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.
*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.