Incompleteness and the Void

…from the standpoint of the incompleteness of reality, we can even make a step further and claim that, at the very bottom, there is all the room we want, since there is nothing else there, just the void.

Slavoj Zizek,  Less Than Nothing

Truth is neither relative nor not, it is part of a cultural evaluation, a shared or consensus datum; whereas fact is just there, neither truthful nor a lie: it just is – it is outside cultural appraisal and its linguistic tremors. Take quantum physics… it is incomplete, it has taken us into the limits of macro-micro physics where our instruments cannot go further at the moment… after the failure of instruments comes theory: mathematical theorems that invent the possibility of reality, then test the theory against the facts we have or the missing facts we do not (i.e., dark matter, dark energy, etc. – all metaphors for the missing matter and energy our instruments fail to discover, but that our current mathematical models say should be there, etc.)…. but not all the facts are in yet. As humans we may always fail because our brain being an evolutionary product of kludgy millennia was constructed bit by bit to help our organism to survive and propagate, not to understand itself or the cosmos. We are limited by this process so we produce nice little fictions and call them truth to assuage our less than adequate knowledge of the universe and ourselves.

Every generation solidifies and codifies reality into its current matrix of linguistic insights as part of its cultural power and politics. On a planet such as ours we are in the midst of a chaotic reevaluation of those truths that have guided the multiplex of cultures across the millennia. In this age old conflict of ideas and concepts there will be in some future yet to be determined a partial resolution and the emergence of a truly intelligent global culture that will not be a unity or One, but will incorporate the best and most inventive ideas and concepts into a new order of collaboration and consensus. Not all will agree with it as none do now, but it will shape the direction of our fallible projects in the sciences and arts as it has in the past. That is if we survive the war of ideas in our time without obliterating ourselves.

Some would have us believe that Intelligence is emerging out of its organic cradle and into some as yet to be known form, whether into a new substrate or part of the collective intelligence of human and machinic phylum’s. The sciences and philosophies surrounding this emergence reduce it to various forms of post-humanist thought. It’s this battle over posthumanism that is at the forefront of current debates in the academy as elsewhere. Humanity as we’ve come to know it through the various traditions of humanism, both secular and religious is in the offing. The slow and methodical deconstruction and destruction of the humanist credos has since the Enlightenment and its offshoots in secular modernity been eroding to the point that in our time we are in the midst of a sea-change in thought and culture across our planet. We loosely use terms like post-modernity, post-humanism, etc. because we lack the intellectual courage or breadth of inventiveness to define what comes next, but instead we haggle over our intellectual heritage and milieu as if it were a great cock fight full of bloody campaigns. The sciences as well as philosophy have come under scrutiny and both have been found wanting, the one offering only the empirical and pragmatic truth of what works; the other the eternal war of ideas without end. There can be no victors in such a vein war of contrition, only losers.

We are all caught in the grips of cognitive biases we barely understand, and for the most part do not admit to ourselves. We all live by certain enabling fictions which guide our thought and life, we can do no other; some promote life, some death; some harbor fanatical claims against the world in forms of literalistic compulsions and mandates that have lead many astray and into wars. Our leaders use our emotional connections to certain deep seated ideas, images, and concepts to attract us and sway us into conflict. Even our political spectrum is a world of absolute antagonism and war over ideas and reality. Maybe this will never end, or will end only when humanity is no more. And that’s the problem, isn’t it? Will we ever discover how to live among each others cultural worlds without hate and death; or, are we condemned to continual annihilation of any and all who do not agree with our ideas. The great cynics tell us we are doomed to defeat, that we will never produce a world in which humans can share equitably the fruits of mind and earth alike. I do no know, do you? Maybe in the end we stand between the incompleteness of the universe and the silence of the Void. That is all. No answer, no justification; only the incomprehensible mystery.

I’ve often thought that the incursions of all the radical madness in our culture: ghost hunter craze, Alien conspiracies, mass killings, suicides, strange cults, etc. are registering a sea-change in the underpsyche of the planet that barely goes noticed in the elite-o-sphere of mediatainment, unless we think of all the craze for disaster movies, zombies, superhero comic theatre, etc. We seem to be undergoing a mutation by enforced futurial retrocausation that is pushing us to the limits of our human potential for fear, terror, and horror. Soon we will see the cracks in the Real begin to unravel allowing the access to portals between mental regimes, movements between multidimensional time-frames in which the imaginal and the psychotic reveal the underlying mechanisms of our universal decay and metamorphosis. For as many have suggested we are in a duo process of acceleration/deceleration on different planes of immanence: the zigzag rhizome of our psyches is speeding up (heating up), and slowing down in various modes of time loops, registering the impact of this incursion from the Outside in. All the while the so called Orthodox realist controllers try their best to screen out this process through a massive propaganda system of denial and reterritorialization (D&G). And, yet, around the edges of their system the heterodox truth is breaking through… the unraveling/deterritorialization of two-thousand years of the monotheistic unity of religious and philosophical vision is ending… what comes next is anyone’s surmise.

Linda Negata: The Bohr Maker – A Posthuman Fable

Nikko, who was in truth only a program himself, a modern ghost, an electronic entity copied from the mind of his original self, had little patience for Dull Intelligences.

– Linda Nagata, The Bohr Maker

“By the beginning of the twentieth century , it was becoming clear that the engines of life operated at the molecular scale. How can we understand such machines, and how does their operation relate to the macroscopic machines of our everyday experience?”1 Reading Linda Nagata’s The Bohr Maker is like entering that moment of transition between our everyday world of commonsense and the ultrareal worlds of advanced NBIC technologies. Caught between the “folk image” of our ancient world views, centered in magic, religion, and voodoo; and, the realms of the “scientific image” in which rationality alone is the guide, Negata enacts her fable of our posthuman molecular destiny.

Continue reading

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 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.

Posthuman Economics: The Empire of Capital

Maybe what haunts posthumanism is not technology but utopian capitalism, the dark silences long repressed, excluded, disavowed, and negated within the Empire of Capital.  Franco Berardi’s The Uprising grabs the history of art and capital by the horns as the slow and methodical implementation of the Idealist program. By this he means the dereferentialization of reality – or what we term now the semioitization of reality: the total annihilation of any connection between signifier and signified, word and thing, mind and world. Instead we live in a world structured by fantasy that over time has dematerialized reality.

In economics it was Richard Nixon (1972) who cut the link between financial capital and its referent, the gold standard which subtly dematerialized monetarism of the neoliberal era. This slow vanishing act of reality into its digital matrix has in our time become so naturalized that we have forgotten how much our lives are enmeshed in fictions divorced from even the illusion of reality. As Berardi will put it:

The premise of neoliberal dogmatism is the reduction of social life to the mathematical implications of financial algorithms. What is good for finance must be good for society, and if society does not accept this identification and submission, then that means that society is incompetent, and needs to be redressed by some technical authority.1

He speaks of the moment when the newly elected Greek President Papandreou actually had the audacity to question the EU’s austerity program and was summarily ousted by the new entity, The Markets, and replaced with a consultant from Goldman-Sachs. He asks calmly, What is this blind god, the Markets?

Markets are the visible manifestation of the inmost mathematical interfunctionality of algorithms embedded in the techno-linguistic machine: they utter sentences that change the destiny of the living body of society, destroy resources, and swallow the energies of the collective body like a draining pump. (Berardi, 32)

In this sense we are already being run by the machinic systems of math and computation at the core of our economic system. As he tells it the humans behind the system are not fascists, yet they allow society to be enslaved by a mathematical system of economics and financialization, which is clean, smooth, perfect, and efficient. The financial orthodoxy would have you believe that all things should act efficiently. Like all orthodoxies it offers comfort and guidance, but, as orthodoxies do, it also has the power to wound those who cannot follow its dogmas or who resist its rituals of conformity. It is technological because it has primarily to do with making things work, and it is particularly apparent in the contemporary emphasis on quantifiable productivity and associated fears of waste, especially the waste of time.2

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi once developed his theory of optimal experience based on the concept of flow—the state in which people are so involved in an activity that nothing else seems to matter; the experience itself is so enjoyable that people will do it even at great cost, for the sheer sake of doing it.3 Thinking of flow and efficiency one discovers the key is the concept of flow-of information or of goods, for example-and the role of efficiency in preventing disruptions. This suggests that beneath the zeal for efficiency lies the desire to control a changing world, to keep an optimal and peak level of flow going at all times in society and combatting and preventing anything that might disrupt that flow.

In Berardi’s mathematization of society we’re no longer consumers and users, but have instead become as Bruce Sterling tells us in The Epic Struggle of the Internet of Thingsparticipants under machine surveillance, whose activities are algorithmically combined within Big Data silos” (Sterling, KL 30). So that in this sense we are no longer embodied humans, but are instead bits of data floating among the wired worlds of our digital economy. But a fascinating aspect of the Internet of things is that the giants who control the major thrust within its reaches Google, Amazon, Facebook, Apple or Microsoft could care less about efficiency. No. They in fact don’t bother to “compete” with each other because their real strategy is to “disrupt”. Rather than “competing” – becoming more efficient at doing something specific – “disruption” involves a public proof that the rival shouldn’t even exist.(Sterling, KL 212-216)

The basic order of the economic day is coded in the language of noir dime novels. “Knifing the baby” means deliberately appropriating the work of start-ups before they can become profitable businesses. “Stealing the oxygen” means seeing to it that markets don’t even exist – that no cash exchanges hands, while that formerly profitable activity is carried out on a computer you control. (Sterling, KL 224)

Yet, underneath all the glitter and glitz is the hard truth of reality. If the Internet of things is a neo-feudal empire of tyrant corporations disrupting the flows of efficient commerce in a bid to attain greater and greater power and influence, then the world of austerity and nation states outside the wires is preparing for the barbarians. As Berardi relates it outside the cold steel wires of financial digi-tyranny we can already see the violent underbelly of the old physical body of the social raising its reactionary head: nation, race, ethnic cleansing, and religious fundamentalism are running rampant around the globe. While the digital-elite pirate away the world of finance the forgotten citizenry outside the digital fortress are preparing for war in the streets: despair, suicide, and annihilation living in the austerity vacuum of a bloated world of wires.

Maybe Yeats wrote his poem The Second Coming for our century:

    Turning and turning in the widening gyre
    The falcon cannot hear the falconer;
    Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
    Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
   The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
    The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
    The best lack all conviction, while the worst
    Are full of passionate intensity.

    Surely some revelation is at hand;
    Surely the Second Coming is at hand.
    The Second Coming! Hardly are those words out
    When a vast image out of Spiritus Mundi
    Troubles my sight: a waste of desert sand;
    A shape with lion body and the head of a man,
    A gaze blank and pitiless as the sun,
    Is moving its slow thighs, while all about it
    Wind shadows of the indignant desert birds.

    The darkness drops again but now I know
    That twenty centuries of stony sleep
    Were vexed to nightmare by a rocking cradle,
    And what rough beast, its hour come round at last,
    Slouches towards Bethlehem to be born?

1. Franco “Bifo” Berardi. The Uprising. (Semiotext(e), 2012)
2. Jennifer Karns Alexander. The Mantra of Efficiency: From Waterwheel to Social Control (Kindle Locations 29-32). Kindle Edition
3. Csikszentmihalyi, Mihaly (2008-08-18). Flow (P.S.) (Kindle Locations 214-216). HarperCollins. 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 5)

Again I take up from my previous post David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. Roden will argue in Chapter 5 that we need a new theory of difference to understand the disconnection between the human and posthuman. He will suggest that the difference should be conceived as an emergent disconnection between individuals, not in terms of the presence or lack of essential properties. He will also suggest that these individuals should not be conceived in narrow biological terms but in “wide” terms permitting biological, cultural and technological relations of descent between human and posthuman. (Roden, KL 2423)

Before beginning to unravel Roden’s thoughts we discover that the philosophy of Manuel DeLanda and his Assemblage Theory will play a major role in underpinning this project. DeLanda above all considers himself a realist, not in the naïve common sense view of the 19th Century, but in the sense that at the very least that reality has a certain autonomy from the human mind. Thus he makes an initial split between reality as it is, and reality as it appears to the human mind. Human access to reality is a sort of translation, distortion, transformation, simplification, or truncation of it.2

Manuel DeLanda

DeLanda also develops a theory of the assemblage grafting many of the ideas from Deleuze/Guattari. An assemblage entails that no object is a seamless whole that fully absorbs its components, and also entails an anti-reductionist model of reality. There is also no ultimate layer of tiny micro-particles to which macro-entities might be reduced. At whatever point we fix our gaze, entities are assembled from other entities: they can be viewed as unified things when seen from the outside, yet they are always pieced together from a vast armada of autonomous components. This also means that Delanda believes in genuine emergence. It is not possible to eliminate larger entities by accounting for the behavior of their tiniest physical parts. (Harman, 172) DeLanda himself will tell us:

Today, the main theoretical alternative to organic totalities is what the philosopher Gilles Deleuze calls assemblages, wholes characterized by relations of exteriority. These relations imply, first of all, that a component part of an assemblage may be detached from it and plugged into a different assemblage in which its interactions are different. In other words, the exteriority of relations implies a certain autonomy for the terms they relate, or as Deleuze puts it, it implies that ‘a relation may change without the terms changing’. Relations of exteriority also imply that the properties of the component parts can never explain the relations which constitute a whole, that is, ‘relations do not have as their causes the properties of the [component parts] between which they are established …’ although they may be caused by the exercise of a component’s capacities. In fact, the reason why the properties of a whole cannot be reduced to those of its parts is that they are the result not of an aggregation of the components’ own properties but of the actual exercise of their capacities. These capacities do depend on a component’s properties but cannot be reduced to them since they involve reference to the properties of other interacting entities. Relations of exteriority guarantee that assemblages may be taken apart while at the same time allowing that the interactions between parts may result in a true synthesis.3

A central point in the paragraph above is that assemblage theory is based on an anti-reductionist in form or what one might term either anti-essentialist or anti-physicalist form of materialist discourse. He opts for what many now term a ‘flat ontology’, but by flat they do not mean that it could be reduced to some flat continuum, rather a flat ontology that allows countless layers of larger and smaller structures to have equal ontological priority. In this sense a flat ontology rejects any ontology of transcendence or presence that privileges one sort of entity as the origin of all others and as fully present to itself. DeLanda promotes a hard core anti-essentialism as part of his assemblage theory:

The ontological status of any assemblage, inorganic, organic or social, is that of a unique, singular, historically contingent, individual. Although the term individual’ has come to refer to individual persons, in its ontological sense it cannot be limited to that scale of reality. Much as biological species are not general categories of which animal and plant organisms are members, but larger-scale individual entities of which organisms are component parts, so larger social assemblages should be given the ontological status of individual entities: individual networks and coalitions; individual organizations and governments; individual cities and nation-states. This ontological manœuvre allows us to assert that all these individual entities have an objective existence independently of our minds (or of our conceptions of them) without any commitment to essences or reified generalities. On the other hand, for the manœuvre to work, the part-to-whole relation that replaces essences must be carefully elucidated. The autonomy of wholes relative to their parts is guaranteed by the fact that they can causally affect those parts in both a limiting and an enabling way, and by the fact that they can interact with each other in a way not reducible to their parts, that is, in such a way that an explanation of the interaction that includes the details of the component parts would be redundant. Finally, the ontological status of assemblages is two-sided: as actual entities all the differently scaled social assemblages are individual singularities, but the possibilities open to them at any given time are constrained by a distribution of universal singularities, the diagram of the assemblage, which is not actual but virtual.(DeLanda, 40)

This notion of virtual/actual would take me too far away so I’ll let off from here. The main drift we take away from this is the sense that all entities are on equal footing, that they have an objective existence independent of our minds (i.e., against all Idealisms whatsoever), and the notion of emergence that entails the part-to-whole relation that cannot be reduced to an essential nature etc. are all keys within this notion of assemblage. An assemblage can be made up of independent assemblages, yet there is never a whole or totality, rather one might think of it as a cooperative or synthesis of assemblages that can disconnect or unplug and replug into further assemblages.

Back to Roden and the posthuman difference or disconnection thesis

Roden will begin with an ethical dilemma: We can either account for our technological activity and participation in this process that might lead to the posthuman, or we can discount it. To that he will say that “accounting for our contribution to making posthumans seems obligatory, but may be impossible in the cases that really matter; while discounting our contribution to posthuman succession appears irresponsible and foolhardy” (Roden, KL 2450). Either path will lead to an impasse he suggests. So what to do? First he says we need to schematically understand the basic premises of (SP) or speculative posthumanism. SP argues that the descendants of current humans could cease to be human by virtue of a history of technical alteration (Roden, KL 2469). Because of this we discover SP recognizes the notion that posthumanity comes about as the result of a process of technical alteration; and, that it represents the relationship between humans and posthumans as a historical successor relation, wide descent (Roden, KL 2475).

Before understanding this sense of the divide or disconnect between human/ posthuman we must first realize he suggests that any theory will by necessity need to be value neutral: “the posthuman it is, it might be argued, not so loaded as to beg ethical questions against critics of radical enhancement” (Roden, KL 2496). What he is implying is that for transhumanists thinkers such as Nick Bostrom there is a positive ethical stance in place to promote both enhancement and augmentation of humans as part of a key component of the global corporate system in which the health, medical, pharmaceutical, technological etc. initiatives have placed it as part of its elite capitalist score card for future world society based on enhanced humans, creativity, technocapitalism, smart cities, etc. While SP has no agenda and is value free in this sense of not being aligned with corporate pressure or governmental control to promote its objectives and gain monetary allocation or funding for its agendas. (He does not state this explicitly, and these are my own views or reading between the lines).

Which brings up a good point. So far Roden’s discourse has kept a high profile academic style that tends toward laying out stage by stage the philosophical, scientific, and technological layers of his argument without going into any ethical or political commitments one way or the other. This is to me one of the bright points of the book. Too many works of late are all so value laden with political, cultural, social, religious, anti-religious or atheistic agendas that one is never sure of the truth under all the ideology. David’s discourse keeps the gray tones, but to a purpose, and is careful to use rhetoric that is value neutral in the way of clarifying and making explicit the underlying truth of the matter without leading the viewer astray with other issues that are extraneous to the main argument. This is not to say that we should not understand the ethical or social implications, and later in the book he will offer that as well. Just an observation. 

Roden will tell us that there is both the sense of a wide descent and a wide humanity: the one dealing with any relationship that can be technically mediated to any degree; the other dealing with the notion of any product of a technogenetic process (Roden, KL 2527). This will lead us back into that concept of assemblage discussed above in DeLanda’s work. If we place this descent and wide humanity within the context of human descent and narrow humanity we understand the notion of becoming human or hominization has involved a confluence of biological, cultural and technological processes. It has produced socio-technical “assemblages” where humans are coupled with other active components: for example, languages, legal codes, cities and computer-mediated information networks. (Roden, KL 2540)

He will, after DeLanda, suggest that narrow humans (Homo Sapiens) exist within a specific horizon of an extended socio-technical network of assemblages, and that whatever the posthuman entails it will inaugurate and emergence from or historical rupture with the narrow human network or assemblage. (Roden, 2564) More specifically any Wide Human descendent will become posthuman if and only if it has ceased to belong to WH (the Wide Human) as a result of technical alteration; and, second, that it is a wide descendant of such a being (outside WH) (Roden, KL 2588). This is the point when many would raise the ethical dilemmas faced by humanity. The simple truth of it is that we cannot reduce whatever the posthuman might become to some moral or immoral human essence or decision making process. Against any anthropological essentialism. Whatever WH might become they have the same ontological status (flat ontology) as our species (Homo sapiens). As Roden suggests they are both are complex individuals rather than kinds or essences. However, WH is constituted by causal relationships between biological and non-biological parts, such as languages, technologies and institutions. A disconnection event would be liable to involve technological mechanisms without equivalents in the biological world and this should be allowed for in any ontology that supports speculative posthumanism. (Roden, 2649)

For the rest of the chapter he goes over several aspects of his disconnection thesis: 1) modes of disconnection (i.e., greater cognitive powers, bodily configurations, linguistic and perceptual alterations, etc.); 2) is disconnection predictable? (unlikely that we will be able to discern the nature or the effects of feasible disconnection-potent technologies without building serviceable prototypes); 3) once the disconnection takes place how do we interpret these posthuman others? The last question he will choose both caution and opt for an accounting: “even if we enjoin selective caution to prevent worst-case outcomes from disconnection-potent technologies, we must still place ourselves in a situation in which such potential can be identified. Thus seeking to contribute to the emergence of posthumans, or to become posthuman ourselves…”(Roden, 2814). So that our best bet is not to turn a blind eye, nor to attempt a retreat and try to control this unpredictable emergence, but rather to keep an eye toward it, account for the anomalies that arise in our midst, keep looking for posthuman occurrence and if we discover it to provide an ongoing accounting and analysis of its paths and trajectories.

Summing up this notion of the disconnection thesis we discover that all it amounts to is an acknowledgement that at some future time technical alternations may occur that will provide a rupture and emergence of the posthuman, but what form it will take is not something we can extrapolate from current theory. The best we can do as he suggests is by satisfying our moral concern with our posthuman prospects through posthuman accounting is by seeking to produce or become posthumans. While objections to the policy of posthuman accounting on precautionary grounds have been deflected here, the reader could be forgiven for being dissatisfied by this resolution of the posthuman impasse. This resolution is tactical and provisional. However, before we are in a position to provide a more satisfactory resolution, in the form of an ethics of becoming posthuman, we will need to devise a general account of the posthuman autonomy or agency presupposed by the disconnection thesis and consider its general ontological requirements. (Roden, 2817)

We will turn to that in our next post.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
2. Harman, Graham (2010-11-26). Towards Speculative Realism: Essays & (p. 174). NBN_Mobi_Kindle. Kindle Edition.
3. DeLanda, Manuel (2006-09-14). A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity (p. 10). Bloomsbury Publishing. Kindle Edition.

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 4.2)

The problem of interpretation arises because there are empirical and theoretical grounds for holding that some phenomenology is “dark”.
– David Roden,  Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human

Again I take up from my previous post David Roden’s Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. In section 4.2 he will introduce us to the notion that not all phenomenology deals with the pure world of surfaces and light. There is a dark side, or should we say ‘A Dark Tale of Phenomenology’. It will be a tale of twined realms: one of perception, and one of time. It will be a tale in which we will never be sure whether what is alien and posthuman can ever be known or shared by our own mental states, or that we will even be able to control or forecast what the posthuman is or could be. We will be in the dark with that which is alien and alienating.

David Roden will give us a beginning to our tale: “Let’s call a feature of experience “dark” if it confers no explicit or implicit understanding of its nature on the experiencer (Roden, KL 1961)”.1 Unlike the phenomenology of Husserl or even Heidegger in which the surface detail that we can intuit and see within the realm of appearance and presence, dark phenomenology would deal with that which cannot directly be seen, touched, felt, smelled, etc., yet affects us and influences our dispositions, feelings, or actions in indirect and strange ways that we cannot describe with any precision. Our access to this dark side would be by indirect ways, much like scientist who uncover the truth of dark energy and dark matter which make up 99% of our universe and yet we never have direct access to such things except through a combination of mathematical theorems and instruments that measure aspects of these unknown unknowns indirectly through experimentation and analyses.

Reading Roden’s surmises about color theory, and of how there are millions of shadings of color that we cannot intuit or describe from a firs-person-singular perspective because we do not have access or it is a form of loss or neglect reminded my of what many in the neurosciences are suspecting. As I suggested from Bakker’s BBT theory in a previous post the brain only ever gives us the information we need to deal with the things evolution and survival have adapted us too in our understanding or ‘intuiting’ of the environment we are embedded within. Yet, as Roden is suggesting there is an amazing realm of experience we never have direct access to, and that in fact we are blind too not because we cannot intuit it, but because the brain only offers our ‘first-person’ of subjective self or temporary agency certain well-defined and filtered pieces of the puzzle. It filters out the rest accept as Roden said previously, there are times when we are affected by things we cannot perceive but are part of reality. Phenomenology is unable to discuss such things because it is not science, it lacks both the conceptual and instrumental technology to graze even a percent of this unknown or blind territory surrounding us. Philosophers like to talk of chaos, etc. When in fact it is a sea of information that the brain analyses at every moment, but delivers to us packaged in byte size representations that we can handle as its evolutionary agents of choice.

(A personal aside: I must admit I wish David would have sunk the philosophy for neuroscience and hard-sciences rather than wasting time with the philosophical community. It always seems reading such works that one must spend an exorbitant amount of time clarifying concepts, ideas, notions for other professional philosophers who will probably reject what your saying anyway. To me science is answering these sorts of questions in terms that leave the poor phenomenological philosopher in a quandary. Maybe its part of the academic game. I’ve never been sure. Yet, as we will see David himself will make much the same gesture later on.)

Either way as I read dark phenomenology is actually trying to deal not with appearance but with what Kant used to call the ‘noumenal’ realm. Which was closed off from philosophical speculation two-hundred years ago as something that could never be described or known. Yet, both philosophy and the sciences have been describing aspects of it ever since and doing it by indirect means without ever name it that. It’s as if we’ve closed our selves off from the truth of our own blindness, and told ourselves we’re not blind.

As Roden will affirm of all these representationalist philosophers in discussing the possibility that time may have a dark side: “For representationalist philosophers of mind who believe that the mind is an engine for forming and transforming mental representations there is good reason to be sceptical about the supposed transcendental role of time” (Rode, KL 2068). Then he will tells us why: “For where a phenomenological ontology transcends the plausible limits of intuition its interpretation would have to be arbitrated according to its instrumental efficacy, simplicity and explanatory potential as well as its descriptive content” (Roden, KL 2081).

 And as if he heard me he will tell us that phenomenology must provide an incomplete account of those dark structures that are not captured in appearance through other modes of inquiry, saying: “If phenomenology is incompletely characterized by the discipline of phenomenology, though, it seems proper that methods of enquiry such as those employed by cognitive scientists, neuroscientists and cognitive modellers should take up the interpretative slack. If phenomenologists want to understand what they are talking about , they should apply the natural attitude to their own discipline. (Roden, 2120)”

And, of course most practicing scientists in these fields would tell Roden and the others: Why don’t you just give it up and join us? Maybe philosophy is not suited to describe or even begin to analyze what we’re discovering, maybe you would be better off closing down philosophy of mind and becoming scientists.” But of course we know what these philosophers would probably say to that. Don’t we. 

Ultimately after surveying phenomenology of Husserl and Heidegger and others Roden will come to the conclusion:

Dark phenomenology undermines the transcendental anthropologies of Heidegger and Husserl because it deprives them of the ability to distinguish transcendental conditions of possibility such as Dasein or Husserl’s temporal subject (which are not things in the world) from the manifestation of things that they make possible. They are deconstructed insofar as they become unable to interpret the formal structures with which they understand the fundamental conditions of possibility for worlds or things. … As bruited, this failure of transcendentalism is crucial for our understanding of SP. If there is no a priori theory of temporality, there is no a priori theory of worlds and we cannot appeal to phenomenology to exclude the possibility that posthuman modes of being could be structurally unlike our own in ways that we cannot currently comprehend. (Roden, KL 2194 – 2206)

 What we’re left with is an open and indescribable realm of possibility that is anyone’s guess. As he will sum it up there is no reason to be bound by a transcendental or anthropological posthumanism, instead SP will have no truck with constraints on the open-endedness of posthumanism (” This is not to say, of course, that there are no constraints on PPS”):

Posthuman minds may or may not be weirder than we can know. We cannot preclude maximum weirdness prior to their appearance. But what do we mean by such an advent? Given the extreme space of possible variation opened up by the collapse of the anthropological boundary, it seems that we can make few substantive assumptions about what posthumans would have to be like.  (Roden, 2378)

In the next post Roden takes up the formal analysis rather than an a priori or substantive account of posthuman life, suggesting that we will not be able to describe the posthuman till we see in in the wild. We will follow him into the wild.

1. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. 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.

David Roden’s: Speculative Posthumanism & the Future of Humanity (Part 2)

In my last post on David Roden’s new book Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human I introduced his basic notion of Speculative Posthumanism (SP) in which he claimed that for “SP … there could be posthumans. It does not imply that posthumans would be better than humans or even that their lives would be compared from a single moral perspective.” The basic motif is that his account is not a normative or moral ordering of what posthuman is, but rather an account of what it contains. 

In chapter one he provides a few further distinctions to set the stage of his work. First he will set his form of speculative posthumanism against the those like Neil Badmington and Katherine Hayles who enact a ‘critical posthumanism’ in the tradition of the linguistic turn or Derridean deconstruction of the humanist traditions of subjectivity, etc.. Their basic attack is against the metaphysics of presence that would allow for the upload/download of personality into clones or robots in some future scenario. Once can see in Richard K. Morgan’s science fictionalization (see Altered Carbon) of humans who can download their informatics knowledge, personality, etc. into specialized hardware that allows retrieval for alternative resleeving into either a clone or synthetic organism (i.e., a future rebirthing process in which the personality and identity of the dead can continually be uploaded into new systems, clones, symbiotic life-forms to continue their eternal voyage).  Hans Moravec one of the father’s of robotics would in Mind’s Children be the progenitor of such download/upload concepts that would lead him eventually to sponsor transhumanism, which as Roden will tell us is a normative claim that offers a future full of promise and immortality. Such luminaries as Frank J. Tipler in The Physics of Immortality: Modern Cosmology, God and the Resurrection of the Dead would bring scientific credence to such ideas as the Anthropic Principle, which John D. Barrow and he collaborated on that stipulates: “Intelligent information-processing must come into existence in the Universe, and, once it comes into existence, will never die out.”

Nick Bostrom following such reasoning would in his book Anthropic Bias: Observation Selection Effects in Science and Philosophy supply an added feature set to those early theories. Bostrom showed how there are problems in various different areas of inquiry (including in cosmology, philosophy, evolution theory, game theory, and quantum physics) that involve a common set of issues related to the handling of indexical information. He argued that a theory of anthropics is needed to deal with these. He introduced the Self-Sampling Assumption (SSA) and the Self-Indication Assumption (SIA) and showed how they lead to different conclusions in a number of cases. He pointed out that each is affected by paradoxes or counterintuitive implications in certain thought experiments (the SSA in e.g. the Doomsday argument; the SIA in the Presumptuous Philosopher thought experiment). He suggested that a way forward may involve extending SSA into the Strong Self-Sampling Assumption (SSSA), which replaces “observers” in the SSA definition by “observer-moments”. This could allow for the reference class to be relativized (and he derived an expression for this in the “observation equation”). (see Nick Bostrom)

Bostrom would go on from there and in 1998 co-found (with David Pearce) the World Transhumanist Association (which has since changed its name to Humanity+). In 2004, he co-founded (with James Hughes) the Institute for Ethics and Emerging Technologies. In 2005 he was appointed Director of the newly created Future of Humanity Institute in Oxford. Bostrom is the 2009 recipient of the Eugene R. Gannon Award for the Continued Pursuit of Human Advancement and was named in Foreign Policy’s 2009 list of top global thinkers “for accepting no limits on human potential.” (see Bostrom)

Bostrom’s Humanity+ is based on normative claims about the future of humanity and its enhancement, and as Roden will tell us transhumanism is an “ethical claim to the effect that technological enhancement of human capacities is a desirable aim” (Roden, 250).1 In contradistinction to any political or ethical agenda (SP) or speculative posthumanism which is the subject of Roden’s book “is not a normative claim about how the world ought to be but a metaphysical claim about what it could contain” (Roden, 251). Both critical posthumanism and transhumanism in Roden’s sense of the term are failures of imagination and philosophical vision, while SP on the other hand is concerned with both current and future humans, whose technological activities might bring them into being (Roden, KL 257). So in this sense Roden is more concerned with the activities and technologies of current and future humans, and how in their interventions they might bring about the posthuman as effect of those interventions and technologies.

In Bostrom’s latest work Superintelligence: Paths, Dangers, Strategies he spins the normative scenario by following the trail of machine life. If machine brains one day come to surpass human brains in general intelligence, then this new superintelligence could become very powerful. As the fate of the gorillas now depends more on us humans than on the gorillas themselves, so the fate of our species then would come to depend on the actions of the machine superintelligence. But we have one advantage: we get to make the first move. Will it be possible to construct a seed AI or otherwise to engineer initial conditions so as to make an intelligence explosion survivable? How could one achieve a controlled detonation? In my own sense of the word: we want be able to control it. Just a study of past technology shows the truth of that: out of the bag it will have its own way with or without us. The notion that we could apply filters or rules to regulate an inhuman or superintelligent species seems quite erroneous when we haven’t even been able to control our own species through normative pressure. The various religions of our diverse cultures are examples of failed normative pressure. Even now secular norms are beginning to fall into abeyance as enlightenment ideology like other normative practices is in the midst of a dark critique.

In pursuit of this Roden will work through the major aspects of the humanist traditions, teasing out the moral, epistemic, and ontic/ontological issues and concerns relating to those traditions before moving on to his specific arguments for a speculative posthumanism.  I’ll not go into details over most of these basic surveys and historical critiques, but will just highlight the basic notions relevant to his argument.

1. Humanists believe in the exceptionalism of humans as distinct and separate from non-human species. Most of this will come out of the Christian humanist tradition in which man is superior to animals, etc. This tradition is based in a since of either ‘freedom’ (Satre, atheistic humanism) or ‘lack’ (Pico della Mirandola). There will also be nuances of this human-centric vision or anthropocentric path depending stemming from Descartes to Kant and beyond, each with its own nuanced flavor of the human/non-human divide.
2. Transhumanism offers another take, one that will combine medical, technological, pharmaceutical enhancements to make humans better. As Roden will surmise, transhumanism is just Human 1.0 to 2.0 and their descendents may still value the concepts of autonomy, sociability and artistic expression. They will just be much better at being rational , sensitive and expressive – better at being human. (Roden, KL 403-405)
3. Yet, not all is rosy for transhumanists, some fear the conceptual leaps of Artificial General Intelligence (AGI). As Roden tells us Bostrom surmises that “the advent of artificial super-intelligence might render the intellectual efforts of biological thinkers irrelevant in the face of dizzying acceleration in machinic intelligence” (Roden KL 426).
4. Another key issue between transhumanists and SP is the notion of functionalism, or the concept that the mind and its capacities or states is independent of the brain and could be grafted onto other types of hardware, etc. Transhumanist hope for a human like mind that could be transplanted into human-like systems (the more general formulation is key for transhumanist aspirations for uploaded immortality because it is conceivable that the functional structure by virtue of which brains exhibit mentality is at a much lower level than that of individual mental states KL 476), while SP sees this as possible wishful thinking in which thought it might become possible nothing precludes the mind being placed in totally non-human forms.

Next he will offer four basic variations of posthumanism: SP, Critical Posthumanism, Speculative realism, and Philosophical naturalism. Each will decenter the human from its exceptional status and place it squarely on a flat footing with its non-human planetary and cosmic neighbors:

Speculative posthumanism is situated within the discourse of what many term ‘the singularity’ in which at some point in the future some technological intervention will eventually produce a posthuman life form that diverges from present humanity. Whether this is advisable or not it will eventually happen. Yet, how it will take effect is open rather than something known. And it may or may not coincide with such ethical claims of transhumanism or other normative systems. In fact even for SP there is a need for some form of ethical stance that Roden tells us will be clarified in later chapters.

Critical posthumanism is centered on the philosophical discourse at the juncture of humanist and posthumanist thinking, and is an outgrowth of the poststructural and deconstructive project of Jaques Derrida and others, like Foucault etc. in their pursuit to displace the human centric vision of philosophy, etc. This form of posthumanism is more strictly literary and philosophical, and even academic that the others.

Speculative realism Roden tells us will argue against the critical posthumanists and deconstructive project and its stance on decentering subjectivity, saying  “that to undo anthropocentrism and human exceptionalism we must shift philosophical concern away from subjectivity (or the deconstruction of the same) towards the cosmic throng of nonhuman things (“ the great outdoors”)” (Roden, KL 730). SR is a heated topic among younger philosophers dealing with even the notion of whether speculative realism is even a worthy umbrella term for many of the philosophers involved. (see Speculative Realism)

Philosophical naturalism is the odd-man out, in the fact that it’s not centered on posthuman discourse per se, but rather in the “truth-generating practices of science rather than to philosophical anthropology to warrant claims about the world’s metaphysical structure” (Roden, KL 753). Yet, it is the dominative discourse for most practicing scientists, and functionalism being one of the naturalist mainstays that all posthumanisms must deal with at one time or another. 

I decided to break this down into several posts rather than to try to review it all in one long post. Chapter one set the tone of the various types of posthumanism, the next chapter will delve deeper into the perimeters and details of the “critical posthumanist” discourse. I’ll turn to that next…

Visit David Roden’s blog, Enemy Industry which is always informed and worth pondering.

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

David Roden on Posthuman Life

 There evolved at length a very different kind of complex organism, in which material contact of parts was not necessary either to coordination of behaviour or unity of consciousness. . . .
—OLAF STAPLEDON, First and Last Men

When Stapledon wrote that book he was thinking of Martians, but in our time one might think he was studying the strangeness of what our posthuman progeny may evolve into.  In Last and First Men Stapledon presents a version of the future history of our species, reviewed by one of our descendants as stellar catastrophe is bringing our solar system to an end. Humanity rises and falls through a succession of mental and physical transformations, regenerating after natural and artificial disasters and emerging in the end into a polymorphous group intelligence, a telepathically linked community of ten million minds spanning the orbits of the outer planets and breaking the bounds of individual consciousness, yet still incapable of more than “a fledgling’s knowledge” of the whole.1

Modern humans (Homo sapiens or Homo sapiens sapiens) are the only extant members of the hominin clade, a branch of great apes characterized by erect posture and bipedal locomotion; manual dexterity and increased tool use; and a general trend toward larger, more complex brains and societies. We evolved according to Darwinian theory from early hominids, such as the australopithecines whose brains and anatomy in many ways more similar to non-human apes, are less often thought of or referred to as “human” than hominids of the genus Homo some of whom used fire, occupied much of Eurasia, and gave rise to anatomically modern Homo sapiens in Africa about 200,000 years ago where they began to exhibit evidence of behavioral modernity around 50,000 years ago and migrated out in successive waves to occupy all but the smallest, driest, and coldest lands. (see Human)

You begin to see a pattern that evolution moves through various changes and transformations. Yet, there is no end point, no progression, not teleological goal to it all. Instead evolutionary theory – and, more explicitly its modern synthesis, connected natural selection, mutation theory, and Mendelian inheritance into a unified theory that applied generally to any branch of biology. One thing that sticks out in this is that evolution deals with organic evolution. The modern synthesis doesn’t include other types of evolvement that might portend what the posthuman descendants of humans might become. If we follow the logic of evolutionary theory as it exists we could at best extrapolate only the continued organic evolution of humans or their eventual extinction. We know that extinction is a possibility since 99% of the species that have ever existed on earth are now extinct. Something will eventually replace us. But what that ‘something’ might be is open to question, an open ended speculative possibility rather than something a scientist could actually pin down and point to with confidence.


This is the basic premise of Dr. David Roden’s new work, Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human. We are living in a technological era in which a convergence of NBIC technologies (an acronym for Nanotechnology, Biotechnology, Information technology and Cognitive science), as well as certain well supported positions in cognitive science, biological theory and general metaphysics imply that a posthuman succession is possible in principle, even if the technological means for achieving it remain speculative (Roden, KL 157). Roden will term his version of this as “speculative posthumanism”:

Throughout this work I refer to the philosophical claim that such successors are possible as “speculative posthumanism ” (SP ) and distinguish it from positions which are commonly conflated with SP, like transhumanism. SP claims that there could be posthumans. It does not imply that posthumans would be better than humans or even that their lives would be compared from a single moral perspective.2

Roden will develop notions of “Critical Posthumanism” — which seeks to “deconstruct” the philosophical centrality of the human subject in epistemology, ethics and politics; and, Transhumanism — which proposes the technical enhancement of humans and their capacities. Yet, as Roden admits before we begin to speak of the posthuman we need to have some inkling of exactly what we mean by ‘human’: any philosophical theory of posthumanism owes us an account of what it means to be human such that it is conceivable that there could be nonhuman successors to humans (Roden, KL 174).

One thought that Roden brings out is the notion of subjectivity:

Some philosophers claim that there are features of human moral life and human subjectivity that are not just local to certain gregarious primates but are necessary conditions of agency and subjectivity everywhere. This “transcendental approach” to philosophy does not imply that posthumans are impossible but that – contrary to expectations – they might not be all that different from us. Thus a theory of posthumanity should consider both empirical and transcendental constraints on posthuman possibility. (Roden, KL 180)

Yet, such premises of an anti-intentional or non-intentional materialism as stem from Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, Bataille, and Nick Land would opt that we need no theory of subjectivity, that this is a prejudice of the Idealist tradition and dialectics that are in themselves of little worth. Obviously philosophers such as Alain Badiou, Slavoj Zizek, Quentin Meillassoux, and Adrian Johnson stand for this whole Idealist tradition in materialism in one form or another. Against the Idealist traditions is a materialism grounded in chaos and composition, in desire: Nick Land’s sense of libidinal materialism begins and ends in ‘desire’ which opposes the notion of lack: instead his is a theory of unconditional (non-teleological) desire (Land, 37).3 Unlike many materialisms that start with the concept of Being, or an ontology, Libidinal Materialism begins by acknowledging thermodynamics, chaos, and the pre-ontological dimension of energy: “libidinal materialism accepts only chaos and composition” (43). Being is an effect of composition: “being as an effect of the composition of chaos”:

With the libidinal reformulation of being as composition ‘one acquires degrees of being, one loses that which has being’. The effect of ‘being’ is derivative from process, ‘because we have to be stable in our beliefs… one has a general energetics of compositions… of types, varieties, species, regularities. The power to conserve, transmit, circulate, and enhance compositions, the power that is assimilated in the marking, reserving, and appropriation of compositions, and the power released in the disinhibition, dissipation, and … unleashing of compositions (Land, 44) … [even Freud is a libidinal materialist] in that he does not conceive desire as lack, representation, or intention, but as dissipative energetic flow, inhibited by the damming and channeling apparatus of the secondary process (Land, 45).

R. Scott Bakker author of the fantasy series The Second Apocalypse is also the theoretician of what he terms Blind Brain Theory (BBT). Very briefly, the theory rests on the observation that out of the vast amount of information processed by the brain every nanosecond, only a meagre trickle makes it through to consciousness; and crucially that includes information about the processing itself. We have virtually no idea of the massive and complex processes churning away in all the unconscious functions that really make things work and the result is that consciousness is not at all what it seems to be. Even what we term subjectivity is but a temporary process and effect of these brain processes and has no stable identity to speak of, but is rather a temporary focal point of consciousness. (see The Last Magic Show)

So to come back to Roden’s statement that some “philosophers claim that there are features of human moral life and human subjectivity that are not just local to certain gregarious primates but are necessary conditions of agency and subjectivity everywhere (Roden, KL 180)”. We can with BBT and Libidinal Materialism, or what might be better termed an anti-intentional philosophy based on non-theophilosophical concepts throw out the need to base our sense of what comes after the human on either ‘agency’ or ‘subjectivity’ as conditions, for both are in fact effects of the brain not substance based entities. So Roden need not worry about such conditions and constraints. And, as he tells us weakly constrained SP suggests that our current technical practice could precipitate a nonhuman world that we cannot yet understand, in which “our” values may have no place (Roden KL 187). Which is this sense that our human epistemologies, ontologies and normative or ethical practices and values cannot tell us anything about what the posthuman might entail: it is all speculative and without qualification.

But if this is true he will ask:

Does this mean that talk of “posthumans” is self-vitiating nonsense ? Does speaking of “weird” worlds or values commit one to a conceptual relativism that is incompatible with the commitment to realism? (Roden, KL 191)

If posthuman talk is not self-vitiating nonsense, the ethical problems it raises are very challenging indeed. If our current technological trajectories might result in the world turning posthuman, how should we view this prospect and respond to it? Should we apply a conservative , precautionary approach to technology that favours “human” values over any possible posthuman ones? Can conservatism be justified under weakly constrained SP and, if not, then what kind of ethical or political alternatives are justifiable? (Roden, 193)

David comes out of the Idealist traditions which I must admit I oppose with the alternate materialist traditions. As he tells us:

As I mentioned, an appreciation of the scope of SP requires that we consider empirically informed speculations about posthumans and also engage with the tradition of transcendental thought that derives from the work of Kant, Hegel, Husserl and Heidegger. (Rode, KL 200)

These are the questions his book raises and tries to offer tentative answers too:

Table of contents:

Introduction: Churchland’s Centipede
1. Humanism,Transhumanism and Posthumanism
2. A Defence of Pre‐Critical Posthumanism
3. The Edge of the Human
4. Weird Tales: Anthropologically Unbounded Posthumanism
5. The Disconnection Thesis
6. Functional Autonomy and Assemblage Theory
7. New Substantivism: A Theory of Technology
8. The Ethics of Becoming Posthuman.

I’ve only begun reading his new work so will need to hold off and come back to it in a future post. Knowing that his philosophical proclivities bend toward the German Idealist traditions I’m sure I’ll have plenty to argue with, yet it is always interesting to see how the current philosophies are viewing such things as posthumanism. So I looked forward to digging in. So far the book offers so far a clear and energetic, and informative look at the issues involved. After I finish reading it completely I’ll give a more informed summation. Definitely a work to make you think about what may be coming our way at some point in the future if the technologists, scientists, DARPA, and capitalist machine are any sign. Stay tuned… 

David Roden has a blog, Enemy Industry which is always informed and worth pondering.

For others in this series look here.

1. Dyson, George B. (2012-09-04). Darwin Among The Machines (p. 199). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.
2. Roden, David (2014-10-10). Posthuman Life: Philosophy at the Edge of the Human (Kindle Locations 165-168). Taylor and Francis. Kindle Edition.
3. Nick Land. A Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992)

The Curse of the Sun: Libidinal Materialism as the Composition of the Universe

…philosophy is a machine that transforms the prospect of thought into excitation; a generator.

– Nick Land, The Thirst for Annihilation

Nick Land like his compeers – Nietzsche, Bataille, and Cioran has that quality of aphoristic power that keeps one returning here and there to his dark disquisitions and divigations into the night worlds between desire and death. I’ve asked myself many times why certain writers force me to reread them over and over and over again; and, as such, why with each new reading I discover bits and pieces of something I’d missed, or not been aware of within the last set of notations. For, yes, these are writers for whom one takes notes, jots down certain aphoristic sentences that suddenly awaken one’s own machine, one’s own mind, exciting it and generating other thoughts.  There seems to be under the darkening layers or scales of his thought an energetics, a theory of composition that seeks its habitation at the crossroads of eroticism, death, and the infinite inroads of desire. Life is a child of the sun, and its curse: to wander in a maze without outlet bound to an infernal machine of desire that seeks only ever more powerful ways of dodging the fatal Minotaur of inexistence.

As a pariah and outlaw philosopher Land in his one book and several essays pushed the limits of mind like some Rimbaud of the last thought. No need to go over the history of that again. Too many superficial readings of his physical and mental breakthroughs and breakdowns into vastation or emptiness are already misunderstood. And, that he has returned not as his former self, but as a gnomic agent proclaiming his cultural provocations to a certain reactionary mindset is only another masked distancing from his earlier wildness.

As he will remind us Bataille’s “thirst for annihilation is the same as the sun” (33).1 Yet, it is not a “desire man directs toward the sun, but the solar trajectory itself, the sun as the unconscious subject of terrestrial history” (33). This notion that the history of the earth is guided by a secret history of the sun, its dark proclivities and mythologies guiding the pathology of human civilization and the inhuman forms that shadow us. Is this not the truth we seem to fear? We seem to hide from the white death of its blinding gold mask, the eye of death that would turn us to ash if we were not protected by the ions swirling in the ocean of our atmosphere. That the ancients who sacrificed to the sun, who with obsidian or bone knives cut the living hearts of its victims from their chests and held them to the sun as to the great glory and splendor of heavenly sovereignty. That blood, and only blood; the violence of death could keep this great power churning in the heavens, this furnace of life, this engine of all creation: was this not at the heart of all ancient religion? Human life consumed in the furnace of the sun? Is not all economics an economy of the Sun? As Land will tell us:

Excess or surplus precedes production, work, seriousness, exchange, and lack. The primordial task of life is not to produce or survive, but to consume the clogging floods of riches – of energy – pour down upon it.

The notion that all organic life on earth is part of a vast consumption machine, a living mouth. Is this not the truth of it? And, what are we consuming? Is it not the excess of the living Sun itself? Are we not fed by the sun and its excessive life? Sometimes I think of those nineteenth century mythologizers who sought to understand ancient religious practices under the auspices of solar mythologies; or, as Land will have it, there “is no difference between desire and the sun: sexuality is not psychological but cosmo-illogical” (37). Land will obliterate the Physicalism of science or philosophical thought through the light of the sun, and out of its ashes – like some new born phoenix, “libidinal materialism” will arise: a theory of unconditional (non-teleological) desire, which as he satirically put it “a scorch-mark from the expository diagnosis of the physicalistic prejudice” (38).

Physicalism was bound to theology, to the One. It was a dualism, having formulated matter as dead and passive and mind as other than this stuff. It was already caught in its on fly-trap, bound to false assumptions before it even began explaining the universe of its reasoning madness. After a thorough investigation of thermodynamics, entropy, negentropy and Boltzmann’s mathematics and findings he will recenter his understanding of “libidinal matter” saying,

“Libidinal matter is that which resists a relation of reciprocal transcendence against time, and departs from the rigorous passivity of physical substance without recourse to dualistic, idealistic, or theistic conceptuality. It implies a process of mutation… (following  Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and Freud ) entitling it ‘drive’. Drive is that which explains, rather than presupposing, the cause/effect couple of classical physics. … drives are irruptive dynamics of matter in advance of natural law. (42)”

In his theory Land is moving toward a non-intentional philosophy, one that is “not a transformation of intentional theories of desire, of desire as understood as lack, as transcendence, as dialectic” (42). So against Hegel, Marx and their progeny Land offers another libidinal materialism. One must turn to thermodynamics and ‘energy’ for an alternative view of materialism. Two-thousand years of metaphysical blundering is overthrown and new tropes rearrange our relations to science and philosophy: Chance, Tendency, Energy, and Information. He will offer a new cosmographic cosmos:

“…thermospasm is reality as undiluted chaos. It is where we all came from. The death-drive is the longing to return there, just as salmon would return upstream to perish at the origin. … Life is able to deviate from death only because it also propagates it, and the propagation of disorder is always more successful than the deviation. (43)”

The universe is an open, rather than closed system: “no closed systems, no stable codes, no recuperable origins. There is only the thermospasmic shock wave, tendential energy flux, degradation of energy,. A receipt of information – of intensity – carried downstream” (43). Yet, against Boltzmann who built his notions of thermodynamics within an ontology, libidinal materialism sits in chaos outside any thought of Being. What Land offers is a processual theory based on composition, one in which Being is an effect of chaos composition rather than some static substance: the “effect of being is derivative from process…” (44).

Out of Nietzsche he will demarcate a general libidinal energetics: 1) a questioning of the mathematical underpinnings of science as same, equal, or identical – as essentializing; 2) the figure of eternal recurrence as libidinal engine producing energetics; and, 3) a general theory of hierarchies, of order as rank-order (composition). Idealism and Physicalism collapse, transcendental philosophy from Kant till now is decapitated; finished; and, finally, 4) a diagnosis of nihilism, of the hyperbolic of desire (the terminal end-point of humanity in null or God). (44-45).

Land will admit Freud into the new philosophical world of libidinal materialism: he, too, is an energeticist: “he does not conceive of desire as lack, representation, or intention, but as dissipative energetic flow, inhibited by the damming and channeling apparatus of the secondary process. Yet, Freud – even though recognizing the truth of the drives will bolster up the old metaphysics of ego and the reality principle against their force, going against the very truth of the pressure of the drives as modulation of self not as intentional agent but as temporary control point for the drives in their fluxuations and endless compositions. Land will discover in Freud another Solar Mythologist, one found within his Beyond the Pleasure Principle where he discovers life as a mazing in complex escape from death or null zero, an endless wandering in the labyrinth of time against death: “a maze wanderer” (47). Then Land asks: “What is the source of the ‘decisive external influences’ that propel the mazings of life, if not the sun?”

Life is not an accident as some suggest, but is rather the curse of the sun. Land is our postmodern Lucretius teaching us that death is nothing to be feared, death is merely the form life takes in its infinite mazings and compositions under the gaze of the Apollonian eye of the Sun. “Confronting the absolute posed by our inevitable extinction, we feel brave, proud of ourselves, we permit ourselves a little indulgence, swooning in the delectations of morbidity. … Across the aeons our mass hydro-carbon enjoys a veritable harem of souls.” Desire continues its quest for the sun. Or, as that Shaman of the Evening Lands says it:

Dazzling and tremendous how quick the sun-rise would kill me,
If I could not now and always send sun-rise out of me.

My voice goes after what my eyes cannot reach,
With the twirl of my tongue I encompass worlds and volumes of worlds.
– Walt Whitman, Song of Myself

The secret of the labyrinth is in its “scalings” – like dark matter and dark energy which structurate and energize the visible matter we see in the universe the drives within that chaotic sea produce the veritable universe of light and suns and galaxies around us. Composing and decomposing and recomposing matter in an infinite play without purpose or teleological goal.  There is no whole, no totality, there is nothing but the labyrinth and process, comings and goings and returnings, endlessly all the way up and all the way down.

Land will remind us that for Bataille the natural and cultural worlds that envelope the earth or nothing more than the evolution of death. Why? Because in “death life becomes an echo of the sun, realizing its inevitable destiny, which is pure loss” (56). He will add that such a materialist discourse is free of that intentional subject that mars all idealist discourse, and that it offers a non-metaphysical and non-intentional understanding of the of the economy as pure poetry rather than philosophical plunderings of either Descartes dualism or Marx’s dialectical modes of thought. Instead, as Bataille will affirm, poetry is a “holocaust of words” (56).

In fact bourgeois culture is not an expression of capitalism, it is its antithesis: capitalism is anti-culture (56). In the older feudalism of the aristocracy and Catholicism the notion of “expenditure” and pure loss were central, in the new modern economies cannot accept the need for expenditure or even admit that overproduction is an issue or problem. Instead of waste and excess, sacrifice and pot-latch festivals of total expenditure we get endless cycles of overproduction, deflation, and depression.

One remembers those anthropologists who studied the notion of potlatch:

“In the potlatch, the host in effect challenged a guest chieftain to exceed him in his ‘power’ to give away or to destroy goods. If the guest did not return 100 percent on the gifts received and destroy even more wealth in a bigger and better bonfire, he and his people lost face and so his ‘power’ was diminished”.2

As Earnest Becker in his Escape from Evil will remind us “primitive man created an economic surplus beyond basic human need so that he would have something to give to the gods; the giving of surplus was an offering to the gods who controlled the entire economy of nature in the first place”3, so that he needed to give to keep the power flowing, the cosmological circuit of power from sun to earth and back again moving, allowing the obligation and expiation to channel its forces of accumulated riches rather than hording them. In the potlatch when the entire goods of a community and a chieftain were destroyed and annihilated it was to open up the power of the gods and sun to the community as a whole: “the eternal flux of power in the broad stream of life was generated by the greatest possible expenditure; man wanted that stream to flow as bountifully as possible” (30). 

In our time War is the potlatch feast of nations, the way in which nations sacrifice to the gods of life and expend their generosity and glory to the ancient sun and death. As Paul Virilio in Pure War speaking of the atrocities of Pol Pot will tells us: “If they had let Pol Pot act as he saw fit, there would have been no one left. Cambodia is the scale-model of the suicide State which no longer gathers populations in order to exploit territory, but which infinitely dissolves it” and allows the festival of a endless annihilation of expenditure.4

In our time philanthropy and other so to speak redistributions of wealth back to the community have become parodies and examples of the forgotten truth of those ancient potlatches. Even in the latest democratic pitch to redistribute the wealth to those in need is a parody. We’ve lost the truth of giving, of expenditure, or the pure waste of goods to the gods and sun. We live now in that labyrinth without outlet where no expenditure and no waste exist, only the endless cycles of repetition and economic depression. The riches of the world continue to be accumulated in the hands of a few who will never all those to return to the community or the sun. Yet, as the debt and guilt of this accumulate the earth and sun will have their day, too.

As Land will tell us the “mobility peculiar to the labyrinth – real cosmic motion or liquidation – is not confined by the scales, instead it finds a shaft of facilitation passing from one to another, a “slippage”, the full consequence of which is an illimitable dispersion across the strata: communication through death” (203). Harold Bloom in a book on The Labyrinth will tell us that the ancient identity of rhetoric, psychology, and cosmology is preserved in the figuration of imaginative literature “as a breathing, moving labyrinth”.5 James Joyce once said that “history is a nightmare from which I’m trying to awake”, and Finnegan’s Wake is a figural labyrinth within which both secular and sacred mazings repeat themselves in moving kaleidoscope of pun in which the reader is condemned to wander between sea and sea. But then again maybe the truth is that the living labyrinth doesn’t want you to escape, that in truth it lulls you into wandering its dark corridors forever in hopes that you will never discover the exit; for to find the exit is to discover neither escape nor freedom, but the final termination: death. 

Land will leave us one last sublime darkening, a philosophical knowing (kairos-happening) or gnosis (not Gnosticism but a knowing that is at once a corruption and a degradation of all we have been or will be):

Poetry is this slippage that is broken upon the end of poetry, erased in a desert as ‘beautiful as death’. There is no question of affirmation, achievement, gain, but only a catastrophe without mitigation compared to which everything is poverty and imprisonment.


1. Nick Land. The Thirst for Annihilation. (Routledge, 1992).
2. Potlatch. Wikipedia.
3. Escape from Evil. Ernest Becker. (Free Press, 1975)
4. Pure War. Paul Virilio ( Semiotext(e), 2008)
5. The Labyrinth. Harold Bloom. (InfoBase, 2009)


Positing Futurity: The Possibilities of Utopology

A true opposite of utopia would be a society that is either completely unplanned or is planned to be deliberately terrifying and awful. Dystopia, typically invoked, is neither of these things; rather, it is a utopia that has gone wrong, or a utopia that functions only for a particular segment of society.1

Fredric Jameson in a provocative essay Utopia as Method, or the Uses of the Future asks us “How can a place be a method?” Most of the time we think of utopia as a place, or a separate non-place in the sense of a secondary world with its own sociocultural milieu. But what if such a place that is no-place formed the dialectical union of opposites we call utopia/dystopia? What if this non-place were the outcome of the failure of the myth of progress? With the failure of modernity and its supposed utopic teleology and the myth of progress we are now within such a non-place, a place between times, a moment of pure difference in which neither the positive nor negative forces hold sway, but the balance between the forces of life and the forces of death vie for our future. As Jameson notes:

As far as space is concerned, the rich are withdrawing ever more urgently into their gated communities and their fortified enclosures; the middle classes are tirelessly engaged in covering the last vestiges of nature with acres of identical development homes; and the poor, pouring in from the former countryside, swell the makeshift outskirts with a population explosion so irrepressible that in a few years none of the ten largest cities on the globe will include the familiar first-world metropolises any longer. (ibid.)

Mike Davis in Planet of Slums situates the utopic/dystopic conclaves within the superstructure of our Megalopolises. He offers us an advanced state of the late-capitalist hyperworld in 3-D vision, where slums like slime molds infiltrate the fabric of our very lives, and even the elite live lives like truant children who have just escaped from the hinterlands of some Lovecraftian nightmare zone leaving the rest of us to cannibal horrors unimagined by science-fiction or gothic troubadours. The cities of the future, rather than being made out of glass and steel as envisioned by earlier generations of urbanists, are instead largely constructed out of crude brick, straw, recycled plastic, cement blocks, and scrap wood. Instead of cities of light soaring toward heaven, much of the twenty-first-century urban world squats in squalor, surrounded by pollution, excrement, and decay. Indeed, the one billion city-dwellers who inhabit postmodern slums might well look back with envy at the ruins of the sturdy mud homes of Catal Hayuk in Anatolia, erected at the very dawn of city life nine thousand years ago.2

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Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part Two: Section One

“Marxist accelerationism (Srnicek and Williams 2013) appears  to be not about a mere catastrophic acceleration of capital (like in Virilio, Baudrillard, Land), but about an epistemic acceleration and reappropriation of fixed capital as technology and knowledge (a sort of Epistemic Singularity).”

– Matteo Pasquinelli, The Labour of Abstraction: Seven Transitional Theses on Marxism and Accelerationism

The Plan and The Network

Maybe it’s as simple as that: an epistemic mythology rather than ontological fable.  Once again I survey Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek (2013) who will in their #Accelerate: Manifesto for an Accelerationist Politics remark: “As Marx was aware, capitalism cannot be identified as the agent of true acceleration.”(#Accelerate, 354)1  So let’s take a look at what Marx had to say, which to me will set the stage for what is to come in Accelerationist debates. I’m a little long-winded so may break this post down into several (so forgive me!), but feel this is important to cover. The editors of the accelerationist reader, Mackay and Avanessian, chose a specific essay from the Grundisse ‘Fragment of Machines’. I’ll come to this later. We know that this particular work was sparked by the failed revolutions of 1848:

Shortly after the New Year in 1848, Europe exploded into revolution. From Paris to Frankfurt to Budapest to Naples, liberal protesters rose up against the conservative establishment. To those living through the cataclysmic year, it seemed rather sudden; however, hindsight offers valuable warning signs.

The year 1846 witnessed a severe famine–Europe’s last serious food crisis. Lack of grain drove up food and other prices while wages remained stagnant, thus reducing consumer demand. With consumers buying less and less, profits plummeted, forcing thousands of industrial workers out of their jobs. High unemployment combined with high prices sparked the liberal revolt. The subsequent events in February 1848 in France made Austria’s Prince Clemens von Metternich’s saying seem true: “When France sneezes, Europe catches a cold.”

Moderate liberals–lawyers, doctors, merchants, bourgeoisie–began pushing actively for extension of suffrage through their “banquet campaign,” named thus because its leaders attempted to raise money by giving rousing speeches at subscribed dinners in France’s major urban areas. When on February 22, 1848, Paris officials canceled the scheduled banquet, fearing organized protest by the middle and working classes, Parisian citizens demonstrated against the repression. Skilled workers, factory laborers, and middle class liberals poured into the streets. The National Guard, a citizen militia of bourgeois Parisians, defected from King Louis-Philippe, and the army garrison stationed in Paris joined the revolutionary protesters as well. Louis-Philippe attempted reform, but the workers rejected the halfhearted changes. The king fled and the demonstrators proclaimed the Second Republic on February 24th.

The overthrow of the monarchy set off a wave of protest throughout east and central Europe, led by radical liberals and workers who demanded constitutional reform or complete government change. In March, protests in the German provinces brought swift reform from local princes while Kaiser Friedrich Wilhelm IV of Prussia yielded to revolts in Berlin by promising to create a Prussian assembly. The collapse of autocracy in Prussia encouraged liberals in the divided Germany provinces to join together at the Frankfurt Assembly to frame a constitution and unite the German nation. Meeting in May 1848, the convention was populated by middle class civil servants, lawyers, and intellectuals dedicated to liberal reform. However, after drawing the boundaries for a German state and offering the crown to Friedrich Wilhelm, the Kaiser refused in March 1849, dooming hopes for a united, liberal Germany.

In Austria, students, workers, and middle class liberals revolted in Vienna, setting up a constituent assembly. In Budapest, the Magyars led a movement of national autonomy, led by patriot Lajos Kossuth. Similarly, in Prague, the Czechs revolted in the name of self-government. In Italy, new constitutions were declared in Tuscany and Piedmont, with the goal of overthrowing their Austrian masters. Here, middle class liberals pushed the concept of Italian unification alongside the defeat of the Austrians with the help of the Young Italy movement, founded in 1831 by nationalist Giuseppe Mazzini, an Italian patriot who favored a democratic revolution to unify the country. In February 1849, Mazzini led a democratic revolt against the Pope in Rome, becoming head of the Republic of Rome later that month. By attacking the Pope, the democrats went too far. The self-proclaimed protectors of the Pope, the French, moved in and defeated Mazzini’s Roman legion. The Pope was restored and a democratic Italy collapsed, for now.

Meanwhile, from August 1848, the Austrian army soundly defeated every revolt in its empire. In Vienna, in Budapest, in Prague, the Austrians legions crushed the liberal and democratic movements, returning the empire to the conservative establishment that ruled at the beginning of 1848. Nothing had come of the revolutions of 1848.

The revolutions of 1848 were a “turning point in modern history that modern history failed to turn.” Every one was an utter failure; though minor reforms emerged in the Germany provinces and in Prussia, the conservative regimes that canvassed Europe remained in power. 2

In the aftermath of this failed revolution the original Communist Manifesto emerged as Karl Marx and Fredrick Engels testament and activation of a program that would have repercussions for a future that was as of yet unthought. It was in the failure of those bloody days that these fatal words would spawn a vision:

“A spectre is haunting Europe — the spectre of communism. All the powers of old Europe have entered into a holy alliance to exorcise this spectre: Pope and Tsar, Metternich and Guizot, French Radicals and German police-spies.” Except for a few names and players one would almost think this had been written after all the failed revolutions and utopian states since that time. It’s as if we were reading a contemporary statement rather than a manifesto against the industrial capitalism of another era. Do we not still exist in a world-system governed by the forces of a conservative mark? Even our so called neoliberal conservatives, our grey toned statesmen or Brahmins of conservatism, along with the democratic liberals, are at best a part of what Land terms – The Cathedral: “Is not the Cathedral precisely a name for that apparatus of signs — … academia, media, bureaucracy, politics … — which cannot in principle ever compile? The Cathedral is a secular religion, which has to preach because it does not work.” Yet, Land, and his cohorts would have us believe that these institutions are controlled from within by the communist ideology. Strange that so many conservatives from Mount Pelerin onward have been placed within this matrix as well. This is not a left/right issue: it’s a little more insidious than some ideological battle from the left or right. Whatever drawbacks with C.P. Snow’s two-cultures theory in the Power Elite might have (more explicit about the separation of science culture from mass culture) it did point out a part of an inner history and tendency within the global elite networks of power and distribution toward a new form of sovereignty not of nations but of the power elite themselves.

Stuart Elden in his excellent book The Birth of Territory (2013) tells us ”

Territory should be understood as a political technology, or perhaps better as a bundle of political technologies . Territory is not simply land, in the political-economic sense of rights of use, appropriation, and possession attached to a place; nor is it a narrowly political-strategic question that is closer to a notion of terrain. Territory comprises techniques for measuring land and controlling terrain.3

I would argue that in our new information economy that the Network – our global infosphere as a cartographic immaterial space is the new site of mappings that have already been measured in spatial terms and are already being supplied by certain global governing bodies with regulatory mechanisms of command and control that shape our very cognitive interactions both within the internet and the actual infospheric world itself. These notions of InfoSphere have been around for a while, but it is in the work of Luciano Floridi ( The Fourth Revolution: How the Infosphere is reshaping reality, Philosophy of Information, and The Ethics of Information)and such initiatives as the Onlife Initiative in the European Commision that show where certain elements of the Network Society is heading. I’ll not take time to go into details. It was R.Z. Sheppard who first coined the term: “In much the way that fish cannot conceptualize water or birds the air, man barely understands his infosphere, that encircling layer of electronic and typographical smog composed of cliches from journalism, entertainment, advertising and government.” (“Rock Candy”, Time Magazine, retrieved 2010-05-05)

Floridi would transpose this concept into its present form, saying, “[infosphere:] a term referring  to that limited region on our planet that supports life. It denotes the whole informational  environment constituted by all informational entities (thus including informational agents as  well), their properties, interactions, processes and mutual relations. It is an environment comparable to, but different from cyberspace (which is only one of its sub-regions, as it were),  since it also includes off-line and analogue spaces of information. We shall see that it is also an  environment (and hence a concept) that is rapidly evolving.” (see L. Floridi, A Look into the Future Impact of ICT on our Lives)

It would be his claim that the new Information and Communications Technologies (ICT’s) are “re-ontologizing the very nature of (and hence what we mean by) the infosphere, and here lies the source of some of the most profound transformations and challenging problems that our information societies will experience in the close future, as far as technology is concerned.”

Guy Debord and the Situationists would have termed this the Society of the Spectacle: “All that once was directly lived has become mere representation.” He would add that this is the “historical moment at which the commodity completes its colonization of social life.” The difference between Marx and Debord is one of metaphor, for Marx the machine encompassed the human, while for Debord “rather, it is a social relationship between people that is mediated by images.” 4

For Jean Baudrillard it would take on an even more ominous tone, one in which we were immersed in a hyperreality, folded into a simulated realm of images that denied all access to the real. This hyperreality happens when the difference between reality and representation collapses and we are no longer able to see an image as reflecting anything other than a symbolic trade of signifiers in culture, not the real world. In the chapter from his now famous Simulacra and Simulation “Precession of Simulacra” Baudrillard describes three orders of simulacra. The first in which reality is represented by the image (map represents territory). The second order of simulacra is one in which the distinction between reality and representation is blurred. The third order of simulacra is that of simulation which replaces the relationship between reality and representation. Reality itself is thus lost in favor of a hyperreality.5

It’s within the context of this all-encompassing Network (Williams and Srinicek) or Infosphere (Floridi) that the next battle for our future begins today. Marx would be the first to describe a new cyborgization of the worker in his essay ‘Fragment of Machines‘. A process of machinic automation in which the workers themselves are “cast merely as its conscious linkages”. It would be here in this essay that Marx would develop his notions of alienation:

“The worker’s activity, reduced to a mere abstraction of activity, is determined and regulated on all sides by the movement of machinery, and not the opposite. The science which compels the inanimate limbs of the machinery, by their construction, to act purposefully, as an automaton, does not exist in the worker’s consciousness, but rather acts upon him through the machine as an alien power of the machine itself.” (italics mine) It’s as if from the beginning machines were already becoming autonomous, with lives of their own beyond mere workers, and at the expense of the workers themselves who were mere appendages of the machine rather than the other way about. The invasion from the future of some alien and alienating process was already being marked and indexed by Marx himself. “The transformation of the means of labor into machinery, and of living labor into a mere living accessory of the machinery, as the means of its action, also posits the absorption of the labour process in its material character as a mere moment of the realization process of capital” (54). (italics mine) Humans as living labor, as mere accessories, being absorbed into the process of capital as technological agents and engines of process itself, as well as alienated by the very machinic processes of material extraction that makes them disposable units within its ongoing teleonomic pathology is the core of any Marxian cyborg theory. We are expendable to capital, we are nothing but mere units or objects to be plugged in or removed as the need arises: biomachines in our own right whose only purpose is to support capital’s ongoing teleodeterminate plan. We’ve always used that metaphor “capital” as a mask to hide the insidious truth from ourselves: the power of that hidden force that drives us mercilessly onward in an accelerating pace that has no limits beyond the limits we impose upon it. Yet, in our time this AI machine that is capital drives us till we break (i.e., our supposed crisis of capital is only our inability to fulfill capital’s accelerating force: ergo the crash of 2007, etc.).

Marx would tells us that this turn of events was not by accident at all, but was part of a deeply planned initiative within the traditional matrix of capitalism as a machinic process: “The accumulation of knowledge and skills, of the general productive forces of the social brain, is thus absorbed into capital” (55). Is capital a metaphor for the AI from the future who has already long ago invaded our Anthroposcene era and through its own incorporation of human desire channeled us unknowingly, absorbing us into its planned designs? Are we mere appendages of the machine of capital to be sloughed off the moment the posthuman future is enabled and adequate to the task? Of course this sound crazy, sounds like a hyperstitional theory-fiction, but is it really… didn’t Marx himself already uncover many of our current and contemporary programs long ago? Is Marx truly already and always ahead of us rather than some 19th Century theorist of Industrial capitalism? As Borges might say isn’t Marx creating his own dark precursors out of us his progeny? Have we even begun to read Marx, or should we say: misprision him into our moment of discourse?

It’s also in this essay that both Antonio Negri and Williams+Srnicek would agree that a major task for the left and this program is in the need to reappropriate ‘fixed capital’ as Marx would say: “Machinery appears, then, as the most adequate form of fixed capital, and fixed capital, in so far as capital’s relations with itself are concerned, appears as the most adequate form of capital as such” (55). Negri would modify Marx’s figure of ‘machinery’ with an added note: “productive quantification, economic modeling, big data analysis, and the most abstract cognitive models are all appropriated by worker-subjects through education and science” (370). It would be this whole nexus of Network capitalist machinery that would remain fixed which would need to be reappropriated by any Marxian acclerationist program to become effective.

The process of alienation needs to be resuscitated for our time. Marx more or less outlines it in this statement, and I quote at length:

“This is not the place to go into the development of machinery in detail; rather only in its general aspect: in so far as the means of labour, as a physical thing loses its direct form, becomes fixed capital, and confronts the worker physically as capital. In machinery, knowledge appears as alien, external to him, and living labour [as] subsumed under self-activating objectified labour. The worker as superfluous to the extent that his action is not determined by [capital] requirements. (56)” It’s here that labor itself loses its direct form, become virtual or immaterial as capital and then confronts the worker through the machine as the physical manifestation of capital itself. Even knowledge as data externalized, and the worker as living labour subsumed within this objectified process of capital as machininc process, expendable beyond the actions needed to supplement the machine. All this would forecast our own information processing era of computer information theory. I would say that Marx was himself one of the foremost information theorists of his day incorporating a an immaterial materialism of knowledge and flows or machinic processes at the center of his critique of capital.

Some might confuse Marx as a technological determinist, yet it not he but capital itself that is the determining culprit in this technological enforcement through science: “the entire production process appears as not subsumed under the direct skillfulness of the worker, but rather as the technological application of science; hence, the tendency of capital to give production a scientific character; direct labour is reduced to a mere moment of this process. (56). Over and over we see humans (workers) as living labour are but mere appendages to the ongoing processes of the machine, servants and slave of its work for capital, nothing more. Humans are expendable, machines are not. This is the message Marx relays.

It is also in this essay that Marx would go to the center of capitals contradiction: “Capital itself is the moving contradiction, in that it presses to reduce labour time to a minimum, while it posits labour time, on the other side, as sole measure of source and wealth” (63). After a full critique of this contradiction between the reduction of labour time and it being the sole measure of source and wealth on the other Marx will expound an important point:

“Real wealth is the developed productive power of all individuals. The measure of wealth is then not any longer, in any way, labour time, but rather disposable time. Labour time as the means of value posits wealth itself as founded on poverty, and disposable time as existing in and because of the antithesis to surplus labour time; or, the positing of an individual’s entire time as labour time, and his degradation therefore to mere worker, subsumption under labour. The most developed machinery thus forces the worker to work longer than the savage does, or than he himself did with the simplest crudest tools. (65)”

Overwork constitutes a new historical category according to my friend Jehu over at The Real Movement (here). As he tells it following Moishe Postone (Time, Labor, and Social Domination: A Reinterpretation of Marx’s Critical Theory) the category of overwork consists of: labor time that can be converted into disposable time, i.e., time away from labor for the vast majority of society. This superfluous labor cannot be employed by either class nor both of them together, but is superfluous to the needs of society as a whole. This labor time can only be employed by individual members of society as their disposable time for purposes they alone consider important. Superfluous labor time is the potential for self-activity of the members of society as it must appear within the limits of the capitalist mode of production — within the limits of a mode of production premised on labor, on production of surplus value, on production for profit.”

Marx himself would confirm this notion saying that “saving labour time is equal to an increase of free time, i.e., time for the full development of the individual… Free time … has naturally transformed its possessor into a different subject, and he then enters into the direct production process as a different subject. This process is then both discipline, as regards the human being in the process of becoming and, at the same time, practice, experimental science, materially creative and objectifying science, as regards the human being who has become, in whose head exists the accumulation of knowledge of society. (66)”

All of this may be old hat to many, but I think it was a needed exercise as we explore the unfolding and accelerating notions of capitalism before us. For at the heart of it is that originally this free time would open up for all workers the potential to expand their knowledge base and allow them to participate equitably in the full gamut of social relations, but this is not how it turned out for as we know from Marx himself what happened was that the power of the State and Corporations began to impose and constrain the free time of workers back into the very slavery of the machinic processes of capital to extract from their disposable time surplus value (i.e., profit for the corporations, stockholders, etc.).

What accelerationism potentially hopes to do is expose this contradiction at the heart of capital between reduced labor time – that frees it up for creative self-activity of the worker; while eliminating the positing of labour time, on the other side, as sole measure of source and wealth. Of course it is also so many more things than this, too. A program, a plan for action, a call to the cognitariat to arms, a opening gambit in a debate about temporality and the disposable time of labour, etc.


In Part Two: Section Two I’ll summarize the manifesto through the eyes of Antonio Negri, then will move on to essays by Tiziana Terranova, Luciana Parisi, 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.

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

Previous post: Accelerationism: The New Prometheans – Part One


1.  #Accelerate# the accelerationist reader. Editors Robin Mackay & Armen Avanessian (Urbanomic, 2014)
2. Europe: The Revolutions of 1848 (1848-1871)
Elden, Stuart (2013-09-09). The Birth of Territory (Kindle Location 7656). University of Chicago Press. Kindle Edition.
4. Debord, Guy (2011-03-15). Society of the Spectacle. (Soul Bay Press. Kindle Edition.)
5. see the cultural studies reader (here)


Levi R. Bryant: First Impressions on Onto-Cartography

Onto-cartography is the investigation of structural couplings between machines and how they modify the becoming, activities, movements, and ways in which the coupled machines relate to the world about them. It is a mapping of these couplings between machines and their vectors of becoming, movement, and activity.

– Levi R. Bryant, Onto-Cartography: An Ontology of Machines and Media

I have barely even begun to delve into Levi’s new work but already I’m pleased with the way he is approaching his investment in materialism. There is an opening preface by Graham Harman that introduces Levi’s previous and current work and situates it within Speculative Realism. Harman is generous with his praise telling us that Onto-Cartagraphy “is not only a thought-provoking and erudite book, but also a thoroughly enjoyable one”.1 I concur so far I’m impressed with Levi’s keen sense of materialism’s many traditions and how he differentiates the subtitles and nuances of these various forms. One thing he does right off the bat is to let the reader in on his own philosophical conversion. Levi like many of us had been weaned on twentieth-century Continental philosophy or as many term it the ‘Linguistic Turn’. Levi had gone the full gamut and become convinced that the socio-cultural or discursive materialism arising out of this era was the only way to go. Yet, something happened.

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Future Mutation

Shanzhai companies operate in a nebulous, quasi legal zone external to both corporate regulations as well as government rules. The name shanzhai means mountain village and the term signals a kind of bandit, anarchist mode of production that functions outside the formal legitimacy of either capitalism or the state.

– Anna Greenspan, Suzanne, Livingston, Future Mutation: Technology and the Evolution of Species

Happened on a post on Nick Land’s Outside In blog on this short work by Anna Greenspan, Suzanne, Livingston, Future Mutation: Technology and the Evolution of Species. Seems to be based around a set of concepts Copy, Reproduce, Mutate, Replicate, Evolve, and Rewind. Starts with a couple epigraphs from Nick Land our technofuturist in residence and John Gray ex-Thacherite turned chronicler of liberalism through all its phases. Nick’s is cryptic as usual “You cannot stop what can’t be stopped, you cannot touch without being touched.” Obviously suggesting the juggernaut of our accelerating late capitalist era of globalism as well as the subtle truth of a libidinal materialism in which affective relations will burn or mutate you with use. In Gray we hear the old adage of technological determinism:”Technology obeys no-one’s will. Can we play along with it without laboring to master it?”

A wisdom fraught with a moment of wisdom from such masters of technology lit as Lewis Mumford and Jaques Elul.

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Stanislas Dehaene: Global Neuronal Workspace Hypothesis

We have discovered signatures of conscious processing, but what do they mean? Why do they occur? We have reached the point where we need a theory to explain how subjective introspection relates to objective measurements.

–  Stanislas Dehaene,  Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts

When did reality leave off and fiction begin? I never did get the memo on that. Maybe that’s the problem with us all, if it is a problem – no one ever told us it had happened, or if they had it was somehow lost in translation long ago. So it goes. T.S. Eliot once stipulated that people couldn’t bare “too much reality”, but he never told us that there might be a further problem, the one I’m facing now: it’s not reality, but too much fiction that has become the issue. I mean we keep getting messages from the media Moghuls about Reality TV. Sure, but whose reality? I keep thinking that reality must be in there somewhere: but where is where? Is this a problem of space or time, or maybe – spacetime? I never could get those figured out either.

What to do? There are those that tell us we need to inquire into the nature of being – as if that was somehow the magic key to reality, as if we could finally discover the truth about life, the universe, and everything if we could only grasp existence as it is (i.e., in the parlance of metaphysics: being qua being – being in so much as it is being or beings insofar as they exist). But then I wondered: What does it mean for a thing to exist? That’s when I stopped thinking about things and existence and realized we’d never have access to such knowledge about things and existence for the simple reason that language is incapable of reaching beyond itself much less describing things or existence, whether that language is natural or as latter day philosophers and scientists presume, mathematical. All one is doing is manipulating signs that point to things and existence, rather than giving us those things as they are in them selves. But that was the point, right? There are those who say things do not exist until we construct them, that reality is a model that the mind constructs out of its own manipulation of those very symbols of natural and mathematical language. These philosophers tell us that there is a mid point between things and mind where reality becomes reality for-us in a new object, or concept. For these philosophers it is the concept that ties the mind and reality together in a communicative act of solidarity. So that if we create effective concepts we can all share in the truth of this reality for-us. So reality is a shared realm of meaning between certain minds as they negotiate the unknown realm of being.

Now I’m no philosopher but am a creature who has read a lot of philosophy and have come to the moment like Socrates before me to the realization that what I know is that I don’t know much of anything. But what is the knowing and unknowing that I don’t know? When we speak of knowing something what do we mean? What is knowing? I thought for this exercise I’d begin a Wiki:

Knowledge is a familiarity, awareness or understanding of someone or something, such as facts, information, descriptions, or skills, which is acquired through experience or education by perceiving, discovering, or learning. Knowledge can refer to a theoretical or practical understanding of a subject. It can be implicit (as with practical skill or expertise) or explicit (as with the theoretical understanding of a subject); it can be more or less formal or systematic. In philosophy, the study of knowledge is called epistemology; the philosopher Plato famously defined knowledge as “justified true belief“. However, no single agreed upon definition of knowledge exists, though there are numerous theories to explain it.

Knowledge acquisition involves complex cognitive processes: perception, communication, association and reasoning; while knowledge is also said to be related to the capacity of acknowledgment in human beings. (Knowledge)

Well that’s a lot of information on knowledge and ultimately frustrating in that we discover that no one really knows what it is, or at least there is no agreement among those who should know as to what knowledge is. Yet, as we see above it gives us some hints. And, the biggest hint, is that it seems to be connected to the Mind or as that one sentence stipulates: the cognitive processes. This would lead us to that three-pound lump of neurons and biochemical mass in our skull we call the Brain. But, we ask: Can the brain speak for itself? How can we inquire into the nature of the brain and its processes when the very tool we use to inquire with is itself the cognitive processes of consciousness. Can consciousness grab its own tail? Can it see its self in the act of seeing? Isn’t consciousness by its very nature always directed toward something, intentional by its very nature? If it can only ever process that which is outside itself, its environment then how can it ever understand or know itself? Consciousness is no ouroboros  even if we speak about self-reflexivity to doomsday.

In my epigraph Stanislas Dehaene comes to a point in his brain book in which our need to peer into the mysteries of the brain and bring together our self-reflexive subjective notions and our objective and quantified scientific knowledge. But isn’t that the crux of the problem? Can we ever bring those disparate worlds together? Of course Dehaene thinks we can, and has spent fifteen years inventing through trial and error a set of protocols to do just that. As he tells us he proposes a “global neuronal workspace” hypothesis, my laboratory’s fifteen-year effort to make sense of consciousness.1 Now just what exactly is a “global neuronal workspace”? In my mind I picture a Rube Goldberg contraption of strange electrodes, miles of cable, computers emulating the brain’s processes all in some fantastic Frankenstein laboratory with a brain in a vat connected to electromagnetic imaging processor spun upon a cinematic 3-D Screen. Of course this is all fantasy and the truth is more concrete and less fantasy:

The human brain has developed efficient long-distance networks, particularly in the prefrontal cortex, to select relevant information and disseminate it throughout the brain. Consciousness is an evolved device that allows us to attend to a piece of information and keep it active within this broadcasting system. Once the information is conscious, it can be flexibly routed to other areas according to our current goals. Thus we can name it, evaluate it, memorize it, or use it to plan the future. Computer simulations of neural networks show that the global neuronal workspace hypothesis generates precisely the signatures that we see in experimental brain recordings. It can also explain why vast amounts of knowledge remain inaccessible to our consciousness. (Dehane, KL 2711-2716)

Ah, there we go, so that’s the reason we as Socrates told us we are: Blind as Bats, unknowing of the little we know, or even think that we know. Why? Because our brains function differently than that, and knowledge is not one of its strong points – at least for that part of the brain we call self-reflexive consciousness. We do not have access to “vast amounts of knowledge”, not because the knowledge does not exist, but because our consciousness was configured by the brain to do other things like being attentive to specific temporary bits of information, and as a regulatory device within a larger broadcasting system. One needs also to recognize that there is a subtle difference between knowledge per se and information. Consciousness has access to bits of information fed to it by other processes within the brain. Now Dehaene tries to bring in intentionality with a notion of “current goals” and our ability to “name it, evaluate it, memorize it, or use it to plan the future”. But is this true? Do we truly have goals? Or do the goals have us? What I mean is consciousness the one that has intent or a telos – a sense of directional or goal oriented finality? Is this true? Does consciousness actually have the ability to name, evaluate, memorize for future recall and use? Or is this, too, an illusion of consciousness, too?

We’ve come a long way over the past fifteen years or so toward an understanding of the brain, but have we truly been able to bridge the gap between our knowledge of the brain’s processes and our understanding of just why those processes create consciousness to begin with? As Dehaene comments: “Although neuroscience has identified many empirical correspondences between brain activity and mental life, the conceptual chasm between brain and mind seems as broad as it ever was.” The first thing I notice in his statement is this dichotomy between brain activity and mental life as if brain and mind were two distinct things. But is this true? Is there some dualism between brain and mind? Does the mind in itself exist in some transcendent sphere beyond the brain? How are the two connected? Does the mind even exist? Is this notion of a separate mental activity an illusion of our self-reflexive consciousness? What if consciousness is continuous with the brain activities? What if it were just a specialized function of the brain itself, not some special entity in its own right? What if we are still bound to older theological notions of Self, Identify, Consciousness, Mind, Soul, etc. that just no longer hold water, no longer answer the questions of these physical processes? What if the physical processes of the brain were all continuous with each other and that consciousness is just a function within a myriad of other ongoing processes that are neither permanent nor stable, but rather continuously rise and fall, fluctuate and disperse as needed in the flow of the brains own ongoing activities. Why this need for a dualism of Brain and Mind?

Deheane himself sees the problem but seems to continue its discussion as if he too were blind to its illusion:

In the absence of an explicit theory, the contemporary search for the neural correlates of consciousness may seem as vain as Descartes’s ancient proposal that the pineal gland is the seat of the soul. This hypothesis seems deficient because it upholds the very division that a theory of consciousness is supposed to resolve: the intuitive idea that the neural and the mental belong to entirely different realms. The mere observation of a systematic relationship between these two domains cannot suffice. What is required is an overarching theoretical framework, a set of bridging laws that thoroughly explain how mental events relate to brain activity patterns.

Neural correlates tips the hand. With that one statement we fall back into a dualistic or Descartian approach. But as he realizes this approach to consciousness constructs a division between the two realms of brain and consciousness as if the neural processes and mental processes were of a different order of being. Yet, he proposes a framework, a set of bridging laws to “explain how mental events relate to brain activity patterns”. Hmm… isn’t this still to fall into that same trap? All he’s done is to rearrange the words from neural and mental, to events and patterns. But why do we need such a framework to begin with? Is there really some difference between a pattern and its event? Are not the two one and the same, continuous. Is there are reason to see a separation where none may in fact exist? He goes on – and, I think mistakenly:

No experiment will ever show how the hundred billion neurons in the human brain fire at the moment of conscious perception. Only mathematical theory can explain how the mental reduces to the neural. Neuroscience needs a series of bridging laws, analogous to the Maxwell-Boltzmann theory of gases, that connect one domain with the other. … In spite of these difficulties , in the past fifteen years , my colleagues Jean-Pierre Changeux, Lionel Naccache, and I have started to bridge the gap. We have sketched a specific theory of consciousness, the “global neuronal workspace,” that is the condensed synthesis of sixty years of psychological modeling.(Kindle Locations 2743-2745).

I think his approach, personally, is all wrong headed. I do not think any computer model or mathematical model will ever bridge the gap between the one domain and the other for the simple reason that there is no separate domain to bridge. I’ll have to come back to that at a future time. My reasoning has to do with all the new techniques already available that are being used to study the brain’s activities with much effect: Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT), Transcranial Magnetic Stimulation (TMS), Electronic brain stimulation (ESB), Brain Implants, Deep Brain Stimulation (DBS), Vagus Nerve Stimulation (VNS), Transcutaneous electrical nerve stimulation (TENS), Transcranial direct current stimulation (tDCS), Magnetic seizure therapy (MST), and psychotherapy, pharmaceutical and biopower medical applications, etc. Through these we can map the brains activity precisely right down to the decision making processes. So why do we need some grand theoretical framework to describe some mapping of brain to mind? Is this a recursion to outmoded forms of philosophical prejudice and the intentionality that has for so long held us in its clutches? Isn’t it time to release ourselves from the intentional universe of philosophical speculation, of trying the mind to consciousness in some elaborate mapping as if that would describe anything at all much rather just an exercise in complexification?

I mean listen to how complicated it gets when Deheane begins trying to philosophize about this new framework:

When we say that we are aware of a certain piece of information, what we mean is just this: the information has entered into a specific storage area that makes it available to the rest of the brain. Among the millions of mental representations that constantly crisscross our brains in an unconscious manner, one is selected because of its relevance to our present goals. Consciousness makes it globally available to all our high-level decision systems. We possess a mental router, an evolved architecture for extracting relevant information and dispatching it. The psychologist Bernard Baars calls it a “global workspace”: an internal system, detached from the outside world, that allows us to freely entertain our private mental images and to spread them across the mind’s vast array of specialized processors. (Kindle Locations 2749-2755).

If we carefully understand the logic of the above we see this underlying intentionality written into its less than adequate descriptions. First is the notion that we can “mean” something. As if we can explain information bound to a specific storage area in the brain that then can be retrieved. None of this is actually visible nor explanatory of the actual processes at all, but is rather a human description or construction after the fact of those processes for our delectation. Obviously we have no other choice than to use natural language and try to explain things that are not in fact what the fact is, but for us to say this is what information means? And then he tells us that this information stored is part of what we term mental representations and that consciousness is never aware of all these bits of knowledge and information but only of those that are selected do the “relevance to our present goals”. But one asks who intends the selection and the goalsfollowing Bernard Baars, terms, the “global workspace”. So the conscious systems seems to be this “s vast array of specialized processors”. This sentence spells out the whole intentional fallacy. As if consciousness was a free intentional entity in its own right that could actively and intentionally make its own decisions between the brain and the outside environment and work with its own internalized set of mental images then send them down into the brain for processing.

Again, I ask, is this true? Sounds like he is trying to slip the notion of Self and Subjectivity back into the equation without naming them as the active agent, but instead reduces self and subjectivity to Consciousness as the Agent between Brain and Environment.  Either way I think there is something too complex in this move and that whatever consciousness is it is not some active agent in its own right, but is rather a bit player in a temporary stage play of the brains ongoing productions. Consciousness rather than being like some unruly Hamlet strutting across the stage is more like his friend Horatio who know one ever sees but who rather sees all anonymously without intent and always fully impersonal and disinterested. Consciousness comes and goes at the behest of the brains own physical needs and processes, and when not needed is sent to sleep or withdraws till called out to effect the brains decisions.


1. Dehaene, Stanislas (2014-01-30). Consciousness and the Brain: Deciphering How the Brain Codes Our Thoughts (Kindle Location 2710). Penguin Group US. Kindle Edition.

Posthumanism and Transhumanism: The Myth of Perfectibility – Divergent Worlds?

History is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.

– James Joyce

Enhancement. Why shouldn’t we make ourselves better than we are now? We’re incomplete. Why leave something as fabulous as life up to chance?

– Richard Powers,  Generosity: An Enhancement

In Thomas Pynchon’s Gravity’s Rainbow a point is reached in the text in which the inexorable power of an accelerating capitalism is shown out of control mutating into something else something not quite human:

The War needs electricity. It’s a lively game, Electric Monopoly, among the power companies, the Central Electricity Board, and other War agencies, to keep Grid Time synchronized with Greenwich Mean Time. In the night, the deepest concrete wells of night, dynamos whose locations are classified spin faster, and so, responding, the clock-hands next to all the old, sleepless eyes— gathering in their minutes whining, pitching higher toward the vertigo of a siren. It is the Night’s Mad Carnival. There is merriment under the shadows of the minute-hands . Hysteria in the pale faces between the numerals. The power companies speak of loads, war-drains so vast the clocks will slow again unless this nighttime march is stolen, but the loads expected daily do not occur, and the Grid runs inching ever faster, and the old faces turn to the clock faces, thinking plot, and the numbers go whirling toward the Nativity, a violence, a nova of heart that will turn us all, change us forever to the very forgotten roots of who we are.1

This notion of a violent nativity, of giving birth to something that is both new and as old as the very “forgotten roots of who we are” seems appropriate to our time of accelerating impossibilities. We who are atheists seem to visualize some secular apocalypse of the semantic, a breaking of the bonds of the Anthropocene era, of a bridging of the gap, a great crossing of some inevitable Rubicon of the inhuman within us into something post-human, something strange and almost unthinkable. Yet, as we study our religious forbears we notice a paradox, a sort of literalization of the Christian mythos of the perfectibility of Man, the veritable myth of a New Adam in the making. But whereas the church going population saw this as a release from embodiment, of a shift into transcendence of spirit, our new atheistic or secular priests of posthumanism and/or transhumanism see it as just an immanent change within the very condition of the human animal itself.

The idea of the perfectibility of man emerges in the 18th century, with the relaxation of the theological barriers protecting the property for God alone. In Enlightenment writers such as the Condorcet and Godwin, perfectibility becomes a tendency actually capable of being realized in human history. Before Kant, both Rousseau and the Scottish thinker Lord Monboddo (1714–99) envisaged perfectibility as the power of self-rule and moral progress. The 19th century represented the high-water mark of belief in perfectibility, under the influence first of Saint-Simon, then Kant, Hegel, Comte and Marx. With the arrival of the theory of evolution it was possible to see successive economic and cultural history as a progress of increasing fitness, from primitive and undeveloped states to a potential ideal associated with freedom and self-fulfilment. This optimism, frequently allied with unlimited confidence in the bettering of the human condition through the advance of science, has taken on a new twist in the pseudo-science of Transhumanism.2

Abraham Maslow, the central figure in “third force” psychology, was one of the first to use the term “transhuman” to describe a new form of secular religion of peak experiences. Maslow described peak experiences as very like orgasms : “the peak experience is temporary, essentially delightful, potentially creative, and imbued with profound metaphysical possibilities.” One cannot live on such peaks but, he insisted, a life without them is unhealthy, nihilistic and potentially violent. The peak experience sat at the summit of a pyramid built on a hierarchy of psychological and physiological needs. At the base of the pyramid was food, shelter, sleep; above that came sexuality, safety and security; above that, love, belonging, self-esteem; and finally, at the peak itself, self-actualization. This last state was regarded as spiritual but in no way religious. One of the achievements of a peak experience, Maslow thought, was that people became more democratic, more generous, more open, less closed and selfish, achieving what he called a “transpersonal” or “transhuman” realm of consciousness. He had the idea of a “non-institutionalized personal religion” that “would obliterate the distinction between the sacred and the profane”— rather like the meditation exercises of Zen monks, whom he compared to humanistic psychologists. Maslow’s idols in this were William James and Walt Whitman.3

George Bernard Shaw, a Fabian socialist, along with H.G. Wells affirmed a view of the perfectibility of human nature. Shaw once stated that the “end of human existence is not to be ‘good’ and be rewarded in heaven, but to create Heaven on earth.” As he wrote to Lady Gregory: “ My doctrine is that God proceeds by the method of ‘trial and error.’ . . . To me the sole hope of human salvation lies in teaching Man to regard himself as an experiment in the realization of God.” (Watson, KL 1959) Shaw also much like Quentin Meillasoux in our own time espoused the notion of inexistent God, of the god that does not yet exist but might. Shaw wrote to Tolstoy in 1910: “To me God does not yet exist. . . . The current theory that God already exists in perfection involves the belief that God deliberately created something lower than Himself. . . . To my mind , unless we conceive God as engaged in a continual struggle to surpass himself . . . we are conceiving nothing better than an omnipotent snob.”(Watson, KL 1930) Notions of perfectibility, good, and progress were all fused into the idea of neverending improvement in Shaw as well in which he “good” is a process of endless improvement “that need never stop and is never complete.”

For Wells on the other hand improvement, good, progress were conceived of within the tradition of “perfectibility” not in a theological way,  but as a three-pronged process— perfectibility of the individual but within the greater structure of the state and of the race. As he stated it:

The continuation of the species, and the acceptance of the duties that go with it, must rank as the highest of all goals; and if they are not so ranked, it is the fault of others in the state who downgraded them for their own purposes. . . . We live in the world as it is and not as it should be. . . . The normal modern married woman has to make the best of a bad position, to do her best under the old conditions, to live as though [as if] she were under the new conditions, to make good citizens, to give her spare energies as far as she can to bringing about a better state of affairs. Like the private property owner and the official in a privately conducted business, her best method of conduct is to consider herself [as if she were] an unrecognized public official, irregularly commanded and improperly paid. There is no good in flagrant rebellion. She has to study her particular circumstances and make what good she can out of them, keeping her face towards the coming time. . . . We have to be wise as well as loyal; discretion itself is loyalty to the coming state. . . . We live for experience and the race; the individual interludes are just helps to that; the warm inn in which we lovers met and refreshed was but a halt on the journey. When we have loved to the intensest point we have done our best with each other. To keep to that image of the inn, we must not sit overlong at our wine beside the fire. We must go on to new experiences and new adventures. (Watson, KL 2566)

John Passmore in his classic study The Perfectibility of Man  begins by distinguishing between “technical perfection” and the perfectibility of a human being. As Harold Coward points out following Passmore Technical perfection occurs when a person is deemed to be excellent or perfect at performing a particular task or role. In this sense we may talk about a perfect secretary, lawyer, or accountant, suggesting that such persons achieve the highest possible standards in their professional work. But this does not imply that they are perfect in their performance of the other tasks and roles of life. Passmore points out that Plato in his Republic allows for technical perfection by allocating to each person that task to perform in which the person’s talents and skills will enable a perfect performance of the task. But that same person might be a failure as a parent; and so, in Plato’s Republic he or she would not be allowed to be a parent. The parent role would be reserved for someone else whose talents enabled him or her to perfectly perform the task of raising children. But Plato distinguishes such technical perfection from the perfection of human nature evidenced by the special class of persons who are rulers of the Republic. These “philosopher-kings,” as he calls them, are not perfect because they rule perfectly; they are perfect because they have seen “the form of the good” and rule in accordance with it. Passimore comments, “in the end, the whole structure of Plato’s republic rests on there being a variety of perfection over and above technical perfection-a perfection which consists in, or arises out of, man’s relationship to the ideal.”‘ Passmore goes on to point out that other Western thinkers including Luther, Calvin, and Duns Scotus follow Plato in talking about technical perfection in terms of one’s vocation or calling. But the perfecting of oneself in the performance of the role in life to which one is called is not sufficient by itself to ensure one’s perfection as a human being.4

Plato by introducing the idea of a metaphysical good as the ideal to be achieved, he also evoked the idea of evil or the lack of good, and the tension between the two. They are related to the terms “perfect” or “perfection” in the sense of an end or goal that is completed (the Greek telos [end], and the Latin perficere [to complete])’ Thus, human nature attempts to perfect itself by actualizing the end (the “good,” in Plato’s thought) that is inherent in it. Insodoing it “completes” itself. (Coward, KL 124) Peter Watson in his The Age of Atheists wonders at such notions of good, perfection, progress, telos, etc. asking: “Is the very idea of completion, wholeness, perfectibility, oneness, misleading or even diverting? Does the longing for completion imply a completion that isn’t in fact available? Is this our predicament?”(Watson, 545)

Vernor Vinge in his now classic The Coming Technological Singularity gave his own answer to this question saying,

The acceleration of technological progress has been the central feature of this century. I argue in this paper that we are on the edge of change comparable to the rise of human life on Earth. The precise cause of this change is the imminent creation by technology of entities with greater than human intelligence.5

Vinge brought to fruition many of the ideas of the good from Plato to David Pearce. Illah R. Nourbakhsh commenting on David Pearce’s The Biointelligence Explosion, tells us that Pearce sets up an antihero to the artificial superintelligence scenario, proposing that our wetware will shortly become so well understood, and so completely modifiable, that personal bio -hacking will collapse the very act of procreation into a dizzying tribute to the ego. Instead of producing children as our legacy, we will modify our own selves, leaving natural selection in the dust by changing our personal genetic makeup in the most extremely personal form of creative hacking imaginable. But just like the AI singularitarians, Pearce dreams of a future in which the new and its ancestor are unrecognizably different. Regular humans have depression, poor tolerance for drugs, and, let’s face it, mediocre social, emotional and technical intelligence. Full-Spectrum Superintelligences will have perfect limbic mood control, infinite self-inflicted hijacking of chemical pathways, and so much intelligence as to achieve omniscience bordering on Godliness.6

In this same work, Singularity Hypotheses: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment, Dr. David Roden of Enemy Industry blog stipulates his Diconnection Thesis. Part of his wider Speculative Posthumanist stance this thesis provides that basic tenets that the “descendants of current humans could cease to be human by virtue of a history of technical alteration”; and, the notion of a “relationship between humans and posthumans as a historical successor relation: descent.” (Singularity, KL 7390) At the heart of this thesis is the notion “that human-posthuman difference be understood as a concrete disconnection between individuals rather than as an abstract relation between essences or kinds. This anti-essentialist model will allow us to specify the circumstances under which accounting would be possible.” (Singularity, KL 7397) In acknowledgment of Vinge Roden states “Vinge considers the possibility that disconnection between posthumans and humans may occur as a result of differences in the cognitive powers of budding posthumans rendering them incomprehensible and uninterpretable for baseline humans” (Singularity, 7554).

There seems to be a fine line between certain posthuman theorists and transhumanist theorists. Where they seem to converge is in the notion of progress, improvement, and perfectibility of human nature. On the one hand we see the enactment of a total divergence, or transcension, a disconnect between our current embodied natural humans (i.e., you and I), and those that will become our descendents – our posthuman descendents – the yet to be. Yet, the line of difference is more of nuance than of substance. Posthuman seem to seek a transformation to another order of being, a surpassing of the human into the inhuman/posthuman order of being. While the transhumanists seek a new inclusion of existing humanity in an enhanced order of being in which the immortality is the central telos rather than perfectibility of the human condition. Transhumanists find little point in living forever in old bodies, however, even in bodies that remain healthy. So in addition to being immortal, they want humans to engineer themselves to be forever young. Ray Kurzweil, for example, is counting on cloning and stem cells to do the trick, the same technologies that John Harris wants to employ to eliminate the diseases of old age. Our bodies will be rejuvenated, says Kurzweil, “by transforming your skin cells into youthful versions of every other cell type.”7

Secularist dreams of immortality seem more like religionists without a religion, a sort of philosophical humbug trip for disgruntled atheists to wonderland without the need to pay the ticket to Charon. Behind the whole drama of transhuman science is the century old notions of eugenics. The eugenic goals, which had informed the design of the molecular biology program and had been attenuated by the lessons of the Holocaust, revived by the late 1950s. Dredged from the linguistic quagmire of social control, a new eugenics, empowered by representations of life supplied by the new biology, came to rest in safety on the high ground of medical discourse and latter-day rhetoric of population control.8 But the shadow of eugenics has for the most part been erased from our memories. One must be reminded that the original holocaust was part of the progressive movement in medicine within the United States not Germany:

The goal was to immediately sterilize fourteen million people in the United States and millions more worldwide-the “lower tenth”-and then continuously eradicate the remaining lowest tenth until only a pure Nordic super race remained. Ultimately, some 60,000 Americans were coercively sterilized and the total is probably much higher. No one knows how many marriages were thwarted by state felony statutes. Although much of the persecution was simply racism, ethnic hatred and academic elitism, eugenics wore the mantle of respectable science to mask its true character.9

Many might think this is a thing of the past but they would be wrong. Eugenics no longer hides in plain site under the rubric of some moral or progressive creed of eliminating from the human stock a particular germ line. It now hides itself in other guises. One needs only seek out such new worlds of the Personal Genome Project: dedicated to what on the surface appears to be a perfectly great notion of health: “Sharing data is critical to scientific progress, but has been hampered by traditional research practices—our approach is to invite willing participants to publicly share their personal data for the greater good.” But such notions were already in place by one of the leaders of the eugenics movement Charles Davenport a century ago:

  • “I believe in striving to raise the human race to the highest plane of social organization, of cooperative work and of effective endeavor.”
  • “I believe that I am the trustee of the germ plasm that I carry; that this has been passed on to me through thousands of generations before me; and that I betray the trust if (that germ plasm being good) I so act as to jeopardize it, with its excellent possibilities, or, from motives of personal convenience, to unduly limit offspring.”
  • “I believe that, having made our choice in marriage carefully, we, the married pair, should seek to have 4 to 6 children in order that our carefully selected germ plasm shall be reproduced in adequate degree and that this preferred stock shall not be swamped by that less carefully selected.”
  • “I believe in such a selection of immigrants as shall not tend to adulterate our national germ plasm with socially unfit traits.”
  • “I believe in repressing my instincts when to follow them would injure the next generation.”10

From the older form of sharing one’s “germ plasm” to the new terms of sharing one’s “personal genome” we’ve seen a complete transformation of the eugenics movement as the sciences transformed from early Mendelian genetics to mid-Twentieth century Molecular Genetics to our current multi-billion dollar Human Genome Project. But the base science of germ line genetics remains the same, and the whole complex of hereditarianism along with it. The reason for this new book which included a facsimile of the original educational manual textbook by Davenport Heredity in Relation to Eugenics is stated by the Cold Harbor review boards as:

…the most compelling reason for bringing Davenport’s book once again to public attention is our observation that although the eugenics plan of action advocated by Davenport and many of his contemporaries has long been rejected, the problems that they sought to ameliorate and the moral and ethical choices highlighted by the eugenics movement remain a source of public interest and a cautious scientific inquiry, fueled in recent years by the sequencing of the human genome and the consequent revitalization of human genetics.

When Mendel’s laws reappeared in 1900, Davenport believed he had finally been touched by the elusive but simple biological truth governing the flocks, fields and the family of man. He once preached abrasively, “I may say that the principles of heredity are the same in man and hogs and sun-flowers.” 54 Enforcing Mendelian laws along racial lines, allowing the superior to thrive and the unfit to disappear, would create a new superior race. A colleague of Davenport’s remembered him passionately shaking as he chanted a mantra in favor of better genetic material: “Protoplasm. We want more protoplasm!”(Black, KL 1053) Redirecting human evolution had been a personal mission of Davenport’s for years, long before he heard of Mendel’s laws. He first advocated a human heredity project in 1897 when he addressed a group of naturalists, proposing a large farm for preliminary animal breeding experiments. Davenport called such a project “immensely important.”(Black, 1068)

In our own time this notion of redirecting evolution is termed “transhumanism”. In section eight of the Transhumanist Declaration one will find: “We favor morphological freedom – the right to modify and enhance one’s body, cognition, and emotions. This freedom includes the right to use or not to use techniques and technologies to extend life, preserve the self through cryonics, uploading, and other means, and to choose further modifications and enhancements.”11 This freedom would also include the use of the latest biogenetic and neuroscientific technologies to transform or enhance humanity. As one proponent of this new morphological freedom put it:

Given current social and technological trends issues relating to morphological freedom will become increasingly relevant over the next decades. In order to gain the most from new technology and guide it in beneficial directions we need a strong commitment to morphological freedom. Morphological freedom implies a subject that is also the object of its own change. Humans are ends in themselves, but that does not rule out the use of oneself as a tool to achieve oneself. In fact, one of the best ways of preventing humans from being used as means rather than ends is to give them the freedom to change and grow. The inherent subjecthood of humans is expressed among other ways through self-transformation. Some bioethicists such as Leon Kass (Kass 2001) has argued that the new biomedical possibilities threaten to eliminate humanity, replacing current humans with designed, sanitized clones from Huxley’s Brave New World. I completely disagree. From my perspective morphological freedom is not going to eliminate humanity, but to express what is truly human even further.(Transhumanist Reader, 63)

That last sentence holds the key to the difference between most posthumanist and transhumanists: posthumans support in Roden’s terms some for of the disconnect thesis of a divergent descent from humans to something else through some technological transformation; while, most transhumanists want to bring the older humanistic notions into some morphological freedom in which humans become enhanced by technologies in ever greater empowerment.

As one outspoken spokesman tells us “genomic technologies can actually allow us to raise the dead. Back in 1996, when the sheep Dolly was the first mammal cloned into existence, she was not cloned from the cells of a live animal. Instead, she was produced from the frozen udder cell of a six-year-old ewe that had died some three years prior to Dolly’s birth. Dolly was a product of nuclear transfer cloning, a process in which a cell nucleus of the animal to be cloned is physically transferred into an egg cell whose nucleus had previously been removed. The new egg cell is then implanted into the uterus of an animal of the same species, where it gestates and develops into the fully formed, live clone.”12 This same author even prophesies that new NBIC technologies will help us in reengineering humanity in directions that natural selection never dreamed of:

Using nanobiotechnology , we stand at the door of manipulating genomes in a way that reflects the progress of evolutionary history: starting with the simplest organisms and ending, most portentously, by being able to alter our own genetic makeup. Synthetic genomics has the potential to recapitulate the course of natural genomic evolution, with the difference that the course of synthetic genomics will be under our own conscious deliberation and control instead of being directed by the blind and opportunistic processes of natural selection. …We are already remaking ourselves and our world, retracing the steps of the original synthesis— redesigning, recoding, and reinventing nature itself in the process. (Regenesis, KL 345)

As Nick Bostrom and Julian Savulescu suggest that human enhancement has moved from the realm of science fiction to that of practical ethics. There are now effective physical, cognitive, mood, cosmetic, and sexual enhancers —drugs and interventions that can enhance at least some aspects of some capacities in at least some individuals some of the time. The rapid advances currently taking place in the biomedical sciences and related technological areas make it clear that a lot more will become possible over the coming years and decades. The question has shifted from ‘‘Is this science fiction?’’ to ‘‘Should we do it?’’.13 They go on to state:

It seems likely that this century will herald unprecedented advances in nanotechnology, biotechnology, information technology, cognitive science, and other related areas. These advances will provide the opportunity fundamentally to change the human condition. This presents both great risks and enormous potential benefits. Our fate is, to a greater degree than ever before in human history, in our own hands.( Human Enhancement, 20-21)

Yet, as the great historian of the eugenics movement Daniel J. Kevles admonished speaking of Francis Galton, one of the progenitors of the genetic enforcement of the eugenics heritage tells us:

Galton, obsessed with original sin, had expected that the ability to manipulate human heredity would ultimately emancipate human beings from their atavistic inclinations and permit their behavior to conform to their standards of moral conduct. But in fact, the more masterful the genetic sciences have become, the more they have corroded the authority of moral custom in medical and reproductive behavior. The melodies of deicide have not enabled contemporary men and women to remake their imperfect selves. Rather, they have piped them to a more difficult task: that of establishing an ethics of use for their swiftly accumulating genetic knowledge and biotechnical power.14

Ethics, Law, Politics have yet to catch up with these strange twists of the eugenic heritage as it is brought to fruition by the great Corporate Funds, Think Tanks, Academies, and Scientific laboratories all part of the vast complex of systems that are moving us closer and closer to some form of Singularity. What should we do? Ultimately I wonder if we have a choice in the matter at all. That is my nightmare.

The novelist’s argument is clear enough: genetic enhancement represents the end of human nature. Take control of fate, and you destroy everything that joins us to one another and dignifies life. A story with no end or impediment is no story at all. Replace limits with unbounded appetite, and everything meaningful turns into nightmare.

– Richard Powers, Generosity: An Enhancement

1. Pynchon, Thomas (2012-06-13). Gravity’s Rainbow (pp. 133-134).  . Kindle Edition.
2. See more at:
3. Watson, Peter (2014-02-18). The Age of Atheists: How We Have Sought to Live Since the Death of God (Kindle Locations 7511-7519). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
4. Harold Coward. The Perfectibility of Human Nature in Eastern and Western Thought (S U N Y Series in Religious Studies) (Kindle Locations 89-100). Kindle Edition.
5. Vinge, Vernor (2010-06-07). The Coming Technological Singularity – New Century Edition with DirectLink Technology (Kindle Locations 16-18). 99 Cent Books & New Century Books. Kindle Edition.
6. Singularity Hypotheses: A Scientific and Philosophical Assessment (The Frontiers Collection) (Kindle Locations 6222-6229). Springer Berlin Heidelberg. Kindle Edition.
7. Mehlman, Maxwell J. (2012-08-10). Transhumanist Dreams and Dystopian Nightmares: The Promise and Peril of Genetic Engineering (p. 23). Johns Hopkins University Press. Kindle Edition.
8. Lily E. Kay. The Molecular Vision of Life: Caltech, the Rockefeller Foundation, and the Rise of the New Biology (Monographs on the History & Philosophy of Biology) (Kindle Locations 4511-4513). Kindle Edition.
9. Black, Edwin (2012-11-30). War Against the Weak: Eugenics and America’s Campaign to Create a Master Race, Expanded Edition (Kindle Locations 182-186). Dialog Press. Kindle Edition.
10. Davenport’s Dream: 21st Century Reflections on Heredity and Eugenics (Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Press, 2008)
11.   (2013-03-05). The Transhumanist Reader: Classical and Contemporary Essays on the Science, Technology, and Philosophy of the Human Future (p. 55). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
12. Regis, Ed; Church, George M. (2012-10-02). Regenesis: How Synthetic Biology Will Reinvent Nature and Ourselves (Kindle Locations 269-274). Perseus Books Group. Kindle Edition.
13. Savulescu, Julian; Bostrom, Nick (2009-01-22). Human Enhancement (Page 18). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
14. Kevles, Daniel J. (2013-05-08). In the Name of Eugenics: Genetics and the Uses of Human Heredity (Kindle Locations 6624-6629). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.


James C. Scott on Peasant Resistance: Quote of the Day!

In my further search for forms of resistance against the androcratic empire of globalism and its minions I ran across an informative as well as well-written entertaining work on Peasant Resistance by James C. Scott. Below he mentions Brecht and The Good Soldier Schweik by Jaroslav Hašek which offers a vision of resistance as withdrawal or exit, at once non-confrontational and exasperating to the authorities that try to control and dominate the behavior of these poor with little or no success:

For these reasons it seemed to me more important to understand what we might call everyday forms of peasant resistance— the prosaic but constant struggle between the peasantry and those who seek to extract labor, food, taxes, rents, and interest from them. Most forms of this struggle stop well short of outright collective defiance. Here I have in mind the ordinary weapons of relatively powerless groups: foot dragging, dissimulation, desertion, false compliance, pilfering, feigned ignorance, slander, arson, sabotage, and so on. These Brechtian— or Schweikian— forms of class struggle have certain features in common . They require little or no coordination or planning; they make use of implicit understandings and informal networks; they often represent a form of individual selfhelp; they typically avoid any direct, symbolic confrontation with authority. To understand these commonplace forms of resistance is to understand much of what the peasantry has historically done to defend its interests against both conservative and progressive orders. It is my guess that just such kinds of resistance are often the most significant and the most effective over the long run. Thus, Marc Bloch, the historian of feudalism, has noted that the great millenial movements were “flashes in the pan” compared to the “patient, silent struggles stubbornly carried on by rural communities” to avoid claims on their surplus and to assert their rights to the means of production —for example, arable, woodland, pastures.  Much the same view is surely appropriate to the study of slavery in the New World. The rare, heroic, and foredoomed gestures of a Nat Turner or a John Brown are simply not the places to look for the struggle between slaves and their owners. One must look rather at the constant, grinding conflict over work, food , autonomy, ritual— at everyday forms of resistance. In the Third World it is rare for peasants to risk an outright confrontation with the authorities over taxes , cropping patterns, development policies, or onerous new laws; instead they are likely to nibble away at such policies by noncompliance, foot dragging, deception. In place of a land invasion, they prefer piecemeal squatting; in place of open mutiny, they prefer desertion; in place of attacks on public or private grain stores, they prefer pilfering. When such stratagems are abandoned in favor of more quixotic action, it is usually a sign of great desperation.1

Excellent book! The powerless finally have their own power of resistance… we need to learn more, study carefully the actual strategies of the weak in the face of the machine, the will to resist lives on…

1. Scott, James C. (2013-12-15). Weapons of the Weak: Everyday Forms of Peasant Resistance (Kindle Locations 153-170). ACLS Humanities E-Book. Kindle Edition.

A Time Out of Joint: Franco (Bifo) Berardi

The time is out of joint—O cursèd spite,
That ever I was born to set it right!

– Hamlet

What is Time that it could ever go cockeyed? For Franco (Bifo) Berardi time as stored capital in banks is out of joint, and if we follow the trail into this time machine we discover there is a deep and abiding relation between money, language, and time.1

“But is the money that is stored in the bank my past time—the time that I have spent in the past? Or does this money give me the possibility of buying a future?” – Berardi

At first I was reminded of Philip K. Dick’s novel of that name A Time Out of Joint that describes a society at civil war with itself, a permanent war between earth and its tributary offspring on the moon. In this society only one man can stave off the impending collapse of society, one Ragle Gumm. But he has grown tired of intervention, of keeping at bay the time of disaster, of catastrophe. He hopes to escape the dominion of the neoliberal order of his day and fly  off to the moon colonies and become a part of its anarchic social and exploratory world. So he withdraws into a private fantasy world of his own making, a chapter out of his early childhood where everything existed in a primordial climate of paradise: the world of the 1950’s. The only problem with this is that the earthers, the neoliberal dictators of that era have discovered the truth of his dark fantasy and are using it against him to allow them to control his mind through an almost precursor of The Truman Show effect. The Terran masters create his idyllic town and populate it with mentalists to guide him in giving up his secrets willingly. What does he know? He has an ability to foresee the nuclear future of specific trajectories from moon thereby giving earth command the ability to countermand the weapons and destroy them. Ultimately this ruse by the neoliberal Terrans fails and Gumm slowly recovers his sanity because of the simulated modulations of the governments semantic failures. He notices things here and there in the fantasy that do not make sense, which accumulate and ultimately shift his mind toward the truth and meaning of what is being done to him. Sanity comes back as the fantasy world created by the Terran Empire fails to meet the madness criteria of Gumm’s realigns to the map of the real. It is the failure of the semantic web to meet Gumm’s expectations of a perfect ideal fantasy world that finally awakens him back to reality.

One may wonder why I harp on about a science fiction novel that is now dated, and compare it to Berardi’s essay but one must see the conflict at the heart of the two positions. Dick was portraying the world of neoliberal capital and its victims, showing the use of advanced mind techniques and neuroscience to manipulate time and people’s lives. It’s the interaction of Time and Capital that in Berardi that helps us understand our own world under the thumb of neoliberalism in a age of austerity. As Berardi following Baudrillard’s lead reminds us, it is in our contemporary age that financial capitalism has become essentially the loss of the relationship between time and value. What Berardi discovers between the older industrial age and our newer neoliberal information age is a seismic shift from the physical and material to the immaterial or semiological knowledge realm of cognitive work over the older bodily processes of labor. Of course I think he oversimplifies, since as we know the seismic shift from Factory to Mindhack is not everywhere, but exist solely in the top tier nations. The rest of the third world is still bound to the laws of production and machine labor time: the slavery of the body laboring under the infinite gaze of the time lords.

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Global Resistence and the Collapse of Civilization: Berardi, Deleuze, and others

“I hope we shall crush in its birth the aristocracy of our monied corporations which dare already to challenge our government to a trial of strength, and bid defiance to the laws of our country.”

– Thomas Jefferson, 1816

I will come to Deleuze in this essay, but first we need to clear a path toward his work. I find it interesting that even a government sponsored study by NASA (see Guardian) is discovering the inevitability of collapse coming our way. As they describe it the gap between rich and poor or – the “Elite and Commoners”, will be the ultimate driver that brings about the demise of global civilization. Of course that bring in as well all the usual suspects Population,  Climate, Water, Agriculture, and Energy. The key to the aforegoing is resource depletion on all fronts, along with the accumulation in the hands of the elite of those resources at the expense of the poor. Because of this they project a great extinction of the poor workers of the world overtime that will eventually lead to this apocalypse of civilization. As Nasa remarks: “… accumulated surplus is not evenly distributed throughout society, but rather has been controlled by an elite. The mass of the population, while producing the wealth, is only allocated a small portion of it by elites, usually at or just above subsistence levels.”1

Over and over we see in most of these types of full blown apocalyptic modeling scenarios and studies the accusation against the Elite, the Oligarchs of the Planet. The problem I’ve always seen with this metaphor of the “elites” is that it reduces and lumps a whole segment of society into a fictional scenario that does nothing to fix the situation. We can all point our fingers at the bad boys of the rich nations of the world and admonition them of their dastardly deeds in melodramatic fashion. But what does this do to change things? They remain in power. Why? I mean they are not the enemy per se: they are part of a larger issue which is the systemic and machinic acceleration of capitalism itself that is on a feeding frenzy of the planetary resources. In the 20th Century most of the rich nations controlled all technology and kept the industrial machine based in a monopoly of centralized command and control structure in the hands of banks, government, corporations bounded by a rational and efficient system of technique.

In our new postmodern century we have seen the neoliberal world view replace the older monopolies through a process documented so well by Barry C. Lynn in two books End of the Line: The Rise and Fall of the Global Corporation, and Cornored: The New Monopoly Capitalism and the Economics of Destruction. One need only remember what Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis’ once stated to get the drift, “We can have democracy in this country, or we can have great wealth concentrated in the hands of the few, but we can’t have both.” Lynn tells us it has come to that, that in our time “our political economy is run by a compact elite that is able to fuse the power of our public government with the power of private corporate governments in ways that enable members of the elite (to freely decide) who wins, who loses, and who pays.” Consolidated corporate power and the political complicity behind it means monopolists run the country and the world, justifying it as free-market fundamentalism – a corrupted deception masking predatory dominance that destroys democratic freedoms.

One need not bring out all the other books on this vast subject of the elite to prove the point: Zombie Economics (John Quiggin), Predator Nation (Charles H. Ferguson), The Shock Doctrine: The Rise of Disaster Capitalism (Naomi Klein), Never Let a Serious Crisis Go to Waste (Philip Mirowski)… the list could go on. Lynn tells us that our system’s single biggest problem is having ceded “almost complete power over these institutions (to) a class of people whose interests (aren’t) served….by building things but by breaking” them. Capitalism lets some people “use the power in concentrated capital to harness free citizens” and crush democratic freedoms.

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Reza Negarestani: Back to the Future

Sufficiently elaborated, humanism—it shall be argued—is the initial condition of inhumanism as a force that travels back from the future to alter, if not to completely discontinue, the command of its origin.

– Reza Negarestani, The Labor of the Inhuman, Part II: The Inhuman

In my first post I elaborated the specific elements of Negarestani’s return to the Enlightenment humanist project (see post). He reiterates again in this essay the basic thematic of his program: the notion that inhumanism is what precedes humanity, that humanity is a model, a construct; yet, not a static model but an ongoing processual development of collective production that is in continuous revisioning process, and that this project is shaped by a normative commitment, a commitment within a “space of reasons” that enforces the stringent task of social constructivism:   a commitment to humanity must fully elaborate how the abilities of reason functionally convert sentience to sapience. As he remarks: “Humanism is by definition a project to amplify the space of reason through elaborating what the autonomy of reason entails and what demands it makes upon us.”

When he tells us that this project has a commitment to the autonomy of reason (via the project of humanism) and is a commitment to the autonomy of reason’s revisionary program over which human has no hold. One wants to rephrase that last italic to which human has no control. That this binding act that puts returns us to that rational world of the enlightenment almost seems like a parody at first take. As if Reza was traveling back to revise the whole history of the enlightenment project from within and show that it was correct all along. That yes, we have always been inhuman, but never human, and that now “we” the collective will begin constructing the new humanity according to an autonomous plan based of that greatest of autonomous agents, autonomous reason.

Yet, this erasure of the human by way of the inhuman is not a return of the Same, but something else: “Once you commit to human, you effectively start erasing its canonical portrait backward from the future. It is, as Foucault suggests, the unyielding wager on the fact that the self-portrait of man will be erased, like a face drawn in sand at the edge of the sea.” It’s as if he were saying: yes, we great ones are going to rewrite history, erase all the bad effects of the past two hundred years, and replace this image of the human with our own thereby inhabiting a time-machine that will conquer two hundred years of mistakes, of war, famine, genocide, ethnocide, etc.

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Reza Negarestani: On Inhumanism

Inhumanism, as will be argued in the next installment of this essay, is both the extended elaboration of the ramifications of making a commitment to humanity, and the practical elaboration of the content of human as provided by reason and the sapient’s capacity to functionally distinguish itself and engage in discursive social practices.

– Reza Negarestani, The Labor of the Inhuman, Part I: Human

On e-flux journal   Reza enjoins us to move beyond both humanism and anti-humanism, as well as all forms of a current sub-set of Marxist theoretic he terms “the fashionable stance of kitsch Marxism today”. Taking up both Sellarsian notions of the “space of reasons” as well as the inferential and normative challenges offered by Robert Brandom. Brandom developed a new linguistic model, or “pragmatics”, in which the “things we do” with language is prior to semantics, for the reason that claiming and knowing are actings, production of a form of spontaneity that Brandom assimilates to the normative “space of reasons” (Articulating Reasons 2000).1

Reza starts with the premise that inhumanism is a progressive shift situated within the “enlightened humanism” project. As a revisionary project it seeks to erase the former traces within this semiotic field of discursive practices and replace it with something else, not something distinctly oppositional but rather a revision of the universal node that this field of forces is. It will be a positive project, one based on notions of “contructivism”: “to define what it means to be human by treating human as a constructible hypothesis, a space of navigation and intervention.” I’m always a little wary of such notions as models, construction, constructible hypothesis, as if we could simulate the possible movement of the real within some information processing model of mathematical or hyperlinguistic, algorithmic programming. We need to understand just what Reza is attempting with such positive notions of constructions or models otherwise we may follow blindly down that path that led through structuralism, post-structuralism, and deconstruction: all those anti-realist projects situated in varying forms of social constructivsm and its modifications (i.e., certain Idealist modeling techniques based as they were on the Linguistic Turn).

Right off the bat he qualifies his stance against all those philosophies of finitude or even the current trend in speculative realism of the Great Outdoors (Meillassoux, Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harmon). Against in sense of an essence of the human as pre-determined or theological jurisdictions. Against even the anti-humanist tendencies of both an inflationary and deflationary notion of the human that he perceives even in microhistorical claims that tend toward atomism, he offers a return to the universalist ambitions of the original enlightenment project voided of its hypostasis in glorified Reason. Against such anti-humanist moves he seeks a way forward, a way that involves a collaborative project that redefines the enlightenment tradition and its progeny and achieves the “common task for breaking out of the current planetary morass”.

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We Are Our Brains

Everything we think, do, and refrain from doing is determined by the brain. The construction of this fantastic machine determines our potential, our limitations, and our characters; we are our brains. Brain research is no longer confined to looking for the cause of brain disorders; it also seeks to establish why we are as we are. It is a quest to find ourselves.

— D.F. Swaab, We Are Our Brains

One could almost say that the brain is a biochemical factory, with neurons and glia as both bureaucracy and workers. Yet, even such a literary reduction wouldn’t really get at the truth of the matter. Jacob Moleschott (1822– 1893) was one of the first to observe that what this factory with all its billions of neurons and trillions of glia produces is what we aptly term the ‘mind’. This process of production from life to death entails: electrical activity, the release of chemical messengers, changes in cell contacts, and alterations in the activity of nerve cells.1

Many of the new technologies as imaging, electromagnetic and biochemical are being used to both study and heal certain long standing malfunctions and neurological disorders in the brain, as well as invasive electro and magnetic therapies applied to patients suffering diseases like Alzheimer’s, schizophrenia, Parkinson’s, multiple sclerosis, and depression. (Yet, I interject, that these technologies present us a double-edged sword that while on the one hand they can be used to heal they can also be used by nefarious governments to manipulate and harm both external enemies and internal citizenry.)

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Google, DARPA and the Future of Control

Former director of DARPA and Google exec, Regina E. Dugan smiles as she tells us about the new invasive biotechnologies for tattooing and biomedical pharmaceuticals that will allow Google or other agencies to implant invasive sensors/tracking devices to monitor citizens 24/7 for securitization. She is wearing one of the devices and then produces a pill that she describes in detail as having pulsating electronics that can be picked up by GPS satellite, etc. What else is Google planning down the pipe? She even hints that one of the marketing ploys is to target teenagers and young people using the tattoo’s as if in an act of rebellion against their parents. Such Technologies will allow a big Other (Authority) to monitor every step taken in a 24/7 timeframe as well as uploading other types of data to a centralized datamining facility to be manipulated, massaged, and transformed for use by marketers, law enforcement, academia, etc. Is this the future of our technocontrol society? Will corporations enforce our daily pill for access to information? Instead of a token that is slid into one’s computer, one wears it either on one’s person as a tattoo, or as an ingested pill that provides a secure 24/7 access to any and all information in the GoogleMind.  Google seems to be at the forefront of our Brave New World of surveillance and control society. Aldous Huxley in a later set of essays The Brave New World Revisited remarked:

In my fable of Brave New World, the dictators had added science to the list and thus were able to enforce their authority by manipulating the bodies of embryos, the reflexes of infants and the minds of children and adults. And, instead of merely talking about miracles and hinting symbolically at mysteries, they were able, by means of drugs, to give their subjects the direct experience of mysteries and miracles—to transform mere faith into ecstatic knowledge. The older dictators fell because they could never supply their subjects with enough bread, enough circuses, enough miracles and mysteries. Nor did they possess a really effective system of mind-manipulation. In the past freethinkers and revolutionaries were often the products of the most piously orthodox education. This is not surprising. The methods employed by orthodox educators were and still are extremely inefficient. Under a scientific dictator education will really work—with the result that most men and women will grow up to love their servitude and will never dream of revolution. There seems to be no good reason why a thoroughly scientific dictatorship should ever be overthrown.1

The next time your boss offers you a pill with a smile, or your child comes home from school with a whimsical tattoo on her wrist, think about Regina E. Dugan of Google and politely say “No thanks, control is not an option!”

A follow up on the Proteous Digital Pill: and

More details on the EES Chip tattoo:–Electronic-Skin/

For those that want the longer version of the above that also goes into the darker Transhumanist agenda behind the Google world-view go here:

1. Huxley, Aldous (2014-01-09). Brave New World Revisited (Kindle Locations 1485-1492). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Building the greatest artificial intelligence lab on Earth

Just read this on Mind Hacks…. looks like Google is becoming an AI company; and, with Ray Kurzeil and other AI and transhumanist theoreticians at the helm what should we expect in the future from Google? Just looking at the $3.2 Billion dollar investment in Nest Labs alone, not to speak of all the other companies it has bought up lately one wonders just what “deep learning” and the future of data mining holds out for our freedom? One of the investors from DeepMind told the reporters at technology publication Re/code two weeks ago that Google is starting up the next great “Manhattan project of AI”. As the investor continued: “If artificial intelligence was really possible, and if anybody could do it, this will be the team. The future, in ways we can’t even begin to imagine, will be Google’s.”

Kurzeil says that his main job mission is to offer an AI intelligence system based on natural language “my project is ultimately to base search on really understanding what the language means. When you write an article you’re not creating an interesting collection of words. You have something to say and Google is devoted to intelligently organising and processing the world’s information. The message in your article is information, and the computers are not picking up on that. So we would like to actually have the computers read. We want them to read everything on the web and every page of every book, then be able to engage an intelligent dialogue with the user to be able to answer their questions.” Continuing, he says, “Google will know the answer to your question before you have asked it. It will have read every email you’ve ever written, every document, every idle thought you’ve ever tapped into a search-engine box. It will know you better than your intimate partner does. Better, perhaps, than even yourself.” Who needs Big Brother when you have Google in your head? And, with Google in collusion with DARPA initiatives, who is to say what military and securitization issues will arise from such systems of intelligence? (see Google dominates Darpa robotics…) Will the WorldMind 1.0 be the militaries secret initiative to take over control not only of all information on the web, but of those hooked into its virtual playpen of false delights? Instead of “dropping out” like my fellow hippies did in the sixties, maybe we should soon think about unplugging, disconnecting, and cutting the neurocircuits that are being rewired by the global brain? Or is it already too late?

Orwell wrote of NewsSpeak… which in our time is becoming “GoogleSpeak” your friendly Avatar of the information highway. What next? A little smiley faced icon on your car google visor, iPhone, or thinkpad, an avatar that follows you everywhere 24/7 chattering away about this or that… all the while smiling as it also relays your deepest medical, social, private or intimate informatics messages to the NSA or any of a multiple other cyberagencies for data crystallization and surveillance recon. Oh, the wonders of the control society… blah, blah, blah…. the naturalization of security in our age: GoogleSpeak is your friend, download her now! Or, better yet, let GoogleMind(tm) back up your brainwaves today, don’t lose another mindless minute of your action filled life: let the GoogleMeisters upload your brain patterns to the Cloud…

As John Foreman at GigaCom remarks on Data privacy, machine learning…

“If an AI model can determine your emotional makeup (Facebook’s posts on love certainly betray this intent), then a company can select from a pool of possible ad copy to appeal to whatever version of yourself they like. They can target your worst self — the one who’s addicted to in-app payments in Candy Crush Saga. Or they can appeal to your aspirational best self, selling you that CrossFit membership at just the right moment.

In the hands of machine learning models, we become nothing more than a ball of probabilistic mechanisms to be manipulated with carefully designed inputs that lead to anticipated outputs.” And, quoting Victor Frankl, he continues: ““A human being is a deciding being.” But if our decisions can be hacked by model-assisted corporations, then we have to admit that perhaps we cease to be human as we’ve known it. Instead of being unique or special, we all become predictable and expected, nothing but products of previous measured actions.” In this sense what Deleuze once described as the “dividual” – “a physically embodied human subject that is endlessly divisible and reducible to data representations via the modern technologies of control” is becoming naturalized in this new world of GoogleSpeak. Just another happy netizen of the slaveworlds of modern globalism where even the best and brightest minds become grist for the noosphere mill of the praxelogical GoogleMind(tm).

Mind Hacks

The Guardian has an article on technologist Ray Kurzeil’s move to Google that also serves to review how the search company is building an artificial intelligence super lab.

Google has gone on an unprecedented shopping spree and is in the throes of assembling what looks like the greatest artificial intelligence laboratory on Earth; a laboratory designed to feast upon a resource of a kind that the world has never seen before: truly massive data. Our data. From the minutiae of our lives.

Google has bought almost every machine-learning and robotics company it can find, or at least, rates. It made headlines two months ago, when it bought Boston Dynamics, the firm that produces spectacular, terrifyingly life-like military robots, for an “undisclosed” but undoubtedly massive sum. It spent $3.2bn (£1.9bn) on smart thermostat maker Nest Labs. And this month, it bought the secretive and cutting-edge British artificial intelligence startup DeepMind for…

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Antonio Negri: Reflections on Accelerazionista Policy of Williams and Srnicek

I noticed Edumund Berger on Deterritorial Investigations Unit had posted a snippet of Antonion Negri’s take on Williams and Srnicek #Acclerate Manifesto. I discovered a few snippets worth noting.

After a slight introduction Negri tells us that Williams and Srnicek return us to a Communist discourse for today. They offer a return of revolutionary thinking, a “new movement” in form – a discourse of power against power, biopolitics against Biopolitics. Theirs is a return to an emancipatory vision that takes as the basic subversive premise the notion of the “One divided into two”.

Negri sees in this a accelerationist move a return that would force a renovation of the operaista tradition with its notions of an “inside-against” refrain. In this tradition the concept of a hands-on investigation of class compostion came to the fore. It provided a detailed analysis of the real conditions of workers that is necessary to validate an analysis of contemporary capitalism, as well as its potential sites of struggle; only thus can the conceptsof immaterial and affective labour be useful politically. As Negri remarks: “The process of liberation may not be accelerating capitalist development, without however (this is important) confusing “acceleration speed”: because here the acceleration has all the characteristics of a device-engine, an experimental process of discovery and creation, within the space of possibilities determined by capitalism itself.” He also sees the need for the revitalization of the concept of “trend” within Marxian analysis and its insistence on “spatial analysis of the parameters of development” aligned with such notions as territorialisation and/or deterritorialization from Deleuze and Guattari.

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Nick Land: On Williams and Srnicek #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics


Nick Land on his Uraban Future (2.1) blog has a few posts up on Accelerationism (here), (here) and (here) with the last two on Alex Williams and Nick Srnicek #ACCELERATE MANIFESTO for an Accelerationist Politics. Although there are only two post so far it looks as if he will add more seeing that he is dividing it up thematically. He seems to agree that both sides of the spectrum, Left and Right, are seeking to realign the social, political, aesthetic lines of modernism which exploded just before the Great War and after… Have we read our Pynchon lately? Against the Day could be used as the lead in for this return since it forges the links from the 1893 Worlds Fair to the Great War – “With a worldwide disaster looming just a few years ahead, it is a time of unrestrained corporate greed, false religiosity, moronic fecklessness, global geopolitical power struggle, mysticism, and evil intent in high places.”  Is this not our age writ large? The age of Pound and Eliot, Futurism and Dada, the worlds of Piccasso and Matisse… and, much like our own age it was a time of anarchists, socialists, feminists, vegetarians… as Peter Gay tells it the moderns no matter what stripe embodied two attributes: first, the lure of heresy that impelled their actions as they confronted conventional sensibilities; and, second, a commitment to a principled self-scrutiny.1 Is this what these Back to the Future Accelerationists seek? Or do they seek something else altogether? Maybe Ray Brassier is on to something in Wandering Abstraction?:

“What is required is an account of the link between the conceptual and the social at the level of practice, which is to say, an account of the way in which cognitive function supervenes on social practices. This is what neither accelerationism nor communisation currently provide.”

– Ray Brassier

From Land I take one comment:

“The accelerationist renovation of the Left, like every species of deep modernist renovation, aims to re-activate lines of development dating back to the high-modernism of the early 20th century when — as the authors fully, if perhaps only intuitively, understand the fundamental dynamic of modernity crested and broke. Or are we seriously to believe that “back to the mid-1970s!” is the implicit rallying cry?”

– Nick Land on Williams and Srnicek

 Some videos as well:

Along with #ACCELERATE: The Accelerationist Reader from Urbonomic forthcoming…

1. Gay, Peter (2010-08-16). Modernism: The Lure of Heresy (Kindle Locations 273-274). W. W. Norton & Company. Kindle Edition.

Quick note on Brassier’s reading of Adorno and Horkheimer

Civilization proscribes mimetic behavior as a dangerous regression.

— Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound Enlightenment and Extinction

Brassier reminds us that for Adorno and Horkheimer, both “mimesis and subsumption are intimately connected to fear: a nexus of terror links civilization’s fear of regression, the individual’s fear of social disapprobation, the fear of conceptual indistinction, and the prey’s fear of its predator” (45-46).1 The point being that these concepts are bound to terror: “the terror of mimetic regression engenders a compulsion to subsume, to conform, and to repress, which is itself the mimesis of primitive organic terror” (46). At the end of a long passage he quotes form Adorno and Horkheimer they summarize what we face today: “The camouflage used to protect and strike terror today is the blind mastery of nature which is identical to farsighted instrumentality” (46).

As Brassier sees it mimicry is both a “defense mechanism and a weapon” (46). He describes the notion of reversibility as being central to this mimetic process of mimicry:

Mimetic sacrifice effectuates a reversibility between the threatening power which is to be warded off, and the threatened entity which seeks to defend itself through sacrifice. It installs a reversible equivalence between dominating and dominated force, power and powerlessness, the organic and the inorganic. Ultimately, this reversibility renders the anthropomorphic vocabulary of fear and intimidation inappropriate…(46)

Pertinent to our later age of computers and instrumental reason Brassier tells us that the “Enlightenment consummates mimetic reversibility by converting thinking into algorithmic compulsion: the inorganic miming of organic reason. Thus the artificialization of intelligence, the conversion of organic ends into technical means and vice versa, heralds the veritable realization of second nature – no longer in the conciliatory aspect of a reflexive commemoration of reason’s own natural history, but rather in the irremediable form wherein purposeless intelligence supplants all reasonable ends (47)”.

Brassier hones in on the fatal flaw within Adorno’s and Horkheimer’s project as he sees it:

Disavowing the irreflexive nature of natural history, Adorno and Horkheimer’s speculative naturalism ends up reverting to natural theology. It is the failure to acknowledge the ways in which the socio-historical mediation of nature is itself mediated by natural history – which means not only evolutionary biology but also geology and cosmology – which allows philosophical discourses on nature to become annexes of philosophical anthropology. (48)


1. Ray Brassier. Nihil Unbound Enlightenment and Extinction (Palgrave McMillan 2007)

Franz Brentano: Catholicism, Idealism and Immortality

My psychological standpoint is empirical; experience alone is my teacher. Yet I share with other thinkers the conviction that this is entirely compatible with a certain ideal point of view.

The laws of gravitation, of sound, of light and electricity disappear along with the phenomena  for which experience has established them. Mental laws, on the other hand, hold true for our life to come as they do in our present life, insofar as this life is immortal.

Franz Brentano,   Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint

Even in this 1874 preface to his now famous work we get the hint of an Idealist framework working its way insidiously into the very fabric of this otherwise naturalist and empirical perspective. If as Iain Hamilton Grant and his fellow commentators in Idealism: The History of a Philosophy are correct and Idealism is a Realism of the Idea, a one-world idealism that takes nature seriously, and that sees the Idea as a causal agent in terms of organization as well as being neither a pure formalism nor abstract in the separable sense, but rather concretely relating part to whole “as the whole”, then we must know how this transcendental realism entered into the sciences of our day by way of none other than those early practioners of the higher sciences in the twentieth-century: such as Albert Einstein whose mathematical-theoretical cosmology displaced the earlier mechanistic materialist perspective of Newton. But that is a longer tale than my particular post is set to problematize. Much of what we take to be scientific realism and modern science itself is based on many of the unmanifest suppositions of Idealism according to Grant and his fellow commentators.

One aspect of Brentano we should not overlook is his life’s tale. Franz Brentano studied philosophy at the universities of Munich, Würzburg, Berlin (with Trendelenburg) and Münster. He had a special interest in Aristotle and scholastic philosophy. He wrote his dissertation in Tübingen On the manifold sense of Being in Aristotle.

Subsequently he began to study theology and entered the seminar in Munich and then Würzburg, preparing to become a Roman Catholic priest (ordained August 6, 1864). In 1865 – 1866 he writes and defends his habilitation essay and theses and begins to lecture at the university of Würzburg. His students in this period include among others Carl Stumpf and Anton Marty.

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Franz Brentano: The Age of Intentionalism

One of the most important innovations is that I am no longer of the opinion that mental relation can have something other than a thing [Reales] as its object. In order to justify this new point of view, I had to explore entirely new questions, for example I had to go into the investigation of the modes of presentation.

Franz Brentano, Psychology from an Empirical Standpoint

The recursive nature of the mind goes back as far a Kant (1787) who spoke explicitly of ‘inner sense,’ and Locke (1690) defined consciousness as the ‘perception of what passes in a man’s mind.’ Brentano (controversially) interpreted Aristotle’s enigmatic and terse discussion of “seeing that one sees” in De Anima III.2 as an anticipation of his own ‘inner perception’ view.

In some ways the Age of Intentionalism is coming to an end. We’ve been skirting around this issue for some time now but have yet to meet it on its own terms. If we are moving toward a post-Intentional view of the Mind then we should be reminded once again of Wilfred Sellars admonition:

Once again, as so often in the history of philosophy, there is a danger that a position will be abandoned before the reasons for its inadequacy are fully understood, with the twin results that: (a) it will not be noticed that its successor, to all appearances a direct contrary, shares some of its mistakes; (b) the truths contained in the old position will be cast aside with its errors. The almost inevitable result of these stampedes has been the ‘swing of the pendulum’ character of philosophical thought; the partial truth of the old position reasserts itself in the long run and brings the rest of the tangle with it.

– Wilfred Sellars, Phenomenalism

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