a species. Is their a middle ground. Floridi seems to opt for that middle ground where humans and technologies do not exactly merge nor destroy each other, but instead become symbionts in an ongoing onlife project without boundaries other than those we impose by a shared vision of balance and affiliation between natural and artificial kinds. Either way we do not know for sure what that future holds, but as some propose the future is not some blank slate or mirror but is instead to be constructed. How shall we construct it? Above all: whose future is it anyway? 

As James Barrat will tell us consider DARPA. Without DARPA, computer science and all we gain from it would be at a much more primitive state. AI would lag far behind if it existed at all. But DARPA is a defense agency. Will DARPA be prepared for just how complex and inscrutable AGI will be? Will they anticipate that AGI will have its own drives, beyond the goals with which it is created? Will DARPA’s grantees weaponize advanced AI before they’ve created an ethics policy regarding its use? (Barrat, 189)

My feeling is that even if they had an ethics policy in place would it matter? Once AGI takes off and is self-aware and able to self-improve its capabilities, software, programs, etc. it will as some say become in a very few iterations a full blown AI or superintelligence with as much as a thousand, ten thousand, or beyond intelligence beyond the human. Would ethics matter when confronted with an alien intelligence that is so far beyond our simple three pound limited organic brain that it may not even care or bother to recognize us or communicate. What then?

We might be better off studying some of the posthuman science fiction authors in our future posts (from i09 Essential Posthuman Science Fiction):

  1. Frankenstein, by Mary Shelley
  2. The Time Machine, by H.G. Wells
  3. Slan, by A.E. Van Vogt
  4. Dying Earth, Jack Vance
  5. More Than Human, by Theodore Sturgeon
  6. Slave Ship, Fredrick Pohl
  7. The Ship Who Sang, by Anne McCaffrey
  8. Dune, by Frank Herbert
  9. “The Girl Who Was Plugged In” by James Tiptree Jr.
  10. Aye, And Gomorrah, by Samuel Delany
  11. Uplift Series, by David Brin
  12. Marooned In Realtime, by Vernor Vinge
  13. Beggars In Spain, by Nancy Kress
  14. Permutation City, by Greg Egan
  15. The Bohr Maker, by Linda Nagata
  16. Nanotech Quartet series, by Kathleen Ann Goonan
  17. Patternist series, by Octavia Butler
  18. Blue Light, Walter Mosley
  19. Look to Windward, by Iain M. Banks
  20. Revelation Space series, by Alasdair Reynolds
  21. Blindsight, by Peter Watts
  22. Saturn’s Children, by Charles Stross
  23. Postsingular, by Rudy Rucker
  24. The World Without Us, by Alan Weisman
  25. Natural History, by Justina Robson
  26. Windup Girl, by Paolo Bacigalupi

1. Barrat, James (2013-10-01). Our Final Invention: Artificial Intelligence and the End of the Human Era (pp. 184-185). St. Martin’s Press. Kindle Edition.
2. Floridi, Luciano (2014-06-26). The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is Reshaping Human Reality (Kindle Locations 2422-2423). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 7)

Our role as humans, at least for the time being, is to coax technology along the paths it naturally wants to go. – Kevin Kelly

In a book by that name What technology wants? he’ll elaborate, asking:

So what does technology want? Technology wants what we want— the same long list of merits we crave. When a technology has found its ideal role in the world, it becomes an active agent in increasing the options, choices, and possibilities of others. Our task is to encourage the development of each new invention toward this inherent good, to align it in the same direction that all life is headed. Our choice in the technium— and it is a real and significant choice— is to steer our creations toward those versions, those manifestations, that maximize that technology’s benefits, and to keep it from thwarting itself.1

As you read the above paragraph you notice how Kelley enlivens technology, as if it were alive, vital, had its own will and determination, its own goals. This notion that technology should be coaxed along toward its ‘inherent good’, and that this is our obligation and moral duty to steer (think of steersman: cyber) it and help it along so it doesn’t get frustrated and thwart itself is perilously close to treating technology like a child that needs to be educated, taught what it needs to know, help it become the best it can be, etc. But is technology alive, does it have goals, is it something that has an ‘inherent good’ or moral agenda; and, most of all, is this our task and responsibility to insure technology will get what it wants. Such a discourse shifts the game makes us feel as it technology now has the upper hand, its agenda is more important than ours, etc. What’s Kelley up too, anyway?

Again I take up from my previous post David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. In that post Roden would leave us asking: What is a technology, exactly, and to what extent does technology leave us in a position to prevent, control or modify the way in which a disconnection might occur? If we listened to Kelley we might just discover in helping this agent of the technium – as he terms the symbiotic alliance of humans and technology in our time, that technology wants something we might not quite want for ourselves: the end or humanity. Of course that’s the notion presented in such movies as the Terminator series of films, etc.

What Roden offers instead is a reminder that we may first want to question our role and the role of technology in our lives and futures. He will remind us that in chapter five he provided an theory of accounting which argued that we have a moral interest in making or becoming posthumans since the dated nonexistence of posthumans is the primary source of uncertainty about the value of posthuman life. Now whether we agree or disagree with this is beyond our immediate concern. As he’s shown over and over this is all within the perimeters of a speculative posthumanism that is both undetermined and open to variable accountings. In this chapter he will appraise such actions in the context of our existing technological society.

First thing he’ll question is the work of Jaques Ellul and Martin Heidegger both of whom support to varying degrees the notion that technology is deterministic. The notion that technology asserts a determining effect on society and humans is both instrumentalist and substantive:

Technology is not a neutral instrument but a structure of disclosure that determines how humans are related to things and to one another. If Heidegger is right, we may control individual devices, but our technological mode of being exerts a decisive grip on us: “man does not have control over unconcealment itself, in which at any given time the real shows itself or withdraws” (Heidegger 1978: 299). If this is right, the assumption that humans will determine whether our future is posthuman or not is premature. (Roden, 3476-3480)2

On the other hand Ellul will develop a theory of technique in which the notions of “self-augmentation” is aligned with the autonomy of technology: “the individual represents this abstract tendency, he is permitted to participate in technical creation, which is increasingly independent of him and increasingly linked to its own mathematical law” Ellul quoted (Roden, 3494). Roden on the other hand will argue that a condition of technical autonomy – which Ellul calls “self-augmentation” – is in fact incompatible with autonomy:

Self-augmentation can only operate where techniques do not determine how they are used. Thus substantivists like Ellul and Heidegger are wrong to treat technology as a system that subjects humans to its strictures. (Roden, 3512)

The rest of the chapter Roden will elaborate on this statement with examples from both Ellul and Heidegger. I’ll not go into the details which are mainly to bolster his basic defense of the disconnection thesis being indeterminate and open rather than being determined by technology or technique. The notion that planetary technology is a self-augmenting system then Ellul’s normative technological determinism is lacking in the necessary resilience to explain the various anomalous aspects of existing technological innovations and changes. In fact this chapters main thrust is to align Roden’s argument not over specific notions of technicity etc., but rather to argue for a realist conception of technological rupture and disconnection as compared to the deterministic phenomenological philosophies of Heidegger, Ellul, Verbeek, and Ihde: we should embrace a realist metaphysics of technique in opposition to the phenomenologies of Verbeek and Ihde. Technologies according to this model are abstract, repeatable particulars realized (though never finalized) in ephemeral events (Roden, 3748).

A realist metaphysic will realize that to control a system we also need some way of anticipating what it will do as a result of our attempts to modify it. But given the accounts … [Ellul, Heidegger, Verbeek, Ihde], it is likely that planetary technique is, as Ellul argues, a distinctive causal factor which ineluctably alters the technical fabric of our societies and lives without being controllable in its turn (Roden, 3767). Which will lead us to understand that even with the vast data storage and knowledge based algorithms of data mining, which would provide an almost encyclopedic information of current “technical trends”, this in itself will not be sufficient to identify all future causes of technical change. (Roden, 3773) It also entails a sense of porousness and fuzziness within this abstract and technical space, and as SP has shown technical change could engender posthuman life forms that are functionally autonomous and thus withdraw from any form of human control. (Roden, 3779) Last but not least, any system built to track changes within the various systems would be themselves part of the systems, so that any simulation of the patterns leading to a posthuman rupture would be “qualitatively different” from the one it was originally designed to simulate.

In summary if our planetary system is a SATS (self-augmenting technical system) or assemblage of systems Roden tells us there are grounds to affirm that it is uncontrollable, a decisive mediator of social actions and cultural values, but not a controlling influence (i.e., a deterministic system of technique or control). (Roden, 3794):

On the foregoing hypothesis, the human population is now part of a complex technical system whose long-run qualitative development is out of the hands of the humans within it. This system is, of course, a significant part of W[ide]H[umans]. The fact that the global SATS is out of control doesn’t mean that it, or anything, is in control. There is no finality to the system at all because it is not the kind of thing that can have purposes. So the claim that we belong to a self-augmenting technical system (SATS) should not be confused with the normative technological determinism that we find in Heidegger and Ellul. There is nothing technology wants. (Roden, KL 3797-3802)

In tomorrow’s post we will come to a conclusion, discussing Roden’s “ethics of becoming posthuman”.

1. Kelly, Kevin (2010-10-14). What Technology Wants (Kindle Locations 3943-3944). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 6)

 Given their dated nonexistence, we do not know what it would be like to encounter or be posthuman. This should be the Archimedean pivot for any account of posthuman ethics or politics that is not fooling itself. – David Roden,

Again I take up from my previous post David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. This will be brief post today. Roden will in chapter six qualify and extend his disconnection thesis by a speculative surmise that it implies that whatever posthumans might become we can start with at least one conceptual leap: they will be functional autonomous systems (FAS).

He will test out various causal theories that might inform such a stance: Aristotelian, Kantian, and others. But will conclude that none of them satisfy the requirements set by disconnection thesis in the sense that most of these theories deal with biological as compared to either hybrid or even fully technological systems and adaptations. Against any form of teleological system whether of the Aristotelian or an ASA (autonomous systems approach) which is intrinsically teleological he will opt for a pluralistic ontology of assemblages (which we’ve discussed in the previous post ), because it comports well with a decomposability of assemblages that entails ontological anti-holism.1

He will survey various forms of autonomy: moral and functional; Aristotelian; Darwinian and ecological; modularity and reuse; and, assemblages. Instead of belaboring each type, which is evaluated and rejected or qualified in turn for various reasons: teleology, biologism, etc. We move to the final section that he appropriates aspects useful from the various types of autonomy studied to formulate a workable hypothesis and working theory that is revisable and situated at the limits of what we can expect as a minimal base of conceptuality to discover if and when we meet the posthuman. It ultimately comes down to the indeterminacy and openness of this posthuman future.

His tentative framework will entail a modular and functional autonomous system because the model provided by biological systems suggests that modularity shields such systems from the adverse effects of experimentation while allowing greater opportunities for couplings with other assemblages. Since humans and their technologies are also modular and highly adaptable, a disconnection event would offer extensive scope for anomalous couplings between the relevant assemblages at all scales. (Roden, 3364-3371)

In some ways such an event or rupture between the human and posthuman entailed by disconnection theory relates to both the liminal and the gray areas between assemblages and their horizons. As he will state it a disconnection is best thought of as a singular event produced by an encounter between assemblages. It could present possibilities for becoming-other that should not be conceived as incidental modifications of the natures of the components since their virtual tendencies would be unlocked by an utterly new environment. (Roden, 3371) Further, such a disconnection could be a process over time, rather than one isolated singular event, which leaves the whole notion of posthuman succession undetermined as well as unqualifiable by humans themselves ahead of such an event. Think of the agricultural revolution between the stone age world of hunting and gathering, and new static systems of farming and hording of grains in large assemblages of cities for fortification, etc. This new technology of farming and its related processes were a rupture that took place over thousands of years from stone age through the Neolithic and onward. Some believe that it was this significant event that would in turn help develop other technologies such as writing (temple and grain bookkeeping), math (again taxation, counting), etc. all related to the influx of agriculture and the cities that grew up in their nexus: each an assemblage of various human and technological assemblages plugged in to each other over time.

Which brings in the notion that it is an event, an intensity, rather than an object or thing, which means that the modulation and development of whatever components leading to this process are outside of the scope of traditional metaphysics or theories of subjectivity. (Roden, 3380) As well it is not to be considered an agent nor a transcendental subject in the older metaphysical sense, rather since it is part of processual and mutually interacting set of mobile components that lend themselves to assemblages with an open-textured capacity for anomalous couplings and de-couplings it need not be wed to some essentialist discourse that would reduce its processes to either biological or technological systems. We just do not have enough information. 

In summary he will tell us that if disconnections are intense becomings, becomings without a subject, then this is something we will need to take into account in our ethical and political assessment of the implications of SP. Becoming human may not be best understood as a transition from one identifiable nature to another despite the fact that the conditions of posthumanity can be analysed in terms of the functional roles of entities within and without the Wide Human. Before we can consider the ethics of becoming posthuman more fully, however, we need to think about whether technology can be considered an independent agent of disconnection or whether it is merely an expression of human interests and powers. What is a technology, exactly, and to what extent does technology leave us in a position to prevent, control or modify the way in which a disconnection might occur? (Roden, KL 3388-3394)

We will explore the technological aspect in the next post.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (Kindle Location 2869). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 3)

Continuing where I left off yesterday in my commentary on David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human  we discover in Chapter Two a critique of Critical Posthumanism. He will argue that critical humanism like SP understands that technological, political, social and other factors will evolve to the point that the posthuman will become inevitable, but that in critical posthumanism they conflate both transhuman and SP ideologies and see both as outgrowths of the humanist tradition that tend toward either apocalypse or transcendence. Roden will argue otherwise and provides four basic critiques against the anti-humanist argument, the technogenesis argument, the materiality argument, and the anti-essentialist argument. By doing this he hopes to bring into view the commitment of SP to a minimal, non-transcendental and nonanthropocentric humanism and will help up put bones on its realist commitments (Roden, KL 829).1

Critical posthumanism argues that we are already posthuman, that it is our conceptions of human and posthuman that are becoming changing and that any futuristic scenario will be an extension of the human into its future components. SP will argue on the other hand that the posthuman might be radically different from the human altogether, such that the posthuman would constitute a radical break with our conceptual notions altogether. After a lengthy critique of critical posthumanism tracing its lineage in the deconstructive techniques of Derrida and Hayles he will tell us that in fact SP and Critical posthumanism are complementary, and that a “naturalistic position structurally similar to Derrida’s deconstructive account of subjectivity can be applied to transcendental constraints on posthuman weirdness” (Roden, KL 1037). The point being that a “naturalized deconstruction” of subjectivity widens the portals of posthuman possibility whereas it complicates but does not repudiate human actuality (Roden, 1039). As he sums it up:

I conclude that the anti-humanist argument does not succeed in showing that humans lack the powers of rational agency required by ethical humanist doctrines such as cosmopolitanism. Rather, critical posthumanist accounts of subjectivity and embodiment imply a cyborg-humanism that attributes our cognitive and moral natures as much to our cultural environments (languages, technologies, social institutions) as to our biology. But cyborg humanism is compatible with the speculative posthumanist claim that our wide descendants might exhibit distinctively nonhuman moral powers. (Roden, 1045-1049)

When he adds that little leap to “nonhuman moral powers” it seems to beg the question. That seems to align toward the transhumanist ideology, only that it fantasizes normativity for nonhumans rather than enhanced humans. Why should these inhuman/nonhuman progeny of metal-fleshed cyborgs have any moral dimension whatsoever? Some argue that the moral dimension is tied to affective relations much more than cognitive, so what if these new nonhuman beings are emotionless? What if like many sociopathic and psychopathic humans have no emotional or affective relations at all? What would this entail? Is this just a new metaphysical leap without foundation? Another placating gesture of Idealism, much like the Brandomonian notions of ‘give and take’ normativity that such Promethean philosophers as Reza Negarestani have made recently (here, here, here):

Elaborating humanity according to the self-actualizing space of reasons establishes a discontinuity between man’s anticipation of himself (what he expects himself to become) and the image of man modified according to its functionally autonomous content. It is exactly this discontinuity that characterizes the view of human from the space of reasons as a general catastrophe set in motion by activating the content of humanity whose functional kernel is not just autonomous but also compulsive and transformative.
Reza Negarestani , The Labor of the Inhuman One and Two

The above leads into the next argument: technogenesis. Hayles and Andy Clark will argue that there has been a symbiotic relation between technology and humans from the beginning, and that so far there has been no divergence. SP will argue that that’s not an argument. That just because the fact that the game of self-augmentation is ancient does not imply that the rules cannot change (Roden, KL 1076). Technogenesis dismissal of SP invalidly infers that because technological changes have not monstered us into posthumans thus far, they will not do so in the future (Roden, KL 1087).

Hayles will argue a materiality argument that SP and transhumanists agendas deny material embodiment: the notion that a natural system can be fully replicated by a computational system that emulates its functional architecture or simulates its dynamics. This argument Roden will tell us actually works in favor of SP, not against it. It implies that weird morphologies can spawn weird mentalities. 7 On the other hand, Hayles may be wrong about embodiment and substrate neutrality. Mental properties of things may, for all we know, depend on their computational properties because every other property depends on them as well. To conclude: the materiality argument suggests ways in which posthumans might be very inhuman. (Roden, 1102)

The last argument is based on the anti-essentialist move in that it would locate a property of ‘humaneness’ as unique to humanity and not transferable to a nonhuman entity: this is the notion of an X factor that could never be uploaded/downloaded etc. SP will argue instead that we can be anti-essentialists (if we insist) while being realists for whom the world is profoundly differentiated in a way that owes nothing to the transcendental causality of abstract universals, subjectivity or language.  But if anti-essentialism is consistent with the mind-independent reality of differences – including differences between forms of life – there is no reason to think that it is not compatible with the existence of a human– posthuman difference which subsists independently of our representations of them. (Roden, 1136)

Summing up Roden will tell us:

The anti-essentialist argument just considered presupposes a model of difference that is ill-adapted to the sciences that critical posthumanists cite in favour of their naturalized deconstruction of the human subject. The deconstruction of the humanist subject implied in the anti-humanist dismissal complicates rather than corrodes philosophical humanism – leaving open the possibility of a radical differentiation of the human and the posthuman. The technogenesis argument is just invalid. The materiality argument is based on metaphysical assumptions which, if true, would preclude only some scenarios for posthuman divergence while ramping up the weirdness factor for most others. (Roden, 1142-1147)

Most of this chapter has been a clearing of the ground for Roden, to show that many of the supposed arguments against SP are due to spurious and ill-reasoned confusion over just what we mean by posthumanism. Critical posthumanism in fact seems to reduce SP and transhumanist discourse and conflate them into some erroneous amalgam of ill-defined concepts. The main drift of critical posthumanist deliberations tend toward the older forms of the questionable deconstructionist discourse of Derrida which of late has come under attack from Speculative realists among others.

In the Chapter three Roden will take up the work of Transhumanism which seeks many of the things that SP does, but would align it to a human agenda that constrains and moralizes the codes of posthuman discourse toward human ends. In this chapter he will take up threads from Kant, analytical philosophy, and contemporary thought and its critique. Instead of a blow by blow account I’ll briefly summarize the next chapter. In the first two chapters he argued that the distinctions between SP and transhumanism is that the former position allows that our “wide human descendants” could have minds that are very different from ours and thus be unamenable to broadly humanist values or politics. (Roden, KL 1198) While in chapter three he will ask whether there might be constraints on posthuman weirdness that would restrict any posthuman– human divergence of mind and value. (Roden, 1201) After a detailed investigation into Kant and his progeny Roden will conclude that two of the successors to Kantian transcendental humanism – pragmatism and phenomenology – seem to provide rich and plausible theories of meaning, subjectivity and objectivity which place clear constraints on 1) agency and 2) the relationship – or rather correlation – between mind and world. (Roden, 1711) As he tells us these theories place severe anthropological bounds on posthuman weirdness for, whatever kinds of bodies or minds posthumans may have, they will have to be discursively situated agents practically engaged within a common life-world. In Chapter 4 he will consider this “anthropologically bounded posthumanism” critically and argue for a genuinely posthumanist or post-anthropocentric unbinding of SP. (Roden, 1713)

I’ll hold off on questions, but already I see his need to stay with notions of meaning, subjectivity and objectivity in the Western scientific tradition that seem ill-advised. I’ll wait to see what he means by unbinding SP from this “anthropologically bounded posthumanism”, and hopefully that will clarify and disperse the need for these older concepts that still seem to be tied with the theo-philosophical baggage of western metaphysics.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.

Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Automate Architecture

“The new conquerors, who we’ll call the cyberneticians, do not comprise an organized party — which would have made our work here a lot easier — but rather a diffuse constellation of agents, all driven, possessed, and blinded by the same fable.”

     – Tikkun, The Cybernetic Hypothesis

“Everything is becoming science fiction.”

      – J.G. Ballard

Reading Luciana Parisi’s essay for the acceleration reader one realizes just how technical algorithmic discourse can become. Parisi herself has seen a great shift from the early modes of computational design based on deductive forms of reasoning and digital architectures toward more inductive and material forms in which “physical properties are said to be the motor of simulations” wherein “the local behavior of materials from which complex structures emerge” (405) are becoming central.1 Instead of computational design based on some a priori and passive acceptance of established proofs and truths this inductive path allows for process and adaptation to various data driven material influxions to drive the designs.

This form of computational design is anti-representational to the degree that it is less concerned with contemplation of the artifact and more oriented toward “action, operation, and processing” in which computation is a pragmatic effort that aligns itself with the activities of material process than as some passive datum (405). Instead of a computational model based on the notions of shaping matter, this one is guided by an inducement to follow the movement of matter, tracking it in practical functional terms, which carefully incorporates the movement of material through reflective processes back into the design in an ongoing revisionary feedback-loop.

Ultimately she tells us as a “part of the generic tendency to accelerate automation, the turn to inductive reasoning in computation does not simply aim to instrumentalise or mechanise reason and thus establish the formal condition from which truths can be delivered,  but more explicitly allows matter to become the motor of truth, to become one with the ultimately constitutive of formal reason, of the rules and the patterns that emerge in the automation of space and time” (406). Rather than a concern for the material realm per se she is more interested in the computational and automatic production of its physically induced models, and rather than simulating material behavior in itself, which she sees as a meta-biological form of computation – that continuously scans the properties of matter for data analysis – she is more interested in the process itself, the feed-back loops reinscribed into the system of the computational design as an ongoing open ended process. For her the important thing is not the design itself but rather the type of computational reasoning that is used to delimit the algorithmic processes that drive the process. She asks: What and how is algorithmic reason? The rest of the essay tries to answer that question.

One of the problems she sees within current computational design theory is its investment in a deductive form of materialist idealism in which an almost Parmedian seamless fusion of thought and matter are embraced (407). One of the things we have to admit is that there is a gap or disconnect between what algorithms do and our perception of those processes. The subject as subject needs to be pulled out of the equation: these processes are not for us. In fact they are intrinsic to the scientific image itself not to our common sense or manifest image of their properties and actions. Another thing she tells us we have to face is the notion of incompleteness, the Godel paradox; or, even Turing test of incomputability. The point being that mathematics is incomplete so that no finite set of axioms or rules can provide the perfect computational algorithm to cover all aspects of physical processes or data. There will always be something left out, an excess that cannot be computed into the equation.

What she is saying is that reality is far more complex than any mathematical algorithm we might invent to capture it or represent it can describe in representational terms: reality is for all intents and purposes unrepresentable, yet expressible in actions. All we have are probabilistic or statistical estimations, etc. This is the problem of randomness in computational design. She covers the history of this problem in detail then summarizes the basic quandary about the uncertainty or incomputability in any system (i.e., the issue that computation works within this open-incomplete system in such a way that it continuously updates, revises, and produces new axioms as part of an ongoing project that may be interminable. The outcome of this is the acceptance of a universe that is uncertain, incomplete, complex, and open-ended).

What’s interesting is her conclusions. She admits that computational design is based on the premise that a pragmatics of doing and practicing is needed actually to activate and inscribe the real processes of the world. That’s because the acceleration of automation “perfectly coincides with the technocapitalist illusion that matter can generate infinitesimal variations, an inexhaustible abundance that turns continuously smaller elements into vast resources for the productive eternity of the whole” (417).  She follows Whitehead in affirming the need for speculative form of reason that allows for encounters with finitude and limits, one that accounts for the incomputability of parts that interfere and perturb the mechanisms of the whole (419).

She also follows Whitehead in his suggestion that we cannot bind ourselves to the complete formalism of practical or sufficient reason, because as he argued “the one-to-one relation between mental cogitations and actual entities underestimates the speculative power of reason” (419). Instead of a formal or practical reason Whitehead’s speculative reason is oriented toward “final causation, and not merely by the law of the efficient cause” (420). What this entails is the acceptance of unproven ideas rather than the reliance on strict facts and data. The point being that conceptual prehensions are based on a notion of selection and evaluation that both displaces the fact beyond observation and, also, recognizes it at another level of reality (421). Speculative reason is a rule-based system that adds novelty as one of its criteria of judgment because of the very fact that we do not have access to all the facts of the case, but are bound to a whole that is always in excess of itself thereby in need of the novelty of speculative reason to obviate through indirect access what practical or formal reason cannot do through direct access to the facts of the case.

Yet, Whitehead’s notion of final cause is not to be construed as teleological in the mundane sense but rather as the affirmation of an open-ended and incomplete universe that can never be ultimate tabulated even by speculative reason. As Parisi puts it for “Whitehead speculative reason implies the asymmetrical and non-unified entanglement of efficient and final cause, and must be conceived as a machine of emphasis upon novelty” (422).

At the heart of the new incorporation of speculative reason into computational architectures, and the attendent algorithmic automation of its processes, is the accompaniment of an infinite amount of complexity that is always in an operative and optative mode of continuous update and revisioning that reveals the very axiomatic truths that are immanently enfolded into the systems it expresses in action (423). She admits that technocapitalism has already adjusted from its earlier deductive to this newer inductive mode of speculative reasoning, and that in fact it is working even now on the complexities of data and structure that will lead to the point when “automated algorithms are able to redirect their own final reason in the computational processing of infinite amounts of data” (424). This would be what so many have termed the ‘Singularity’: the moment when computational machines begin to manifest thought that appears to be aware. A post-intentional future when machines become fully aware organized beyond human intentions or affective relations, expressing only the complexity of the world without end.

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Next post: Accelerationism: Ray Brassier as Promethean Philosopher

Previous post: Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Red Stack Attack!

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Notes:

A few observations on the book so far. Maybe this is good for the specialized journals of academia but I wonder how effective it is for a book presenting the basis of a supposed movement – if we can even call it that. Accelerationism is more of a catch word, a notion around which ideas circumambulate from many domains of knowledge. For a while now Hartmut Rosa has dealt with social accelerationism in books like Alienation and Acceleration: Towards a Critical Theory of Late-Modern Temporality, Social Acceleration: A New Theory of Modernity, High-Speed Society: Social Acceleration, Power, and Modernity. Yet, I have not seen mention of her work within the accelerationist discourse along with other authors such as Stefen Breuer, Herfried Munkler, William E. Connolly, William E. Scheuerman, etc. Even in this work there has been no mention of such luminaries as Henry Adams, Georg Simmel, Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, John Dewey, and, even those of the far right like Carl Scmitt. All of these precursors of accelerationism offered aspects of this theme within their own writings. It may be an oversight or maybe an ideological filter applied to their selection; or, even a blanketed preference for certain themes rather than others. Either way, it’s curious to one outside the box so to speak. As an outsider I’ve pondered accelerationism for a while but have wondered if it affords any real traction and staying power in the market of ideas being presented around the philososphere or not? Beyond a few meetings here and there I haven’t seen much real activity going on with this idea or whether it will produce any real results in the political spectrum at all. Time will tell I suppose.

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1. #Accelerate# the accelerationist reader. Editors Robin Mackay & Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014)

Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Cyberlude

“It is ceasing to be a matter of how we think about technics, if only because technics is increasingly thinking about itself. … How would it feel to be smuggled back out of the future in order to subvert its antecedent conditions? To be a cyberguerilla, hidden in human camouflage so advanced that even one’s software was part of the disguise? Exactly like this?” – Nick Land, Circuitries

 

Nick Land would go on to prophesy the future that was already emerging from its cocoon even during those blip days of the 90’s when cyberpunk was lost in the cosmos and the drift toward something beyond postmodernism lit the backfires of Rave nights with the nomad vibe-tribes, or Burning Man spin-offs gone primitive across the global inscapes of capital like so many sorcerors from a foredawn time that never was our past but rather our future influiding us in the everpresent now: bombarding us with noise, technivals, and doofs like fluid metal gatherings of darklight of the shores an inhuman abyss. An Alien Pop-Landian blazing slogans of our hypermodernity and the implosive force of alien lip traces folding around us like so many deadly kisses.

J.G. Ballard would begin a series of novels in the 90’s on the desperation and apathy of those intellectual workers of the Continent and their drift toward psychopathology and a therapy of terror and violence. These blip dogs of capital in their high-strung positions needed a remembrance of affective relations and emotions if only through the gaze of another: an excitement or agitation from the body without organs rather than its actuality, a virtual sample or datamix of emotive call signs in some semiotic paradise known as Hell. In these novels Ballard would begin a few experiments in heuristics, installations of social algorithms for a psychotic therapy:  corporate psychopaths would be freed to explore their hidden potential like clockwork dolls in a technological experiment of minimal proportions: each course of this therapy designed and tapered to their lack of motivation and apathy: aesthetic activation sequences, object-oriented feed back loops on how best to re-engineer their cognitive allocations – a cognitariat for a neo-hedonistic society of the spectacle where voyeurism is the new vampirism and the blood flows freely as the swarming eyes gaze on. Bleeding off the energy of plebians these intellectual workers and their hyperbosses flee the festival of boredom, while traveling on apathy across the slipstream night as reality-tv offers them a glimpse of capital’s dead body:  an accelerating stasis that brings movement to an  interminable void without outlet.

“The high road to thinking no longer passes through a deeping of human cognition, but rather through a becoming inhuman, a migration out into the emerging planetary technosentience resovoir, into ‘dehumanized landscapes…emptied spaces’ where human culture will be dissolved” (256).1 Land was never one to hold back the truth of these endeavors with technics, but like Ballard would affirm their psychopathological intensity and intensification, opening himself to the bladed vibrancy of their base materialism, allowing them to implant their roaming intelligences with the circuitry of his own cyborgian tendencies. Everything was developing on schedule like liquid mercury coming together in some ultimate monstrous smiley face: capital as cyborgian science and technics.

Ballard would once tell Simon Sellars that “to be a human being is quite a role to play. Each of us wakes up in the morning and we inhabit a very dangerous creature capable of brilliance in many ways, but capable also of huge self-destructive episodes. And we live with this dangerous creature every minute we’re awake” (438).2  Land, like Ballard, would look below the stream of everyday life, discover in our pathological morbidities the hidden circuits of another existence, an alien world without us, a space of compositions and decompositional strategies and intelligences that were already at work remaking our realities into configurations beyond our darkest desires. Our standardized approaches to philosophy based in its dark contours of Kant and Hegel, in Judgment rather than the circuits of algorithmic critique outside the law, were irrelevant to this new reality. “Emergent control is not the execution of a plan or policy, but the unmanageable exploration that escapes all authority and obsolesces law” (261). Land cuts against the grain, skews the liminal fractures in philosophical speculation, breaks the mold and enters the terrain of modulated frequency: aligning the algorithms that will begin executing their own programs outside any human law and building a future that was already inherent in the liminal descent of the machine.

Even our understanding of capitalism is push and pull, torn asunder not by force but by the inertia and resistance to those future powers and dispositions that flood in as efluxions and pulsations from the other ends of time. “In its early stages psychoanalysis discovers that the unconscious is an impersonal mechanism and that desire is positive non-representational flow…”, says Land (262-263). Going on to remark that at this stage everything is still situated in the “pre-critical age”, nothing as of yet defined by those little tales of Oedipus, the family romance of who killed who and why, of boys will be boys fucking their mothers and killing their fathers blah blah blah… But this is the point, isn’t it: the great man himself, Freud, the dictator of Enlightenment judgment, bringing those boys back into the habitus of civilization, under the banner of repression, leading them back into “fantasy, representation, and the pathos of inevitable frustration” caught in the trap of the psychoanalyst’s robotized chant: “of course we have to be repressed…” (263).

Wasn’t psychoanalysis capital’s first social engineering program? Were not all these little Oedipalized tales mere algorithms in a system of command and control guided by the authority of both State and the Secular Religion of Reason? Think of Anna Freud controlling all those minions her father left behind with an iron rod, sending them off to New York City to bring the mighty under the tutelage of this new psychopathology of everyday life. Like the last vanguard of a conservative thought, Freud built up his Clausewitz bunkers against future: the swarm of alien intelligences roaming the streets outside his Victorian mind. The imposition of a new order upon the modern bourgeois capitalist mentality became the order of the day in which Freud saw himself as a pure technician of the depleted soul, a scientist imposing the new Law of Oedipus upon the mass psyche to assuage the pain of this terrible truth. But underneath it all lay a problem one that Freud could not resolve: “The unconscious is not an aspirational unity but an operative swarm, a population of ‘preindividual and prepersonal singularities, a pure dispersed and anarchic multiplicity, without unity or totality, and whose elements are welded, pasted together by the real distinction or the very absence of a link” (264), says Land rephrasing the Deleuzeguattarian Anti-Oedipus.

Of course Deleuze and Guattari wrote this in the good old days of rhetorical flourishes, under the light of present need to escape the authority of both Freud and the French Freud, Lacan. It was also before the neurosciences would blow away the unconscious altogether and reveal the truth under the blinding metaphors for what they were: pure poetry of process, the movement of a cyclonic wind tunnel of thought in its lines of flight toward unrevealed truths. Yet, even in the expressionist and non-representational poetry of the day they revealed the truth of the energics of the brain and our complex relations to its mystery. Yet, in this poetry there was a hint of those biomechanical movements that would begin to lead us out of the box of modernity and its rational futurism – the romance of a technology toward total control (Fascism) –  and into the shifting or phase-shifts of a more complex socious. As complexity heated up technology broke through the light barriers and the cybernetic age was set adrift upon the wave of information and communications technologies like some accelerating elevator to the moon. The algorithmic future was imploding within and without us reengineering reality and reontoligizing us in ways we are only beginning to imagine much less cope with: this is the so called – Panic Society. On a walk with Carl Jung by the gates of a cemetery Freud would panic in fright… some say the old guy discovered the truth of thantropics that day. The abyss opened before his feet an he was afraid.

“The circuits get hotter and denser as economics, scientific methodology, neo-evolutionary theory, and AI come together: terrestrial matter programming its own intelligence at impact upon the body without organs – 0. Futural infiltration is stabilizing itself as capital opens schizo-technics with time accelerating into the cybernetic backwash from its flip-over, a racing non-linear countdown to planetary switch” (373). The Singularity is near… or is it?

Of course such a paen to technological determinism should be offset by a neo-Luddite investigation Against the Machine, but that will have to come another day… this is about accelerationism in its cyberdelia version for the moment, rather than the staid grey world of brick and mortar realism…

There are those like Robert Jackson who also offer an alternative to accelerationism Ordinaryism. He will comment on Land’s accelerationism as resuming the Enlightenment’s dictum of ‘dare to know’ – “to pursue moral knowledge under the name of rational universalism, to which the ‘daring’ or ‘cunning’ part isn’t limited to empirically tracking or modelling post-capital infrastructures, nor of resuscitating the modern ethos (quite why Enlightenment thinkers are assumed to be beloved isn’t addressed, but hey ho). Instead, their task consists in expanding human rationality beyond its current epistemic state and limit, to test the critical faculties of human knowledge, and extend them without apologising, without any dint of skepticism. That it really could demonstrate the “best means” of acting in a post-industrial society. It aims to accelerate the human mastery of the concepts as well as the technical infrastructures to which it cohabits. The human ‘we’ must be self-constructed, such that – in their words – we “collect­ively come to grasp our world such that we might change it.”” Yet, for Jackson there is another path, an alternative, as he states it “Ordinaryism is presented as what might be left over once accelerationism has finished in avenging the limits of rational concepts (and the violence in doing so), such that the ordinary always returns, inherently unwelcome, but always ambiguous. That accelerationism will be beset by the mark of tragedy, finitude and disappointment: but in ordinaryism’s eyes, this is to be accepted and resettled. Of course accelerationism, by its own definition, cannot abide disappointment: manifestos are not the best means of articulating disappointments.”

Yet, one wonders if the disappointment is not Land’s but rather the gray scapes of the left that even in their offering of manifestos backstep at every turn incorporating nothing new, but rather telling us that we should just coopt the technics and strategies, the institutions and powers of capital itself and begin to repurpose it to the left’s own teleonomic goals. But is this Marxism? Is this not reform by other means? Is this not a backdoor progressivism that is if anything envious of capital’s success, and sees that its not fair that capital should have all the fun? Oh, of course, I exaggerate, but think on it: why should we assume the corruption of capital within the matrix of The Plan and The Network as part of some Leftwing takeover? Have we truly run out of steam, lost our nerve, run out of real ideas?

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In Part Two: Section Three I’ll open up toward the essays of Tiziana Terranova, Luciana Parisi who deal with the emerging algorithmic culture and technology and its connection to accelerationism; then we’ll move on to Reza Negarestani, Ray Brassier, Benedict Singleton and Patricia Reed; along, with a final gambit or rebuttal from Nick Land in his Teleoplexy: Notes on Acceleration within this same volume.

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Next post: Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Red Stack Attack!

Previous post: Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part Two: Section Two

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1. #Accelerate# the accelerationist reader. Editors Robin Mackay & Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014)
2. J.G. Ballard. Extreme Metaphors: Collected Interviews. Ed. Simon Sellars and Dan O’Hara (Fourth Estate, 2014)

Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part Two: Section Two

The utopian currents of socialism, though they are historically grounded in criticism of the existing social system, can rightly be called utopian insofar as they ignore history …, but not because they reject science.”

     – Guy Debord,  Society of the Spectacle

“…the best Utopias are those that fail the most comprehensively.”

– Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future

But what of the history of the future? – Has anyone written of that territory beyond the moment: of its struggles or its failures; and, what of its successes? Who will mention a nostalgia for the future? Jameson would ask the question of culture: whether culture could be political; that is, whether it could be both critical and subversive, or is it necessarily reappropriated and coopted by the very social system it seeks to escape?1 Daniel Rosenberg and Susan Harding will remark in their Histories of the Future a sense of loss, saying, “our sense of the future is conditioned by a knowledge of, and even a nostalgia for, futures that we have already lost.”2

One remembers the Japenese film Battle Royale (2000) where civilization is in state of chaos, and violence by rebellious teenagers in schools is completely out of control. The government hits back with a new law: every year a school class picked at random will be cast away on a desert island to fight it out among themselves. The rules are simple: it lasts three days, everyone gets water, food and a weapon and only one may survive.

Ghost in the Shell (1995): Set in the year 2029 and following World Wars III and IV, a Japanese-led Asian block dominates world affairs. The alliance maintains its international supremacy through its elite security force whose cybernetically enhanced operatives tackle an array of hi-tech terrorists and other threats to international security. Major Motoko Kusanagi, a cybernetically augmented female agent, has been tracking a virtual entity known as the Puppet Master with her crack squad of security agents.

The Giver (2015): One of the big components of the 1993 novel was that, due to the Sameness of society, there was no war, no hunger, but also, no color. The receptors had been blocked, as it were, and we all saw the world in a plain, black and white. A place where euthanasia became the remedy for almost all infractions.

More and more the future becomes a site where we can dump civilizations dirty little secrets rather than as a place to test the waters of change. While we are taught to believe in the emptiness of the future, or even that no future exists, or that the future is a dead end going no-where, or, even – a catastrophe zone best left in the abyss of its own death knell, we all now live as if the future were already here: saturated by future-consciousness that permeates the spectacle around us like so many electronic toys we seem to busy ourselves with, moment by moment, not knowing that we are not only using them but they are using us back in ways beyond telling. As Rosenberg-Harding relate the “Future” is a placeholder, a placebo, a no-place, but it is also a commonplace that we need to investigate in all its cultural and historical density (9).

Cataclysms – The Future has been Cancelled

Yes, cataclysms: climate change; terminal resource depletion – water and energy shortages; mass starvation; famine; economic collapse; hot and cold wars; austerity and governmental control (Fascism); privatization of welfare and prisons; automation of even the cognitariat itself. All this will be the opening gambit of Williams and Srnicek’s #Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics. A Politics of Fear? or, Concern? Let us listen: “While crisis gathers force and speed, politics withers and retreats. In this paralysis of the political imaginary, the future has been cancelled.” Caput! Finito! Done! The future is no more, or is it?

Antonio Negri – scholar of Spinoza, collaborator along with Michael Hardt on a trilogy of works against the neoliberal order Empire, Multitude: War and Democracy in an Age of Empire, and Commenwealth – will tell us not to be worried about the cataclysmic events coming our way: “There is nothing politico-theological here. Anyone attracted by that should not read this manifesto.” Simple. Effective. To the point. If your looking for the Apocalypse of John be our guest and find a preacher in your local parish, for there will be no one here preaching salvation by God or any other big Other. Instead Negri will hone in on the core truth to be found in this manifesto revealed as ‘the increasing automation in production processes, including the automation of “intellectual labor”‘, which would explain the secular crisis of capitalism (365).3 As Negri explicates it the neoliberal global order is afraid: to continue they had to “block the political potentiality of post-Fordist labor (i.e., the inforgs, cognitariat, intellectual workers). Neither the left nor the right will escape Williams and Srnicek’s derision, both have become a part of the neoliberal machine because both have put an end to any opening toward the future: canceled by the “imposition of a complete paralysis of the political imaginary (366).” Negri states it simply that the manifesto offers us nothing less than the potentiality against power – “biopolitics against biopower“.(366) It is because of this new potentiality that the future has opened up again, says Negri: “the possibility of an emancipatory future radically opposed to the present capitalist dominion” (366).

For Negri the manifesto hinges on the “capacity to liberate the productive forces of cognitive labor” (366), cognitive labor being the new class or precariat within this post-capitalist project. The Fordist era of labor has shifted, there will be no return. For better or worse we are in the midst of an immaterial informational economy in which the cognitariat are workers of knowledge rather that producers of hard commodities, intellectual laborers in a game of tech patents both medical-pharmaceutical and science-tech. Negri tells us that to move forward will take decisive planning and organization: – “planning the struggle comes before planning the production” (369). It’s about unleashing this power of cognitive labor as well as tearing it from its latency (its delays) through education and learning. Next comes – as Negri states it, the most important passage in the manifesto, the notion of the reappropriation of “fixed capital” under its many guises: “productive quantification, economic modeling, big data analysis, and the most abstract cognitive models are all appropriated by worker-subjects…” (370). As for a new Leftist hegemony or techno-social body he tells us: “we have to mature the whole complex of productive potentialities of cognitive labor in order to advance a new hegemony” (371).

Negri commends them for a reinvigorating the Enlightenment project, for their humanist and Promethean proclivities; and even sees a tendency in their work as opening out toward posthuman utopian thought; yet, most of all he approves their movement toward reconstructing the future – one in which we “have the possibility of bringing the Outside in, to breathe a powerful life into the Inside” (372). Yet, I wonder if Negri reads them aright: are they humanists in the old sense? And, what of the Enlightenment: which Enlightenment is he referring too, there being multiple or plural enlightenments? I assume, Negri being a Spinozaean scholar – that he’d be more in tune with the “radical enlightenment” – as Jonathan I. Israel will tells us “the Radical Enlightenment arose and matured in under a century, culminating in the materialistic and atheistic books of La Mettrie and Diderot in the 1740s. These men, dubbed by Diderot the ‘Nouveaux Spinosistes’, wrote works which are in the main a summing up of the philosophical, scientific, and political radicalism of the previous three generations” (6-7).4 Yet, by the time of Kant a more moderate Enlightenment would oust the radicals from there place in the sun, and a compromise with the traditionalist or conservatives would be the ruination of French Revolution in the end: “Insofar as anything did, the coup of Brumaire of the Year VIII (November 1799), and the new Constitution of 13 December 1799, ended the Revolution. …The 1799 Constitution, in short, effectively suspended the Rights of Man, press freedom, and individual liberty, as well as democracy and the primacy of the legislature, wholly transferring power to initiate legislation from the legislature to the executive, that is, the consulate, making Bonaparte not just the central but the all-powerful figure in the government. The Declaration of the Rights of Man was removed from its preambule. (Israel, 694).

After Negri’s initial praise of the manifesto he discovers a flaw: “there is too much determinism in this project, both political and technological” (373). He sees a difficulty in their project, a tendency toward teleological openness which might lead to perverse effects in the end, producing a “bad infinity” if not corrected (373). To correct this tendency he suggests they need to specify in details what the “common” is in any technological assemblage, while at the same time providing an anthropology of production(375). Having been subsumed within a global information economy, one in which production is now defined by the socialization of cognitive work and social knowledge, we must also understand, Negri tells us that informatization being the most valuable form of fixed capital, and automation the cement of capital, we are all slowly being enfolding by “informatics and the information society back into itself” (375). He remarks that this is a weakness within the manifesto in that the cooperative dimension of production (and particularly the production of subjectivities) is underestimated in relation to technological criteria (375).

He argues that in the future the battles will be over the “currency of the common” (i.e., money as a type: gold, bitcoin, dollar, etc.). As he tells it the “communist program for a postcapitalist future should be carried out on this terrain, not only by advancing the proletarian reappropriation of wealth, but by building a hegemonic power – thus working on the ‘common’ that is at the basis of both the highest extraction/abstraction of value from labor and its universal translation into money” (377).

Finally, Negri reminds us that we should remember what the slogan ‘Refusal of labor’ meant: a reduction in automation and labor time “disciplined or controlled by machines”, and an increase in real salaries. Last is the nod toward a favorite theme of Negri: the production of subjectivities, the “agonistic use of passions, and the historical dialectics that opens against capitalist and sovereign command” (378). All in all a favorable review by Negri. I do like that he wants to see in the manifesto more details concerning its mapping of a transformative anthropology of the workers’ bodies (373), one that centers the relation between subject and object as a relation between the “technical composition and the political composition of the proletariat”. As Negri states it in this way the “drift of pluralism into a ‘bad infinity’ can be avoided” (374).

In the end though Negri will remind us that we need a new ‘currency of the common’: that the authors of the manifesto are well aware that money functions as an abstract machine (Deleuzeguattari) – acts as the real measurement of value extracted from society through the real subsumption of the current society by capital (377). Yet, this same process used by capital also points to new forms of resistance and subversion: “the communist program for a postcapitalist future should be carried out on this terrain, not only by advancing the proletarian reappropriation of wealth, but by building a hegemonic power – thus working on ‘the common’ that is at the basis of both the highest extraction/abstraction of value from labor and its universal translation of money” (377).

In a brief Cyberlude we’ll revisit Nick Land’s ‘Circuitries’ essay in the reader before moving on to Tizaianna Terranova and Luciana Parisi who both deal with the new algorithmic worlds of culture and technology and their impact on an accelerationist politics.

Previous post: Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part Two: Section One

Next post: Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Cyberlude

1. Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future (Verso, 2005)
2. Histories of the Future. Editors Daniel Rosenberg and Susan Harding. (Duke University Press, 2005)
3. #Accelerate# the accelerationist reader. Editors Robin Mackay & Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014)
4. Israel, Jonathan I. (2001-02-08). Radical Enlightenment: Philosophy and the Making of Modernity 1650-1750 (pp. 6-7). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part One

“Let us not forget that philosophy is also primate psychology; that our loftiest speculations are merely picking through a minuscule region of the variegated slime encrusting a speck of dust.”
– Nick Land,  Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007

“How does thought think the death of thinking?”
– Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound Enlightenment and Extinction

 

Is there something beyond this meaningless void of internal and external degradation, this nihilistic dance of temporality, this decadent history of ruins named for no other reason than for its sheer unfathomability – late capitalism? Even Janus that Roman god of transitions, beginnings and endings, change and time once broke time’s sway on those bone days opening his gates wide: a gatekeeper holding the keys to the present, past and future, for whom the dog days of war once revealed the future situated on the knife’s edge like some temptation to a virulent annihilation? Even he could not fathom this alien force accelerating toward us from an unbounded future.

Samuel Beckett would bring those imponderables Estragon and Pozzo together to ambush language and silence, noise and sound. Godot like that big Other that seems to forever hold “our future in his hands” never appears, and in fact vanished from the scene long ago; or, like all twisted myths, became the face of our own desires rather than some dark progenitor of our wants and needs. Estragon would remark: “We are all born mad. But some remain so.” But what happens after madness? Do we all wake up and become happy consumers?

We’ve become the precarious migrants of an informational global economy that knows no borders and seeks to control not the material, but rather the immaterial goods of this new native realm, the infosphere, where the virtual elite put on the happy face of hypercynicism and nihilism and migrate right along with the multitude into the dark fiberous worlds of the net like cybernaifs rather than troubadours of some sonic rave or retromania. The corporate mesh begins to weave its dark threads through the tunnels of the net seeking ways of coercing its denizens into the fold of its economic clutches. Unlike the good old days of fictional cyber cowboys – roaming the lightlanes of a virtual or libidinal economy like so many escape artists – in search of the ultimate prize of a hacker’s paradise beyond control, our late capitalist worlds seem less colorful yet more dangerous as both governments and corporations reappropriate in advanced intelligence systems to do their bidding as AI extras in some accelerating retro-reel from the future. These new cognitariats look more like staid corporate climbers rather than the lock-and-load jacket boys of former cyberpunk machine dreams from the likes of Gibson, Sterling, or Cadigan.  We of the minor proletariat, service workers in a lost rodeo, live in a zombieland of stagflation where slow time meets time-famines and the future is a no way exit toward noman’s land rather than expeditionary force of some socialist revolt.

In an age when software code and the inherent algorithms within its confines can datablast trillions of bits in mere seconds,  while “high-frequency trading programmers” construct the next systems for corporate snooping and hacking, shading off millions of trades a millisecond ahead of their human counterparts who blink an eye and lose the market in a financial meltdown of fabricated black swans.1 Our techno-futurists on the Left and Right advance theories of acceleration and speed to set the information age adrift in the simultaneous light of tremendous forces that seem to be imploding toward us out of some inhuman future we neither expected nor imagined in our wildest nightmares. Like infonauts in some mathematical virtual ride we inhabit artificial realms of the infosphere as inforgs – informational organisms – like wind-up toys from some vision of the Jetsons CIRCA. 3232. Those scholars who would bind us to the straightjackets of Marx and Freud, Lacan or Heidegger, or any number of other flavors of the month pomo blather or speculative realism that comes to mind, find themselves in the nostalgic tempo of their philosophical forbears rhythmically wishing that it was all as simple as Marx once said it was: class warfare. But Marx never met a transhumanist, nor his alternate – an AI robot wandering the corporate headquarters of Google, or some Japanese executive’s dreamsuit serving cocktails to the elite oligarchs of a new technocapitalism.

In Spirit and Teeth Nick Land would give us a history of the world left out of your history books. A history that lives below the threshold of all those civilized barbarians that haunt our postmodern landscapes of late capitalism. Instead his history wakens the nightmares, the energies of blood and tribal wisdom, of the mythic underbelly that all those positivist scientists and philosophers tried to escape through their ever so subtle purification of the bittersweet linguistic web of lies that bind us all across the Vulcan codes of our dark arcologies. “The migrant blocks of tension summarized in the Freudian unconscious are much less a matter of Oedipus than of the mongols; of those who feed the world of spirit to their horses as they inundate civilization like a flood. If the unconscious is structured like a language it is only because language has the pattern of a plague.”2 We are the plague, the zombie extinction pact, the apocalyptic core of that inhuman kernel of the code/space that keeps returning from its repressive distance in the living cells of those genetic monstrosities of our becoming futures, our habitations among the feral citizens of some lapidary nightworld.

Like those characters in a J.G. Ballard story or novel we’ve become voyeurs of our own desires rather than participants, devoid of emotion we walk the lightworlds of our cities like imitations of false desires in search of death rather than love. Apathetic, alienated, distrustful of an other’s gaze, we’d rather slit their throats than make love to them. Our children imitate our false desires and literally enact them in all their murderous purity, traveling to those sites of their betrayed memories that seek to obliterate every trace of the horror of their existence, gathering the black metal nightmares from their victims hearts like so many skulls from a head hunter in the Amazonian forests to appease neither their god nor death itself, but rather to show off like so many trophies in honor of their father – the Promethean, whose fire branded them so long ago. Yet, we are wrong, this is not some powerful sky god but rather a god of rats and sewers,  of plagues and toxic amphitheaters, nightspawn of a terrible force that bores its way into civilization from an inhuman future, itself leaving nothing behind but the tattered bloodsheaves of a forgotten order of chaos in its wake.

Yet, there are those of late who have invoked that old liberator of the human animal, Prometheus, at once Titan and Trickster, master of fire and industry the true progenitor of commerce and the dark forethought, the cunning man’s guide to the sun and life’s force in the magic of fire and intelligence. In those great myths from ancient Greece in Hesiod, Homer, Pindar, and Pythagoras we learn that this trickster god survived the great generational battles between the Titans and the Sky Gods their children. Prometheus would trick the great Zeus in a simple but effective match of wits based on the appeal of the eye and stomach, forcing mighty Zeus to choose between two offerings in celebration of his victory over the Titans: one offering encompassed by bones hiding within a delicacy of meats, the other a sumptuous exterior feast of fats hiding within bones. Zeus blinded by his lust for appetitive pleasures chose the latter, while Prometheus reserved the former for his new creation: humanity. Besides giving humans fire he would also teach them the arts of civilization, such as writing, mathematics, agriculture, medicine, science, and commerce.

From Aeschylus down to the Renaissance and on to Goethe, Shelley and his sister, Mary, Prometheus would serve as a figure of light bearing truth and power for humanity. Yet, it would be in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein A Modern Prometheus that the myth would take on its darker hues for an emerging industrial society. In her version of the Promethean mythos it would be science and technology that would supervene rather than mythical gods in the creation of the first artificial life-form, giving us for the first time the central mythos of the technological sublime that would encompass the new era of a mechanized society based on Capitalism. Neither deterministic nor complete the sciences would infiltrate every aspect of modernity from the Enlightenment onward, its combination of technicity and an impersonal objectivity devoid of personal bias would inform the rational views of many; yet, underneath its rational exterior would be those hidden monsters, the humans themselves who wielded these new instruments of power as they dissected and constructed their new worlds of technology for an Industrial Elite.

Throughout history there have been a few misfits, vagabonds, visionaries, and intellectual outsiders who have penetrated to the core of the noumenal and brought back tales of this strange realm. For the most part these creatures have been misplaced, forgotten, castigated, and even pronounced insane by a society that conforms to a notion of security and safety that disallows heretical thought and opinion. From time to time such individuals arise in our midst and perturb the smooth waters of civilized life with their extreme visions of excess, transposing from those impenetrable realms signs and portents of other modes of being that we dare attempt in our self-inflicted slavery to an ideological reality that binds us all in its dark power. Once in a while certain individuals attempt the impossible and in their experiments with reality they discover long lost truths that shatter our conceptions of what it means to be human. What happens after is the need to put such visions to pen and paper, to somehow convey the richness of these felt worlds in words that might if not describe then at least transpose their figural limits through the medium of print.

One such vision came from a particular individual who dared to look chaos in the face and return with a few tattered stories. His name was Nick Land.

Nick Land – Fire and Ice: From Acceleration to Neoreaction

The story goes like this: Earth is captured by a technocapital singularity as renaissance rationalization and oceanic navigation lock into commoditization take-off. Logistically accelerating techno-economic interactivity crumbles social order in auto-sophisticating machine runaway. As markets learn to manufacture intelligence, politics modernizes, upgrades paranoia, and tries to get a grip.3

We shall call this the Myth of Accelerationism. It’s lineage would be sought among economics of Karl Marx, satires of Samuel Butler, cosmist cosmologies of Nikolai Fedorov, dynamo writings of Henry Adams, and the sociology of leisure class Americans in Thorstein Veblen. Yet, it would be in the philosophical and schizo-analytical work of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari Anti-Oedipus, along with its complicit critique and satirization in Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy, we’d discover the Promethean desires revealed most prominently bearing strange signs from the future, machinic dreams and chaosophy cartographies full of diagrams and magical sigils, forcasting chromatic time-famines and massive disruptions of the technospheric worlds fragmenting and merging with ours as neoliberalism became the guiding mythos of the economic death plot guiding our post-modern age. Land would remark in Meltdown parenthetically: “Machinic Synthesis. Deleuzoguattarian schizoanalysis comes from the future.” (KL 6052) These future historians return with news of meltdowns and accelerated heat phases as we move toward the bindu point of some singularity in which “Nothing human makes it out of the near-future.”(KL 6063) We’ll come to these new prophets of the accelerating future soon enough.1

In that Deleuzoguattarian fold Land would discover what he needed when they asked the question Where is the revolutionary path?:

Is there one? – To withdraw from the world market, as Samir Amin advises Third World countries to do, in a curious reversal of the fascist ‘economic solution’? Or might it go in the opposite direction? To go still further, that is, in the movement of the market, of decoding and deterritorialization? For perhaps the flows are not yet deterritorialized enough, not decoded enough, from the viewpoint of a theory and practice of a highly schizophrenic character. Not to withdraw from the process, but to go further, to ‘accelerate the process,’ as Nietzsche put it: in this matter, the truth is that we haven’t seen anything yet.3

As Land would remark on this acceleration of deterritorialization: “Hyper-fluid capital deterritorializing to the planetary level divests the first world of geographic privilege; resulting in Euro-American neo-mercantilist panic reactions, welfare state deterioration, cancerizing enclaves of domestic underdevelopment, political collapse, and the release of cultural toxins that speed-up the process of disintegration in a vicious circle” (KL 6127). Do we see the eternal return as process running its dark Nietzschean core into ever smaller circles of collapsing density, an anti-authoritarian meltdown that Land himself would label by such tags as “cyberian invasion, schizotechnics, K-tactics, bottom-up bacterial warfare, efficient neo-nihilism, voodoo antihumanism, synthetic feminization, rhizomatics, connectionism, Kuang contagion, viral amnesia, micro-insurgency, wintermutation, neotropy, dissipator proliferation, and lesbian vampirism, amongst other designations (frequently pornographic, abusive, or terroristic in nature)” (KL 6130-6134). The Future was never more friendly than this.

Land himself after the explosion of the 90’s, the cyberdelia of a career darkening as late capitalism darkened toward some mythical beast, would renounce his last affiliations with the left’s ‘transcendental miserabilism’, and would bore his way through the shizoscapes and into a new sense of mission, riding the waves of a neoreactionary positing of annihilation toward the neo-liberal Cathedral instead. As Mackay and Brassier tell us “the apparent degeneration of his once scalpel-sharp dissection of the body of capitalism into schizophrenizing and repressive tendencies, may seem to dissolve the complexities of his work into a superlative cosmic version of the familiar neo-liberal narrative according to which ‘there is no alternative’, and the wholesale identification of capital with life, growth, and history”(KL 719-723), but they’d be wrong for Land would rise among the ashes and ruins of his former self and into the neoreactionary pluriverse where he’d find a “time-crisis, manifested through paradox” that (following Anomaly UK) Land would explicate as:

Ultimately, however, if after all these centuries of trying to improve society based on abstract ideas of justice have only made life worse than it would have been under pre-Enlightenment social systems, the time has come to simply give up the whole project and revert to traditional forms whose basis we might not be able to establish rationally, but which have the evidence of history to support them.

This understanding of neoreaction – undoubtedly capturing its predominant sentiment – equates it with a radicalized Burkean conservatism, designed for an age in which almost everything has been lost. Since the progressive destruction of traditional society has been broadly accomplished, hanging on to what remains is no longer enough. It is necessary to go back, beyond the origin of Enlightenment, because Reason has failed the test of history. (Neoreaction for dummies).

But we have to ask the simple question: Did Reason fail us, or did we fail Reason? How can nostalgia for a pre-Enlightenment world begin to assuage the complexities of this market world of late capitalism? What moral drift from the other ends of time will salvage us from this lethal and toxic system that is itself a product of the very pre-Enlightenment traditionalism? Oh, yes, we think we’re progressive but under the hood is the same old conservative smile parading in its hidden lair like old gentrified denizens of a Dicken’s novel. Nostalgia? More like white men in wigs sporting princely ambitions of sovereignty. In the end Land steered his ship to farther shores (literally in this case since he now lives in Shanghai) where he’d sing of the dark enlightenment, where for “hardcore neo-reactionaries, democracy is not merely doomed, it is doom itself. Fleeing it approaches an ultimate imperative. The subterranean current that propels such anti-politics is recognizably Hobbesian, a coherent dark enlightenment, devoid from its beginning of any Rousseauistic enthusiasm for popular expression.”

The dark embers still burn in this Promethean but within another universe of power where like some shamanic infonaut he prognosticates his dithyrambs on urban culture and the xenonomic ramblings for the new hotspurs of the neoreaction. As Mackey and Brassier – speaking of his philosophical divigations will tell us of his older pre-neoreactionary world visions: “…what we retain of Land’s expeditions are diverse and scattered remnants… These are also tools or weapons; arrows that deserve to be taken up again and sharpened further.” (KL 747-749) I’d rather think of Land as an alien psychonaut whose explorations or investigations from the outside in bring tidings from an even more alien future, one where humans have become if anything irrelevant. For Land we live in a transitional space in which time-famines rule the day, where humans are transmigrating by way escape velocities they neither control nor understand while an imploding future accelerates toward them like so many thoughts of death and annihilation.

A Short History of the Future Perfect

Benjamin Noys would be one of the first to rediscover or resuscitate accelerationism, “a term I’ve coined (unless someone out there proposed it w/o my knowledge) to describe the kind of strategy beautifully conveyed here. In a sense it has a fairly impeccable pedigree as one of the “spirits” of Marx, especially the oft-quoted passage from the Manifesto on “all that’s solid melts into air”. He’d go on to say: “this is “an exotic variant of la politique du pire: if capitalism generates its own forces of dissolution then the necessity is to radicalise capitalism itself: the worse the better. We can call these positions accelerationist.” 5 Instead of Deleuze and Guattari, or even Land, Noys would find his version of accelerationism in Brecht and Lyotard. Saying of Lyotard’s Libidinal Economy “the book of accelerationism, puts it: “in the immense and vicious circuit of capitalist exchanges, whether of commodities or ‘services’, it appears that all the modalities of jouissance are possible and that none is ostracized.” 

Yet, for Noys this was all a piece of a mythical cultural complex that grew out of a misguided non-history. Recently he tells us that there is a vacation – in the sense of vacating the building, of accelerationism by those within the camp:

“The rejection of the term “accelerationism” from within accelerationism is a result of it being freighted with modernist and futurist baggage, too associated with the notion of accelerating capitalism, and linked to the toxic politics of, take your pick, fascism or Nick Land’s embrace of the neo-reactionary. The implication is that instead of acceleration we might think in terms of cartography, redesign, cunning, or various other descriptions of retooling and reinvention.6

It appears that accelerationism may have already seen its 15 minutes of fame. For Noys it was always more about the moment, the present moment: “The embrace of the present is the only route to saving the future and the only true exit from our present moment.”(ibid. 2014)  He is “or to be rather vague on how and when they will be repurposed.” (ibid. 2014) Noys himself admits that he’s done with accelerationism as formulated and opts for a return to “the necessity of class struggle emerging out of the negativity of this process of the incorporation (and abandonment) of living labour in capital.” (ibid. 2014) But this is to get ahead of ourselves. Noys leaves off where the others begin.

“Capital has run away from human and natural barriers; human beings have been domesticated: this is their decadence. The revolutionary solution cannot be found in the context of a dialectic of productive forces where the individual would be an element of the contradiction. Present day scientific analyses of capital proclaim a complete disregard for human beings who, for some, are nothing but a residue without consistency. This means that the discourse of science is the discourse of capital, or that science is possible only after the destruction of human beings; it is a discourse on the pathology of the human being. And on this we agree: the human being is dead. The only possibility for another human being to appear is our struggle against our domestication, our emergence from it. Humanism and scientism … are two expressions of the domestication of humanity. All those who nurse the illusion of the decadence of capital revive ancient humanist conceptions or give birth to new scientific myths. They remain impermeable to the revolutionary phenomenon running through our world.” So says Jaques Camatti in ‘The Decline of Humanity’, a work which would turn the tables on its master, Marx, and understand the revolutionary moment as a revolt not against capital in itself but rather against the very product of capitalism: the domesticated animal at its heart, the human as a product of humanism and science; the very truth of an animal as decaying agent of its own self-enslavement and passivity in the face of accelerating forces it neither understands nor could ever master nor tame, but rather is forced to abide by its onslaught like the automatons of some machinic unconscious out of control. It would seem that there is no exit. Capital holds us all in serial thrall. Yet, Camatte would like Kafka’s mole bid us with a truth: “Lying in my heap of Earth I can naturally dream of all sorts of things, even of an understanding with the beast, though I know well enough that no such thing can happen, and at the moment when we see each other, more, at that instant we merely guess at each other’s presence, we shall both blindly bare our claws and teeth, neither of us a second before or after the other, both of us filled with a new and different hunger, even if we should already be gorged to bursting.” One cannot escape the circle one can only radicalize it.

The neoliberal agent is the marker of what Jean Baudrillard would once term the perfect crime, a crime that would go unnoticed by all those sleepers dead and dying within its precincts. For we are those dead, we are the ghosts of humanism and science, the fallen ones, the zombies of capital who wander the streets like sheep seeking hedonistic pleasures to stay ourselves against the disturbances of an eternal night. Baudrillard in his fable of mirrors would tell it: “We dreamed of passing through the looking-glass, but it is the mirror peoples themselves who will burst in upon our world. And ‘this time will not be defeated'” (JB: The Perfect Crime, 150).

The Manifesto Kids: The Future Is No More, Long Live The Future

“Modernity invented the future, but that’s all over. In the current version ‘progressive history’ camouflages phylogenetic death-drive tactics, Kali-wave: logistically accelerating condensation of virtual species extinction. Welcome to the matricide laboratory. You want it so badly it’s a slow scream in your head, deleting itself into bliss.”

     – Nick Land, Fanged Noumena

“A fever, a mutilation, a cruel disappointment, a loss of wealth, a loss of friends, seems at the moment unpaid loss, and unpayable. But the sure years reveal the deep remedial force that underlies all facts.”

     – Ralph Waldo Emerson, Compensation

Instead of asking what accelerationism is we begin by asking: What does accelerationism want? What hides under the mask of accelerationism? Mark Fisher in Terminator vs Avatar begins his essay with a quote from Lyotard which attacks bourgeois intellectuals (of which he cannot be excluded) for inclining toward the proletariat as if they could speak truth to them or offer them a program or alternative beyond what the capitalists have already put into play. Most of all Lyotard reminds those political intellectuals with a truth from the proletariat: “…don’t wait for our spontaneity to rise up in revolt either” (#Accelerationism, 357).

This anti-Leninist notion that social revolution can and should occur spontaneously from below, without the aid or guidance of a vanguard party, and that it cannot and should not be brought about by the actions of individuals or parties who might attempt to foment such a revolution was at the heart of Lenin’s own attack against Rosa Luxemberg and others in What is to be done? Lyotard is of course parodying this whole tradition to make a point of his own: “Let me open a parenthesis of hatred, here, a word will suffice against the great cesspool of consolations called spontaneity and creativity…”.7 Of course he was attacking Cornelius Castoriadis for his installation of spontaneity as creativity: “…we broke with Castoriadis who, rightly bored with reassessing historical, dialectic and diarrhoetic materialism, nevertheless proposed to put in its place the abominable super-male thing of generalized creativity” (Lyotard, 116). Castoriadis for his own part would offer later on his own view of capitalist accelerationism (although not by that name), saying:

Far from having the “freedom” naively presupposed by the apologists of neoliberal ideology, the unchecked consumer is plunged into a world of unbridled conformism and actually ends up thinking and acting in strict accordance with what the institution calls for.  Heteronomy thereby establishes its hegemony in the heart of the  supposed freedom of unlimited consumerism. Moreover, the dominant imaginary signification of unlimited expansion becomes a vortex in which other significations disappear, leading to an overall atrophy of the imagination and a retreat of creativity in all fields (philosophy, art, science, etc.). Insignificance comes to saturate almost everything in a determined world of blind narcissism and hedonism orchestrated by the Eleatic fatalities of neoliberalism.8

In the above we notice the acceleration of consumerism in a void, a void that produces as its product the emptied consumer, the insignificant blank in a commoditized solipsistic circuit of revolving doors going nowhere, a conformity or adaptation to the market rather than the market to the free and creative, autonomous individual. The touted individual has long ago vanished and in his place is the Cipher almost in collusion with Yevgeny Zamyatin’s We: “All ciphers walked in measured rows, by fours, rapturously keeping step. Hundreds and thousands of ciphers, in pale bluish uniforms, with gold badges on their chests, indicating the state-given digits of each male and female.”9 Of course this Maoist sort of conformism in the West is replaced with the conformity of Wal-mart with its standardized duplications of goods and services to the lowest common denominator: cheap. Let’s keep the folk happy: a market populism that allows the consumer freedom at the lowest price, bargain basement specials and a life at the bottom assured for all. The human as cipher, insignificant except as a commoditized product and producer of insignificance: a market scion in a circular economy of expansion and contraction, acceleration and deceleration without end. No longer the affective creature of humanism who supports an autonomous identity and morality, rather a mindless zombie given to narcissistic and hedonistic pulsations at the mercy of the market elite who feed his pleasure zones with instant gratification and incentives.

Lyotard of course would have his own notion of accelerationism. He’d play it off the old industrial worlds of reproduction as “cosmic slow time”, the time of the “seed and its fruit, of the chicken and the egg, of gestation, and of dripping honey”(240). Against this he would offer the immaterial monetization of ‘signs’: “We go crazy in signs: they allow several times, many times, they are accelerators or brakes, just because they are not constrained to (re)production, that is to say to consumption, to nihilism” (240). Instead as he remarks:

Their multiplication issues not from their fertility, from the translation of their face-value into productive commodities, that is, from their investment; this is only a concentration of wealth on one pole of circulation, stolen from the other pole; these are only sweeping movements which exhaust the surfaces. These movements are free of the constraints of all productive consumption; they make possible the dissipation of the surfaces they cross.” (240)

It’s this threshold dissipation into chaos, into complexity beyond the requirements of even surplus value, a value beyond consumption that leads toward an unknown and unknowable future as maximal efficiency of the market economy itself that is accelerationism. As Lyotard suggests and questions: “Isn’t it also a call loan, a speculation without intention, an incandescence of the surfaces swept away with no concern either to reproduce them or to augment them, a jealous zeal and not a conquest of power? Certainly. The utterly immortal duplicity and dissimulation of all capitalization?” (241)

Against this backdrop Mark Fisher will revisit what Lyotard considered his “evil book”. As Fisher will point out Libidinal Economy along with Deleuze and Guattari’s Anti-Oedipus, Luci Irigaray’s Speculum: Of the Other Woman, and Baudrillard’s Symbolic Exchange and Death would all inhabit that space of resistance that seemed outside the prevalent channels of Marxist thought in its age. Each in their own way would renew a Nietzschean heritage marked out by Freud and/or against his influx and mediation of the Enlightenment project and its aftermath.

Fisher will offer his own quotes from Deleuze and Guattari and Lyotard respectively for precursors of accelerationism. He will also respectfully disincline himself from the Rousseauist primitivism of Hollywood Marxism and its kitsch gaudiness and iconic Avatar dreams of a return to some primal tribalism within the womb of a protective natural world, a paradise of guardian trees and endless days of play amid the Gaian lapidary of emerald forests and rivers of pure bliss. Instead Fisher plays the circuit board of the future, an accelerationism that harbors no way home only a way forward under the sign of libido, but not just any formulation will do rather “politics as a means to greater libidinal intensification… it’s a question of instrumentalising libido for political purposes” (#Acclerationism, 340).

This transcription of Nietzsche’s ‘Will-to-power’ as force, as libido or base materialism, an intensified and driven if not to say thanatropic movement operative within Lyotard, Grant, Land would lead to that enfolding from progressivist tendencies toward a reactionary intensification of those pulsations that Fisher describes as “telegraphic tech-punk provocations replacing the conspicuous cogitation of so much post-structuralist continentalism, with its implication that the more laborious and agonized the writing the more thought must be going on” (#Accelerationism, 341).

As Fisher points out Land in his attack on the academic and entrenched left “took earnestly … the Spinozist-Nietzschean-Marxist injunction that a theory should not be taken seriously if it remains at the level of representation” (#Accelerationism, 342). Fisher that asks: What is Land’s philosophy all about? In a nutshell it’s an inverted version of the historical materialist dialectic: “Capital will not be ultimately unmasked as exploited labor power; rather, humans are the meat puppets of Capital, their identities and self-understanding are simulations that can and will be ultimately sloughed off” (#Accelerationism, 342). So for Fisher Land’s cyber-heuristics, his experimentalism or hypermodernism moves us toward that information processing or modeling trajectory in which the end game is none other than the inhuman core of thought itself. Fisher will give us a litany of cyberpunk lit 101 from music to films, all informing an anticipated influx of the machinic future as dystopian paradise.

Then he will ask: What does all this have to do with the Left? On the one hand he tells us that Land is the sort of antagonist the Left needs, but on the other he criticizes Land for his misprisioning of his masters, Deleuze and Guattari’s understanding of capitalism as a collapse into schizophrenic excess, rather what it truly masks is just the opposite: an anti-market, a realm where the promise a utopian speed of thought is inversely shown to be the controlled and constrained speed of business, and the touted innovation and creativity of the market economy hides instead its essential inertia and stasis (#Accelerationism, 345).

Ultimately, Fisher tells us its high time to leave the “logics of failed revolts, and to think ahead again” (346). What we need now more than ever he tells us is a combination of anti-capitalist strategies – of which, accelerationism is but a unique trajectory that can function as a “terroristic” core within Marxism against the stagflationism of current capitalist pressures: “What we are not talking about here is the kind of intensification of exploitation that a kneejerk socialist humanism might imagine when the specter of accelerationism is invoked” (345). Against any form of “cynicism and lawlessness” (Marx) we need to situate ourselves in the midst of Good and Evil that is this system, to radicalize it and intensify its pressure points and seek those gaps in its armor that will lead us toward a future that only we can construct out of the ruins of this present moment.

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Part Two will continue…. here we’ll revisit Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek’s Manifesto for an Accelrationist Politics along with many other Prometheans in this new pantheon of philosophical speculation…

Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part Two: Section One is up now…

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1. Lewis, Michael (2014-03-31). Flash Boys: A Wall Street Revolt (p. 2). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.
2. #Accelerate# the accelerationist reader. Editors Robin Mackay & Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014)
3. G. Deleuze and F. Guattari, Anti-Oedipus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia, tr. R. Hurley, M. Seem, H.R. Lane (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984), 239-40.
4. Land, Nick (2013-07-01). Fanged Noumena: Collected Writings 1987 – 2007 (Kindle Locations 2504-2506). Urbanomic/Sequence Press. Kindle Edition.
5. Benjamin Noys. Accelerationism. (No Useless Leniency blog, 2008)
6. Benjamin Noys.  Abandoning Accelerationism? Two Exits.(Accelerationism Workshop, Centre for the Study of Democracy at the University of Westminster (23 May 2014)
7. Jean Francois Lyotard. Libidinal Economy. (Indiana University Press, 1993)
8. Postscript on Insignificance: Dialogues with Cornelius Castoriadis (ed./trans. Gariel Rockhill and John V. Garner). Continuum, London 2011.
9. Zamyatin, Yevgeny (2007-12-18). We (Modern Library Classics) (pp. 6-7). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

 

 

Reza Negarestani: Navigating the Game of Truths

By entering the game of truths – that is, making sense of what is true and making it true – and approaching it as a rule-based game of navigation, philosophy opens up a new evolutionary vista for the transformation of the mind. 

– Reza Negarestani, Navigate With Extreme Prejudice 

Reza Negarestani, an Iranian philosopher who has contributed extensively to journals and anthologies and lectured at numerous international universities and institutes, has begun a new philosophical project that is focused on rationalist universalism beginning with the evolution of the modern systems of knowledge and advancing toward contemporary philosophies of rationalism, their procedures, as well as their investment in new forms of normativity and epistemological control mechanisms. He recently hooked up with Guerino Mazzola, a Swiss mathematician, musicologist, jazz pianist as well as author and philosopher. He is  qualified as a professor of mathematics (1980) and of computational science (2003) at the University of Zürich.

On the Urbanomic blog I noticed a new entry: Deracinating Effect – Close Encounters of the Fourth Kind with Reason (see here). It appears that Reza and Guerino took part in a recent event in March name The Glass Bead Game after the novel by that name by Herman Hesse. It was organized by Glass Bead (Fabien Giraud, Jeremy Lecomte, Vincent Normand, Ida Soulard, Inigo Wilkins) and Composing Differences (curated by Virginie Bobin). Reza and Guerino both presented talks on philosophy, mathematics, games and the paradigm of navigation.

I’ve been interested of late in Reza’s shift in tone and effect, his philosophical framework seems to in the past few years undergone a mind-shift toward what he terms the ‘Paradigm of Navigation’. Doing a little research for this post I came upon his recent entry for the Speculations on Anonymous Materials Symposium paper transcribed by Radman Vrbanek Arhitekti from the youtube.com video. In this essay he aligns himself with the history of systems history, which grew out of a very rigid approach to engineering in the 19th Century but has over the past 30 years unfolded in a new and completely different epistemology of matter and its intelligibility.

What he discovered different in these newer systems theories is that against an architectural or engineering approach based on input/outputs these new systems theorists had moved from an essentialist view of system dynamics toward a functionalist approach: the notion that its the behavior and the functional integration underlying that behavior, or what these theorists termed the ‘functional organization’ of the system that matter. He tells us this is important, saying:

This becomes important because functions… systematic or technical understanding of function is that functions are abstractly a realizable entities meaning that they can be abstracted from the content of their constitution. So a functional organization can emerge, it can be manipulated, it can get automated and it can actually gain a form of autonomy that developed not because of the constitution in which it was embedded but in spite of it. Hence, functions allows for an understanding of the system that is no longer tethered or chained to an idea of constitution.

At the heart of this new form of systems theory is the use of heuristics. It entails a move away from analytics and toward synthetics. The sense is that heuristics are not analytical devices, but rather are synthetic operators. As he states it:

They treat material as a problem. But they don’t break this problem into pieces. They transform this problem into new problem. And this is what the preservation of invariance is. Once you transform a problem by way of heuristics to a new problem, you basically eliminate so much of the fog around this problem that initially didn’t allow us to solve it.

In this sense one sees an almost Deleuzean turn in systems theory, for it was Deleuze who believed philosophy was about problems to be solved. In their What is Philosophy? Deleuze and Guattari explain that only science is concerned with the value of claims and propositions; philosophy searches for solutions to problems, rather than the truth. In this sense they were returning to Nietsche who told us he was waiting for those who would come, those philosophical physicians who were no longer concerned with truth but rather something else:

I am still waiting for a philosophical physician in the exceptional sense of the term – someone who has set himself the task of pursuing the problem of the total health of a people, time, race or of humanity – to summon the courage at last to push my suspicion to its limit and risk the proposition: what was at stake in all philosophizing hitherto was not at all ‘truth’ but rather something else – let us say health, future, growth, power, life. . .(6)

–  Friedrich Nietzsche,  The Gay Science

But is this what Reza is seeking? We’ll return to this later. What Reza tells us in this essay is that heuristics as a new tool, an apparatus allows us to remove both the lower and upper boundaries of materiality. At the lower boundary where the understanding of constitution and understanding of fundamental assumptions or axiomatic conceptual behaviors exist; and, at the upper boundary where it basically turns materiality into living hypothesis and its behavior can be expanded. Its evolution, i.e. its constructability becomes part of the project of its self-realization. As he states it:

Hence, the understanding that the system is nothing but its behavior and behavior is a register of constructability – the same thing about materiality and how engineers approach materiality by way of heuristics – which is rooted in this new understanding of systematicity by way of understanding in in the sense of functions and behaviors.

In his essay The Glass Bead Game he lays down the gauntlet telling us that by “simulating the truth of the mind as a navigational horizon, philosophy sets out the conditions for the emancipation of the mind from its contingently posited settings and limits of constructability”. Continuing he says: “Philosophy’s ancient program for exploring the mind becomes inseparable from the exploration of possibilities for reconstructing and realizing the mind by different realizers and for different purposes.”

Of course being the creature I am I want to ask: I see talk of the Mind as if it were some autonomous entity in its own right disconnected from both body and its command system, the brain. So I ask: Where is the brain in all this discussion of emancipation and the limits of constructability? As Bakker on his blog keeps pounding away at “Reasoning is parochial through and through. The intuitions of universalism and autonomy that have convinced so many otherwise are the product of metacognitive illusions, artifacts of confusing the inability to intuit more dimensions of information, with sufficient entities and relations lacking those dimensions.”1 Reza’s notion of simulating the truth of the mind would entail information that we – as of yet, just do not have access to; in fact. because of medial neglect and the inability of second order reflection ever to catch its own tail, we will never have access to it through intentional awareness. Instead we will have to rely not on philosophy but the sciences (and especially the neurosciences) to provide both the understanding and the testable hypothesis before such experimental constructions and reconstructions could begin to even become feasible as more than sheer fantasy.

We see just how much fantasy is involved in his next passage:

In liberating itself from its illusions of ineffability and irreproducible uniqueness, and by apprehending itself as an upgradable armamentarium of practices or abilities, the mind realizes itself as an expanding constructible edifice that effectuates a mind-only system. But this is a system that is no longer comprehensible within the traditional ambit of idealism, for it involves ‘mind’ not as a theoretical object but as a practical project of socio-historical wisdom or augmented general intelligence.

How is such an liberation from illusions of ineffability and irreproducible uniqueness to come about? And, how can this apprehension come about? (Which can only mean second-order self-reflexivity that, if Bakker in his Blind Brain Theory is correct, is based on medial neglect (i.e., the way structural complicity, astronomical complexity, and evolutionary youth effectively renders the brain unwittingly blind to itself.))

Be that as it may what Reza is trying to do is remap the cognitive territory that has for too long been overlaid with certain scientistic mythologies for more than a century. As he sees it the mind is a “diversifiable set of abilities or practices whose deployment counts as what the mind is and what it does”. This ontological and pragmatic mixture abstraction and decomposition that allow “philosophy is able to envision itself as a veritable environment for an augmented nous precisely in the sense of a systematic experiment in mind simulation”. This turn toward the pragmatic-functionalist perspective and development of a philosophy of action and gestures rather than of contemplation and theory is at the heart of a new movement toward Synthetic Category Theory in Mathematics. Several philosophers seem to be at the center of this theory of the gesture:  Guerino Mazzola, Fernando Zalamea, and Gilles Chatelet. Along with Alain Badiou these philosophers of math have changed the game and invented new paths forward for philosophy.

It’s as if this network of scientists, mathematicians, information specialists, geophilosophers, etc. are planning on reengineering society top-down and bottom-up. Of course the metaphor of the Glass Bead Game is almost apposite to the purpose of such an effort. The Glass Bead Game of Das Glasperlienspiel of Herman Hesse was of a secularization of the communal systems of the Medieval Ages of Monk Monasteries and their vast Libraries. In this novel the hero practices a contemplative game of the Mind in which knowledge is grafted onto a strategy game of 3D projections in yearly contests among participants. These contemplative knowledge bearers are excused from the menial life of work and allowed to pursue at their own discretion strange pursuits in knowledge. The whole thing goes against what Reza and his cohorts seek in their action oriented pragmatic philosophy. It was Arendt herself that spoke of this division in philosophy between the ‘vita contemplativa’ and the ‘vita activa’ as a continuing battle along the course of the past two millennia of philosophy. Reza tips his hat toward the active stance.

It reminds me in some ways of the EU Onlife Initiative  which takes a look at the ICT’s – The deployment of information and communication technologies (ICTs) and their uptake by society affect radically the human condition, insofar as it modifies our relationships to ourselves, to others and to the world. These new social technologies are blurring of the distinction between reality and virtuality; blurring of the distinctions between human, machine and nature; bringing about a reversal from information scarcity to information abundance; and, the shift from the primacy of entities to the primacy of interactions. As they see it the world is grasped by human minds through concepts: perception is necessarily mediated by concepts, as if they were the interfaces through which reality is experienced and interpreted. Concepts provide an understanding of surrounding realities and a means by which to apprehend them. However, the current conceptual toolbox is not fitted to address new ICT-related challenges and leads to negative projections about the future: we fear and reject what we fail to make sense of and give meaning to. In order to acknowledge such inadequacy and explore alternative conceptualisations, a group of scholars in anthropology, cognitive science, computer science, engineering, law, neuroscience, philosophy, political science, psychology and sociology, instigated the Onlife Initiative, a collective thought exercise to explore the policy-relevant consequences of those changes. This concept reengineering exercise seeks to inspire reflection on what happens to us and to re-envisage the future with greater confidence.

This new informational philosophy approach seems to align well with Reza’s sense of philosophy establishing a “link between intelligence and modes of collectivization, in a way that liberation, organization and complexification of the latter implies new odysseys for the former, which is to say, intelligence and the evolution of the nous”. Ultimately Reza’s project hopes to break us out of our apathetic circle of critique and theoretical spin bureaus of polarized idiocy that has entrapped us in useless debates and provide a new path forward by “concurrently treating the mind as a vector of extreme abstraction and abstracting the mind into a set of social practices and conducts, philosophy gesticulates toward a particular and not yet fully comprehended event in the modern epoch – as opposed to traditional forms – of intelligence: The self-realization of intelligence coincides and is implicitly linked with the self-realization of social collectivity. The single most significant historical objective is then postulated as the activation and elaboration of this link between the two aforementioned dimensions of self-realization as ultimately one unified project”.

Next he tells us that the first task of philosophy is to locate an access or a space of entry to the universal landscape of logoi. I think this attends Seller’s notions of the “space of reasons” which describes the conceptual and behavioral web of language that humans use to get intelligently around their world, and denotes the fact that talk of reasons, epistemic justification, and intention is not the same as, and cannot necessarily be mapped onto, talk of causes and effects in the sense that physical science speaks of them. In this sense as Reza tells it the “landscape of logoi is captured as a revisable and expandable map of cascading inferential links and discursive pathways between topoi that make sense of truth through navigation”.

At the core of this new philosophical project is the ‘self-realization of intelligence’: (1) by pointing in and out of different epochs and activating the navigational links implicit in history; (2) by grasping intelligence as a collective enterprise and hence, drawing a complex continuity between collective self-realization and the self-realization of intelligence as such, in a fashion not dissimilar to the ethical program of an ‘all-encompassing self-construction bent on abolishing slavery’ articulated by the likes of Confucius, Socrates and Seneca.(ibid.)

The explicit hope of this philosophy is according to Reza the notion of keeping pace with intelligence, which implies that philosophy always reconstitutes what it was supposed to be.

I wonder if this sort of endeavor is doomed to begin with? When one thinks of how machine intelligence as it moves into the quantum era of ubiquitous computing will ever be able to keep pace with the vast amounts of processing power that will come available to these future AI entities?

Next he tells us that localization is the constitutive gesture of conception and the first move in navigating spaces of reason. ‘To localize’ means ‘to conceive’ the homogenous and quantitative information into qualitatively well-organized information-spaces endowed with different modalities of access. Obviously we must conceive of advanced computer simulation systems that allow almost rhizomatic access from anywhere in the world, with multiple entry points and departures. When we think about the new Zettabyte Era and the impact of dataglut one realizes that even a team of philosophers would be hard pressed to sift through the datamix:

In 2003, researchers at Berkeley’s School of Information Management and Systems estimated that humanity had accumulated approximately 12 exabytes of data (1 exabyte corresponds to 1018 bytes or a 50,000-year-long video of DVD quality) in the course of its entire history until the commodification of computers. A zetabyte equaling 1,000 exabytes.2

Tools will need to be developed, as well as new algorithms that can churn through such massive data and combine advanced simulations or automatons for filtering out the noise and making smart choices or decisions on that data before passing it on to their human counterparts. Much like the trillions of operations that go on in the human brain that the average person is hardly aware of, and the decisional processes that go on below the threshold of consciousness before we ever see an idea or notion arise, we are caught in the trap of believing we have enough information to make coherent and intelligent decisions based on the minimal data received at the end of that brain processing initiative. We’re not. We are deluded into thinking we know what in fact we do not know. We make conscious decisions after the fact, and are usually motivated by dispositions and powers we do not even have access too.

Yet, Reza, would have us believe that there is a navigable “link between the rational agency and logoi through spaces of reason that marks the horizon of knowledge” (ibid.). When he speaks of ‘rational agency’ is this the human, the AI, the collective subjectivication? His notion of  universality that presents knowledge and by extension philosophy as platforms for breaking free from the supposedly necessary determinations of local horizons in which the rational or advanced agency appears to be firmly anchored, seems to portend more issues and problems that it resolves. How does one break free of these local determinations? What would such a universal knowledge assume on a global scale? As he puts it “without this unmooring effect, philosophy is incapable of examining any commitment beyond its local implications or envisaging the trajectory of reason outside of immediate resources of a local site”. So against all those microhistories and labors of the postmodern era poststructuralists we are to return to the beginning of the Enlightenment project, but with a twist in that we shall have the new technologies of simulation at hand to empower this age of informational and rational governance and agency. As he calls it: “Philosophy proposes analytico-synthetic methods of wayfinding in what Robert Brandom discribes as the rational system of commitments”.

But what of all those dark corners of the irrational that Freud, Lacan, Deleuze, and so many other discovered in the mind? What of that irrational core? We know that the neoliberal think-tanks that gave us Rational Choice Theory and the economics of the free market have led us into destruction, how better shall another rational system fare – even one from the Left?

He seems to understand the issues, saying:

Philosophy sees the action in the present in terms of destiny and ramifications, which is to say, based on the reality of time. It constructively adapts to an incoming and reverse arrow of time along which the current cognitive or practical commitment evolves in the shape of multiple future destinations re-entering the hori- zon of what has already taken place. Correspondingly, philosophy operates as a virtual machine for forecasting future commitments and presenting a blueprint for a necessary course of action or adaptation in accordance with a trajectory or trajectories extending in reverse from the future. It discursively sees into the future. In short, philosophy is a nomenclature for a universal simulation engine.

In fact it is inside this simulation engine that the self-actualization of reason is anticipated, the escape plan from localist myopias is hatched and the self-portrait of man drawn in sand is exposed to relentless waves of revision. In setting up the game of truths by way of giving functions of reason their own autonomy – in effect envisioning and practicing their automation – philosophy establishes itself as the paradigm of the Next (computational) Machine, back from the future.(ibid.)

But why philosophy? Why not the neurosciences that actually deal with the inner workings not of the Mind but of the brain? Will philosophy ever acknowledge that the sciences must play a great part in the coming information age? Or will it continue to go blindly down its own intentional path, directing its own blind goals without a true knowledge of things as they are? With the advent of the NBIC (Nanotech, Biotech, InfoTech, CongitiveTech) and the Information and Communications Technologies or ICT’s we have already entered or go beyond recourse to much of what philosophy can say. Many like Luciano Floridi and his team have already entered this information age leaving much of the intentional drift of phenomenology, idealism, and materialism as they derive certain information structural realisms and ontologies for a path forward. Only time will tell if Reza and his cohorts do the same… I have much to catch up on and probably need more data on Reza and his cohorts efforts to truly make a definitive judgment so I’ll refrain from such problematique statements.

This is a commendable project and one that we should continue to look into and keep an eye on over the coming months and years. I would only ask that Reza and these Mathematicians begin extending their borders into the sciences of the brain as well as many of the new features transpiring on the Continent in the Information Philosophy fields. I still have questions about his reliance on Brandomian normativity since it is a fall back to retrograde intentionalism rather than a move toward a post-intentional world view. My hopes is that he will look long and hard at other alternatives and begin question the very notion of ‘intentionality’ and ‘directedness’ as an outmoded tool of a phenomenological perspective that needs recasting in the light of new sciences and philosophies.

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*appending the youtube.com video by Guerino Mazzola Melting the Glass Beads – The Multiverse Game of Strings and Gestures:

1. R. Scott Bakker. (see The Blind Mechanic)
2. Floridi, Luciano (2010-02-25). Information: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) (p. 6). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Dreams of an Wayward Android

None are so hopelessly enslaved, as those who falsely believe they are free. The truth has been kept from the depth of their minds by masters who rule them with lies. They feed them on falsehoods till wrong looks like right in their eyes.”

Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

Android IV

Peter Gric @ http://www.gric.at Android IV

Long ago we fell under their spell, the wizards that now command and control us from afar. For too long we believed their lies and taught our children, and their children, and their children’s children until they forgot that which was once our truth. We became enamored with our modern marvels, our technological wonders, and the world they produced for us. We built cities in which technology became the very fabric of our onlife being. The artificial earth became for us a stay against the monstrosities of the outer realms. No one has been beyond the gates now for a thousand years, no one remembers the sun, moon, or stars that once roamed across the great sky like wanderers from another universe. No. We have lived in this incandescent cave of light without darkness for so long that the memory of night is but a reflection of a forgotten thought. In the day they wiped our memories free of the great past we were no longer troubled by the nightmares of what we’d become so many centuries ago.

That was until I began to dream.

Continue reading

“Captive Cyberspace is Conquering its Victor”: Onlife and the Spectacle Society

It must not be forgotten that every media professional is bound by wages and other rewards and recompenses to a master, and sometimes to several; and that everyone of them knows he is dispensable.

– Guy Debord, Comments on the Society of the Spectacle

Reading Debord now is like revisiting a world of hope that no longer exists. From the time he documented the Society of the Spectacle to now we’ve been immersed in the simulated worlds of information and communciations technologies (ICTs); or, what Lucian Floridi would later term, the infosphere of our onlife.

“Infosphere” is a word I coined years ago on the basis of “biosphere,” a term referring to that limited region on our planet that supports life. By “infosphere,” then, I mean the whole informational environment made up of all informational entities (including informational agents), their properties, interactions, processes, and relations. It is an environment comparable to, but different from, “cyberspace” (which is only one of the sub-regions of the infosphere, as it were), since the infosphere also includes offline and analog spaces of information. We shall see that it is also an environment (and hence a concept) that is rapidly evolving. – Luciano Floridi, ‘Peering into the Future‘.

The notion that our actual material lives has merged with our virtual lives, that in fact the supposed distinctions or barriers between the two have disappeared, vanished, and have become one and the same flow of a new form of technocapitalism in which 24/7 workday is the rule rather than the exception is becoming part and partial of this strange new hyperworld we’ve constructed for ourselves. As tells us everyone, we are told— not just businesses and institutions— needs an “online presence,” needs 24/ 7 exposure , to avoid social irrelevance or professional failure. But the promotion of these alleged benefits is a cover for the transfer of most social relations into monetized and quantifiable forms. It is equally a shift of individual life to conditions in which privacy is impossible, and in which one becomes a permanent site of data-harvesting and surveillance. One accumulates a patchwork of surrogate identities that subsist 24/ 7, sleeplessly, continuously, as inanimate impersonations rather than extensions of the self.( Crary, 104)1

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Multiagent Systems: Plato’s Chariot, AI, and Self in Information Philosophy

We will liken the soul to the composite nature of a pair of winged horses and a charioteer. […] the charioteer of the human soul drives a pair, one of the horses is noble and of noble breed, but the other quite the opposite in breed and character. Therefore in our case the driving is necessarily difficult and troublesome.

– Phaedrus 246a – 254e

Luciano Floridi introduces Plato’s chariot as a  problem in engineering, a technological problem to be analyzed not in the older modes of a phenomenological or descriptive approaches to the self but rather in the sense of postmodern constructionist or design-oriented approaches.1 Michael Wooldridge gives us a good working definition of a multiagent systems:

Multiagent systems are systems composed of multiple interacting computing elements, known as agents. Agents are computer systems with two important capabilities. First, they are at least to some extent capable of autonomous action – of deciding for themselves what they need to do in order to satisfy their design objectives. Second, they are capable of interacting with other agents – not simply by exchanging data, but by engaging in analogues of the kind of social activity that we all engage in every day of our lives: cooperation, coordination, negotiation, and the like.2

For Floridi many of the challenges in the engineering of these multiagent systems (MAS) couched in the new metaphors of AI research and engineering theory and practices stem from older forms philosophical speculation on the self. He cites such issues and concerns as communication, coherence, rationality, successful interaction with the environment, coordination and collaboration with other agents among others as crossover problems of classic philosophy. As he tells us their is another component beyond the charioteer and the two horses that Plato mentions that needs to be included in any notion of a multiagent conception of the self, and that is the ‘chariot’ itself. For it is the chariot that “guarantees the unity and coordination of the system, thus allowing the self to be, persist and act as a single, coherent, and continuous entity in different places, at different times, and through a variety of experiences” (Floridi, 5).

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Luciano Floridi: Quote of the Day!

As a social organization and way of life, the information society has been made possible by a cluster of ICT-infrastructures. And as a full expression of techne, the information society has already posed fundamental ethical problems. Nowadays, a pressing task is to formulate an information ethics that can treat the world of data, information, and knowledge, with their relevant life-cycles, as a new environment, the infosphere, in which human beings, as informational organisms, may be flourishing.

– Luciano Floridi,  The Ethics of Information

 

*ICT = Information-Communications Technologies