Epiphylogenesis: On Becoming Machine

Epiphylogenesis: Bernard Stiegler – Memory and Prosthesis

Once you realize the human body was a migration ploy, a stop gap in a long process of migration technics using memory technology in a process of self-exteriorization, then you realize that becoming artificial and technological (robotic or AI) was immanent to the strange thing we are. Becoming robot are merging with our technologies isn’t really that far fetched after all, and that what we’ve been doing so for thousands if not millions of years is evolving new prosthesis step by step by step. This is at least part of what Bernard Stiegler admits to in his thesis of originary technicity or his theory of lack and supplement (ala Derrida): the supplement of technics is our way of exploiting this lack within the human condition. The human is a placeholder in a process in-between, a transition. The body we take for granted as the foundation of our humanity was never an end point, a static object at the end of some teleological assembly line, but was rather a project and program in an ongoing experimental process that has no foreseeable goal or end point, no design or designer. It can change form. We are not bound to this form, only temporary denizens in transition.

As is well-known, Bernard Stiegler articulates three different forms of memory: genetic memory (which is programmed into our DNA); epigenetic memory (which we acquire during our lifetime and is stored in the central nervous system) and, finally, epiphylogenetic memory (which is embodied in technical systems or artefacts). For Stiegler, then, epiphylogenesis represents a quasi-Lamarckian theory of “artificial selection” where successive epigenetic experiences are stored, accumulated and transmitted from generation to generation in the form of technical objects. In this sense, as we will see in a moment, Stiegler argues that the birth of man represents an absolute break with biological life because it is the moment in the history of life where zoē begins to map itself epiphylogenetically onto technē: what we call the human is “a living being characterised in its forms of life by the non-living.”

In this scenario we’ve been exteriorizing ourselves all along through this tri-fold process of memory works; or, as he terms it: epiphylogenesis. For Stiegler, this account of the origin of man contains a crucial insight into the status of the human that will form the basis for his own philosophy: humanity is constituted by an originary lack of defining qualities— what he calls a “default” of origin [le défaut d’origine]— that must be supplemented from outside by technics. What Stiegler calls technics is in the Deleuze/Guattarian index the “machinic”. For Deleuze and Guattari, every machine is a machine connected to another machine. Every machine functions as a break in the flow in relation to the machine to which it is connected, but is at the same time also a flow itself, or the production of a flow. What we term libido is the “labor” of desiring production. It is pure multiplicity, and for Deleuze and Guattari, it is anoedipal. The flow is non-personal, although investments by desiring machines produce subjectivity alongside its components. (Guattari, “Machinic Heterogenesis”)

Some accuse Stiegler of remaining within an anthropocentric horizon, saying that his thought risks re-anthropologising technics even in the very act of insisting upon the originary technicity of the human: what expropriates the anthropos once again becomes “proper” to it as its defining mode of being. If Stiegler would undoubtedly reject this line of critique— the moral of the story of Epimetheus is clearly that nothing is proper to the human— his enduring focus on hominisation as the unique moment when the living begins to articulate itself through the non-living means that his philosophy arguably still remains within what we might call the penumbra of human self-constitution. The supposedly self-identical human being is put into a relation only in order for the relation itself to be ontologised as an exclusively “human” one: we are the only being that relates.1

In many ways we need to do away with the term “human” which has so many associations that it has become a term indefinable going forward. We’ve tried using terms like “post-human” to obviate this fact, speaking of transitional states. And, yet, much of the discourse surrounding this still deals with the cultural matrix of humanity itself while leaving out the non-human others among us that many now know have recourse to externalization technics as well. The point is that humans are not part of an exception, we are part of the life of this planet. One among other possible life-forms and trajectories taking place in complex of ecologies simultaneously.

David Roden in his excellent book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human addresses just this telling us that what we need is a “theory of human– posthuman difference” (Roden: 105).2 As he surmises the posthuman difference is not one between kinds but emerges diachronically between individuals, we cannot specify its nature a priori but only a posteriori – after the emergence of actual posthumans. The ethical implications of this are somewhat paradoxical. (Roden: 106) Catherine Hayles once argued in How We Became Posthuman that one of the key characteristics of the posthuman is that the body is treated as the “original prosthesis,” a prosthetic which contains the informatic pattern of posthuman subjects, but which is not integral to them.3 For Stiegler, this is only possible through a process of exteriorisation.  Our experience of being is therefore not merely a product of memory but is achieved through the processes of mnemotechnics: the ‘technical prostheses’ through which memory is recorded and transmitted across generations, and which is never limited to individual minds.  Without this sense of memory, Stiegler argues, the human would not be possible. The point here is that our bodies might be the last sacrosanct thing we will have to relinquish in this long road from animal to the post-human. For if Stiegler is correct it is our cultural memories and these technics of exteriorization that have for millennia become the project to which the human organic systems were moving, a process that has through the invention of computational machines and the rise of AI and Robotics only accelerated this process of self-exteriorization.

With this notion comes the transition from the terms of technics and machines to that of assemblages. As David Roden in his work will iterate:

The concept of assemblage was developed by the poststructuralist philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari (1988). Its clearest expression, though, is in the work of the Deleuzean philosopher of science Manuel DeLanda. For DeLanda, an assemblage is an emergent but decomposable whole and belongs to the conceptual armory of the particularist “flat” ontology I will propose for SP in § 5.4. Assemblages are emergent wholes in that they exhibit powers and properties not attributable to their parts but which depend (or “supervene”) on those powers. Assemblages are also decomposable insofar as all the relations between their components are “external”: each part can be detached from the whole to exist independently (assemblages are thus opposed to “totalities” in an idealist or holist sense). This is the case even where the part is functionally necessary for the continuation of the whole (DeLanda 2006: 184; see § 6.5).(Roden: 111)

Is the future of the human-in-migration this becoming assemblage? As Roden continues biological humans are currently “obligatory” components of modern technical assemblages. Technical systems like air-carrier groups, cities or financial markets have powers that cannot be attributed to narrow humans but depend on them for their operation and maintenance much as an animal depends on the continued existence of its vital organs. Technological systems are thus intimately coupled with biology and have been over successive technological revolutions. (Roden: 111)

This sense that we are already so coupled with our exterior memory systems that what we’re seeing in our time is a veritable hyperacceleration and migration out of the organic and into the artificial systems we’ve been so eagerly immersed in. As futurist Luciano Floridi reminds us we are witnessing an epochal, unprecedented migration of humanity from its Newtonian, physical space to the infosphere itself as its Umwelt, not least because the latter is absorbing the former. As a result, humans will be inforgs among other (possibly artificial) inforgs and agents operating in an environment that is friendlier to informational creatures. And as digital immigrants like us are replaced by digital natives like our children, the latter will come to appreciate that there is no ontological difference between infosphere and physical world, only a difference in levels of abstraction. When the migration is complete, we shall increasingly feel deprived, excluded, handicapped, or impoverished to the point of paralysis and psychological trauma whenever we are disconnected from the infosphere, like fish out of water. One day, being an inforg will be so natural that any disruption in our normal flow of information will make us sick.4

Most of us hang onto that last bastion of the human, our body. For many the whole notion that we are not bound to this organic husk that has been the natural evolutionary experiment of millions of years seems utter tripe, and yet what if we are about to migrate into a new platform, an assemblage of plasticity and formlessness? What if the whole notion that we are stuck in this dying ember of organicist nature is just a myth, a myth that is keeping us from breaking through the barrier of becoming posthuman? What if the chains that tie us to this dead world of organic being is our religious, philosophical, and political prejudices, our exceptionalisms, our anthropologicisms? What if merging with our software and platforms is not only feasible but the motion and very movement we’ve been performing through this process of self-exteriorization all along? What if this is our way forward? What then?

One day we will quaintly look back upon organic life and the human body with a fondness that is only a memory, while we become pluralistic denizens of a million prismatic forms yet to be shaped by technics into the vast assemblages of the unbound universe. The question to ask yourself is: Will you see this as a worthy task or as a horror? If the former then you are already in migration into the assemblage, if the latter then you have become a problem for yourself and every other living thing on this planet.


  1. Armand, Louis; Bradley, Arthur; Zizek, Slavoj; Stiegler, Bernard; Miller, J. Hillis; Wark, McKenzie; Amerika, Mark; Lucy, Niall; Tofts, Darren; Lovink, Geert. Technicity (Kindle Locations 1749-1757). Litteraria Pragensia. Kindle Edition.
  2. Roden, David. Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (p. 105). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
  3. Hayles, N. Katherine.  How We Became Posthuman. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1999.
  4. Floridi, Luciano. The Ethics of Information (pp. 16-17). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

 

Paranoia of the Body: Fear of Human Enhancement, Biotech, and Posthuman Metamorphosis

The more I study the regulation of enhancement drugs that are denied to Olympic athletes the more I ask myself: Why are we doing this? I’m not speaking of the supposed moral and normative appeal to unfair advantage, etc., but rather to the paranoia and total and pervasive liberal humanist fear of human enhancement in general. Our culture has become superparanoiac about the regulation and control of physical processes and medical, scientific, and practical intervention into the bodies of the best and brightest among us for using scientific know-how for competitive advantage.

Of course when it comes to regulating Capital, or capitalism itself it’s just the opposite. The same culture that disallows the enhancement of the individual body, allows the social and political body all kinds of agonistic enhancements – the corporate body of fake persons who control the wealth and security of the planet can almost get away with anything; or, when called out pay a small fine for such infractions against the real bodies of its constituents. Here in the world of capital there seems to be the opposite effect of allowing total deregulation and merciless use of any and all known scientific know-how for advantage over both its own constituents and all external competitors in the arena of Global Finance.

But this isn’t my point, my point is that we hear all the time about the benefits of the sciences for personal health, wealth, and advantage. Of how all new neuroscientific and other grand breakthroughs are going to enhance us through biotechnology, medicine, and social graces, etc., and yet when it comes down to it those in real power behind the sciences (no, no paranoia here!) don’t really want all this to become anything more than a pipe dream at best for the vast common populace. All these advancements are meant for the elite, the wealthy and powerful rather than for the great majority of worldly denizens. So they sponsor fantasy and regulation over our bodies and promote a culture of fear against GMO’s and Human Enhancement, Posthuman AI and Robotics. And instead the future is filled with bleak landscapes of terror, climate disaster, and the totalitarian world or total regulation of every citizens under regimes of self-regulatory voluntarism.

Watching how many Olympians were sidelined through neoliberal regulation in these summer games made me realize that what we’re really doing is trying to turn the clock back, to become ultra-conservative and slow down scientific and biotechnological revolution in gene therapy, stem-cell research, medical and engineering (prosthetic) research and advances, while at the same time allowing these same substances to be used in unregulated ways by those outside the proscribed limits of the accepted system: the rich and powerful Oligarchs and their minions.

This is once again about what it mean to be human, what is normal, what is the proscribed limits of the human project and its sciences? Access to technology: for the rich or for all, have’s or have not’s?  The focus of anti-enhancement and anti-biotechnology (i.e., the use of enhancement drugs and therapies, etc.) has reached a fever pitch within the boundaries of world culture. Why? Why do we fear tinkering with the body? This speaks to other fears as well, the current promotion of fear and paranoias against the LGBTQ community seems to be a part of this same Culture of Fear that is allowing ancient atavistic forces of deep seated monotheistic and voluntarist cultures, both religious and secular who seek to command, control, and regulate every aspect of our bodies – brain and appendages – through carefully crafted rhetorical gestures of cultural paranoia, and key medical intervention and biotechnological access or denial.

What’s the agenda? This whole unprogressive system of expulsion, exclusion, exploitation, regulation, and power over our bodies is part of a wider circulation of both intrinsic and extrinsic cultural and social conservative voluntaristic thought and practices stemming from antagonistic and desperate religious perspectives based of fear that are allowing the reemergence of ancient atavisms as self-imposed normative ploys to limit this brave new world to an elite minority? We’re seeing the dismantling of the atheistic world-view in our time, the slow erosion of the last vestiges of the critical apparatus of the radical Enlightenment project, which is being hollowed out as core voluntarist and utilitarian principles  once again make a bid to establish themselves and replace all aspects of the radical critiques that gave us democracy. Now the Oligarchs and elites seek to become sole masters of the House of Global Secularism. Hiding their actual intentions and designs under the promise of an automated and fantastic future of AGI’s, Smart Cities, Transhuman perfection, etc…. while all along knowing that only a small elite will ever enter the golden portals of these hellish paradises.

Continue reading

Théophile Gautier: Posthuman Decadence and the Philosophy of Closure

cleo

…where is the image for longing? – A.R. Ammons

“Travel is perhaps a dangerous element to introduce into your life, for if some circumstance or duty prevents you from leaving, it profoundly disturbs you and causes distress like that of birds of passage held prisoner at the time of their migration. You realize that you will expose yourself to fatigue, deprivation, boredom, and danger even, and that you must bear the cost of renouncing fond habits of body and soul, leaving behind your family, friends, and relations for the unknown.”1

This sense of leaving the known for the unknown is at the heart of decadence and closure, a need to close one circle while opening another into the unexpected and the new – an exoticism of the eye that seeks in the other nothing more nor less than the pure art object. Théophile Gautier whose theory of “l”art pour l”art”, art for art’s sake would subtract itself from the utilitarian philosophies of the bourgeoisie for a more subtle and colorful, sensual exoticism of the eye – provide a seeing that would float upon the surface of things like a desiring machine whose longing was to discover the image of its own unquenched fires.

The style of decadence for Gautier was none other than “Art arrived at that point of extreme maturity that determines civilizations which have grown old; ingenious, complicated, clever, full of delicate hints and refinements, gathering all the delicacies of speech, borrowing from technical vocabularies, taking color from every palette, tones from all musical instruments, contours vague and fleeting, listening to translate subtle confidences, confessions of depraved passions, and the odd hallucinations of a fixed idea turning to madness.”

This was the style which a decadent would use to summon the extreme motion of life, through a “language already veined with the greenness of decomposition, savoring of the Lower Roman Empire and the complicated refinements of the Byzantine School and the last form of Greek Art fallen into deliquescence; but such is the necessary and fatal idiom of peoples and civilizations where an artificial life has replaced a natural one and developed in a person who does not know his own needs. Contrary to classical style, it admits of backgrounds where the specters of superstition, the haggard phantoms of dreams, the terrors of night, remorse which leaps out and falls back noiselessly, obscure fantasies that astonish the day, and all the soul in its deepest depths and innermost caverns conceals the darkness, deformity, and horror, move together nervously.”

Gemenoid-F

Camille Paglia will tell us that Gautier looks forward to the posthuman or even inhuman art of the future synthetic being. “It looks forward to modern avant-garde narrative, where it is quite permissible and even desirable for nothing whatever to happen. But we sense in Gautier the cold immobility of the object so meticulously dissected, as if by autopsy. Since he dwells so much on the external, there is no one to identify with. The treatment of persons as art objects is present as an ambition in Maupin but is not technically realized until A Night with Cleopatra. (p. 418).” This sense of the android, the robot, the golem and art object that we see in many Japanese Geminoids was first described in this decadent immersion of the human as art object.

nefertiti-bust

This history of manufactured beings has yet to be written in full details, but from Paglia we see the first entry of the hermaphrodite, the android, the sexless being whose allure and double articulation as a machine made of synthetic materials begins with the bust of Nefertiti:

The proper response to the Nefertiti bust is fear. The queen is an android, a manufactured being. She is a new gorgoneion, a “bodiless head of fright.” She is paralyzed and paralyzing. Like enthroned Chephren, Nefertiti is suave, urbane. She gazes toward the far distance, seeing what is best for her people. But her eyes, with their catlike rim of kohl, are cold. She is self-divinized authority. Art shows Akhenaten half-feminine, his limbs shrunken and belly bulging, possibly from birth defect or disease. This portrait shows his queen half-masculine, a vampire of political will. Her seductive force both lures in and warns away. She is western personality barricaded behind its aching, icy line of Apollonian identity.  (pp. 68-69).

The android as Hermaphrodite, an “ardent chimera” or “charming monster” of “accursed beauty,” that is both provocative and reclusive, it is a ritual cult-object to which gifts are brought. The Hermaphrodite is separated from society and nature. It is a Late Romantic freak, symbol of the impossible. “Dream of poet and artist,” “supreme effort of art and pleasure,” it is an artificial sex. Its “multiple beauty” unites the art object’s sexual duality with the multiplicity of response art generates in its audience. (p. 413).

Continue reading

PostHuman – Animated sci-fi thriller…

Set in an adrenalized future of espionage, assassins, and out of control super science, PostHuman follows a genius hacker and his dog as they help an enigmatic young woman to free the remaining test subject of a black ops ESP test lab.

Official video for PostHuman – produced by Colliculi Productions. Vimeo.
Animated sci-fi thriller short film featuring the voice of Tricia Helfer (Battlestar Galactica). Directed by Cole Drumb. Produced by Jennifer Wai-Yin Luk

The Posthuman Future: Sacred Power and the Temenos

rhizome

Following my recent post The Posthuman Future: Technopessimism and the Inhuman I take up other aspects of the posthuman. Ancient peoples understood power in ways secular civilization has transformed beyond all recognition, through a long and non-ingenious disinvestment of religious ritual and practice, without at the same time forfeiting its actual material force for command and control of vast populations and resources. From the beginning society was an artificial system of relations, a construct; a construction-kit that assembled through various forms of hierarchic or non-hierarchic modes of production the realm of human civilization. This was done by way of a mental operation, a ‘cut’ between an inside and outside: relegating the natural violence and chaos of the universe to the Outside, while incorporating the human and its security regimes in opposition to the elemental forces of an uncontrollable natural order over which it had no authority or control. By separating out what could and could not be bound to the invisible threads of authority and control the human slowly but methodically reformatted the very subjectivation of its own worlds, constructing an artificial zone of security and sacredness within which it could contain the power of the unknown and unknowable forces of the universe.

Continue reading

The Posthuman Future: Technopessimism and the Inhuman

12

…suicide is the decisive political act of our times.
― Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Precarious Rhapsody

It is not worth the bother of killing yourself, since you always kill yourself too late.
― Emile Cioran, The Trouble with being Born

Base materialism begins in the tomb, a world of death that presents itself as life. This is neither Plato’s Cave, nor the scientific infinity of stars and the abyss. This is rather an ocean of energy, an realm of annihilating light and inexistence. Following Nick Land we promote a diagnostic truth against the “speculative, phenomenal, and meditative” philosophers of a false intuitionalism, following instead the underbelly of those criminal outcasts of thought: Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Bataille among others toward a materialism that seeks not the phenomenal surface of things, but rather the ‘noumenon’ – the impersonal death and unconscious drive of an “energetic unconscious”. This is an experiential turn toward an heretical empiricism not of knowledge, but of collapse.

Life itself is the first criminal act, a crime against an otherwise uniform and mindless universe of death. The second criminal act is the notion that humans are an exception to the rule of death, that somehow they do not belong to the order of things but are rather its masters and benefactors. The crime of humanity is the crime against existence itself; a crime from which there is no appeal, only annihilation. With religion came the final crime of the human regime: the belief that humans have a mandate from higher powers, a mandate to command, control and seize the universe in the name of a god, as well as a mandate to control each other and the surfeit of life upon the face of the earth. The Secular regime is itself a religious project: a religion of disinheritance, a religion without gods – an a-theism; a crime of omission, rather than commission.

“The fact that life has no meaning is a reason to live –moreover, the only one,” says Cioran. Nihilism is the first step in an active annihilation not of reality, but of the human illusions of reality; and of humanity itself as a primal illusion, one that must be rendered null and void. Karl Marx himself would say “religion in itself is without content, it owes its being not to heaven but to the earth, and with the abolition of distorted reality, of which it is the theory, it will collapse of itself.” (Letter from Marx to Arnold Ruge In Dresden (1842)) With the death and murder of the gods, and God, we began that slow and methodical destruction of the illusions that have bound us in a cage of madness for millennia. Yet, this step into freedom was captured and turned against us, an act at once of enslavement and total evisceration, a systematic unveiling of an order of obstinate sociopathy, a recursion to a formalism of a voidic disaggregation enclosing us in a a non-time, a present without outlet; a static conveyance that has no other goal than its own continuance: an aberration of the death-flows it seeks to evade, a cage for the desires that it seeks to bind from the inherent movement of death. Civilization is this system: capitalism is its engine, an alien form of life that has no inherent objective other than annihilation.

Continue reading