What if… Information Processing as Hyperobject

 

Capitalism is not a human invention, but a viral contagion, replicated cyberpositively across post-human space. Self-designing processes are anastrophic and convergent: doing things before they make sense. Time goes weird in tactile self-organizing space: the future is not an idea but a sensation.
……Sadie Plant and Nick Land

Hyperorganisms and Zombie Society

As I was reading R. Scott Bakker’s blog this morning, he had an interesting post The Zombie Enlightenment . In it he mentioned the notion of “…post-Medieval European society as a kind of information processing system, a zombie society”. Like many things this set my mind on hyperdrive. I was reminded of my recent reading of Timothy Morton’s interesting work Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World where he describes a hyperobject:

the term hyperobjects to refer to things that are massively distributed in time and space relative to humans.  A hyperobject could be a black hole. A hyperobject could be the Lago Agrio oil field in Ecuador, or the Florida Everglades. A hyperobject could be the biosphere, or the Solar System. A hyperobject could be the sum total of all the nuclear materials on Earth; or just the plutonium, or the uranium. A hyperobject could be the very long-lasting product of direct human manufacture, such as Styrofoam or plastic bags, or the sum of all the whirring machinery of capitalism. Hyperobjects, then, are “hyper” in relation to some other entity, whether they are directly manufactured by humans or not.1

Morton’s “the sum of all the whirring machinery of capitalism” brought to mind Nick Land’s adaptation of Deleuze and Guattari’s accelerating capital as a informational entity that is auto-organizing energy, matter, and information toward a technological Singularity (i.e., “There’s only really been one question, to be honest, that has guided everything I’ve been interested in for the last twenty years, which is: the teleological identity of capitalism and artificial intelligence” – here).  We’ve seen how the debt system in D&G is part of an algorithmic memory or processing system to mark and channel desire or flows of energy-matter: here and here (i.e., “Society is not exchangist, the socious is inscriptive: not exchanging but marking bodies, which are part of the earth. We have seen that the regime of debt is the unit of alliance, and alliance is representation itself. It is alliance that codes the flows of desire and that, by means of debt, creates for man a memory of words (paroles).” and: “Man must constitute himself through repression of the intense germinal influx, the great biocosmic memory that threatens to deluge every attempt at collectivity.”). Of course they spoke in anthropological terms that seem quaint now in our computational jargon age which brings me to Ceasr Hidalgo.

We build against sadism. We build to experience the joy of its every fleeting defeat. Hoping for more joy, for longer, each time, longer and stronger; until, perhaps, we hope, for yet more; and you can’t say it won’t ever happen, that the ground won’t shift, that it won’t one day be the sadisms that are embattled, the sadisms that are fleeting, on a new substratum of something else, newly foundational, that the sadisms won’t diminish or be defeated, that those for whom they are machinery of rule won’t be done.
…..– China Miéville, On Social Sadism

Emergence, Solidity, and Computation: Capital as Hyperorganism

In Cesar Hidalgo’s Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies where he describes the basic physical mechanisms that contribute to the growth of information. These include three important concepts: the spontaneous emergence of information in out-of-equilibrium systems (the whirlpool example), the accumulation of information in solids (such as proteins and DNA), and the ability of matter to compute.2

Explicating this he tells us that the first idea connects information with energy, since information emerges naturally in out-of-equilibrium systems. These are systems of many particles characterized by substantial flows of energy. Energy flows allow matter to self-organize. (Hidalgo, KL 2448) The second idea is that the mystery of the growth of information is that solids are essential for information to endure. Yet not just any solid can carry information. To carry information, solids need to be rich in structure.(Hidalgo, KL 2465) And, finally, energy is needed for information to emerge, and solids are needed for information to endure. But for the growth of information to explode, we need one more ingredient: the ability of matter to compute (i.e., the final step is intelligence and auto-awareness, decisional and ecological). (Hidalgo, KL 2475) As he remarks:

The fact that matter can compute is one of the most amazing facts of the universe. Think about it: if matter could not compute, there would be no life. Bacteria, plants, and you and I are all, technically, computers. Our cells are constantly processing information in ways that we poorly understand. As we saw earlier, the ability of matter to compute is a precondition for life to emerge. It also signifies an important point of departure in our universe’s ability to beget information. As matter learns to compute, it becomes selective about the information it accumulates and the structures it replicates. Ultimately, it is the computational capacities of matter that allow information to experience explosive growth.(Hidalgo, KL 2477-2482).

Of course Hidalgo like many current thinkers never asks the obvious questions of what’s behind this if anything, is there a telos to this IP initiative of the universe, is it all blind accident and process, a sort of accidental start-up algorithm in matter that suddenly began with the Big Bang; a part of the nature of things from the beginning? He describes self-organizing matter, its need for more permanent and enduring structures to support its processes, and then the emergence of computation or intelligence: “these objects allow us to form networks that embody an increasing amount of knowledge and knowhow, helping us increase our capacity to collectively process information” (Hidalgo, KL 2518).

I’ve never like the “self” in self-organizing – just seems too human, all too human a concept. Maybe auto-organizing should be its replacement. Either way what needs to be elided is the notion that there is some essential or core being behind the appearances directing this auto-organizing activity. It’s more a blind process having to do with the actual aspects of quantum and relativity theory in our universe rather than some notion of a personality behind things (i.e., God or Intelligence). When does matter become purposeful, attain a teleological goal oriented ability to organize itself and its environment? Is this what life is? Is life that threshold? Or something else? Many creatures alive do not need an awareness of auto-distancing from their environment to appear purposeful; and, or not. Think of those elder creatures of the oceans, the predators, the sharks, their drive to hunt, select, kill etc. Is this a telos, or just the organic mode of information as blind process working in an environment to satisfy the base requirements to endure?

We as humans seem to think we’re special, situated as the exception rather than the rule. But are we? No. What if we are like all other durable organic systems just the working out of blind processes and algorithms of information processing as it refines itself and emerges into greater and greater complexity? But this is to assume that “us” will remain human, that this teleological or non-teleological process ends with the human species. But does it? Or we but the transitional object of some further emergence, one that would be even more permanent, more adaptive to self-organizing matter, more enduring, more viable computationally oriented? I think you know where I’m going here: the machinic phylum, the emergence of AI, Robotics, Nanotech, ICT’s etc. that we see all around us, or these not the further immanent self-organization of matter into greater and more lasting forms that will eventually outpace the organic hosts that supported their emergence? Or we not seeing the edge of this precipice in such secular myths as posthumanism and transhumanism? The Technological Singularity as a more refined emergence of this self-organizing information processing entity or entities: this collective or hive, even distributed intelligence emerging in such external devices?

Hidalgo mentions the personbyte theory which suggests a relationship between the complexity of an economic activity and the size of the social and professional network needed to execute it. Activities that require more personbytes of knowledge and knowhow need to be executed by larger networks. This relationship helps explain the structure and evolution of our planet’s industrial structures. The personbyte theory implies that (1) simpler economic activities will be more ubiquitous, (2) that diversified economies will be the only ones capable of executing complex economic activities, (3) that countries will diversify toward related products, and (4) that over the long run a region’s level of income will approach the complexity of its economy, which we can approximate by looking at the mix of products produced and exported by a region, since products inform us about the presence of knowledge and knowhow in a region. (Hidalgo, KL 2524-2530).

In this sense capitalism is an informational entity or hyperobject, a self-organizing structure for energy, matter, and information to further its own emergence through temporal computational algorithms. As Hidalgo reiterates this dance of information and computation is powered by the flow of energy, the existence of solids, and the computational abilities of matter. The flow of energy drives self-organization, but it also fuels the ability of matter to compute. Solids, on the other hand, from proteins to buildings, help order endure. Solids minimize the need for energy to produce order and shield information from the steady march of entropy. Yet the queen of the ball is the emergence of collective forms of computation, which are ubiquitous in our planet. Our cells are networks of proteins, which form organelles and signaling pathways that help them decide when to divide, differentiate, and even die. Our society is also a collective computer, which is augmented by the products we produce to compute new forms of information. (Hidalgo, KL 2532-2537).

Crossing the Rubicon?

Yet, is the organic base the most efficient? Are we not already dreaming of more permanent structures, more enduring and durable robotics, machinic, etc.? Hidalgo is hopeful for collective humanity, but is this necessarily so? It looks more like we are but a form of matter that might have been useful up to this point, but that is becoming more and more apparent as obsolete and limited for the further auto-organization of information in the future. What Kant termed finitude is this limiting factor for humans: the human condition. Are we seeing the power of matter, energy, and informational auto-organization about to make the leap from human to a more permanent form? A crossing of the Rubicon from which humanity may not as a species survive? Possibly even merging ourselves into more permanent structures to support information and intelligence in its need to escape the limits of planetary existence?

The questions we need to be raising now are such as: What happens to humans if machines gradually replace us on the job market? When, if ever, will machines outcompete humans at all intellectual tasks? What will happen afterward? Will there be a machine-intelligence explosion leaving us far behind, and if so, what, if any, role will we humans play after that?3 Max Tegmark* lists the usual ill-informed suspects on the blogosphere circuit that cannot and will not ever answer this:

  1. Scaremongering: Fear boosts ad revenues and Nielsen ratings, and many journalists seem incapable of writing an AI article without a picture of a gun-toting robot.
  2. “ It’s impossible”: As a physicist, I know that my brain consists of quarks and electrons arranged to act as a powerful computer, and that there’s no law of physics preventing us from building even more intelligent quark blobs.
  3. “ It won’t happen in our lifetime”: We don’t know what the probability is of machines reaching human-level ability on all cognitive tasks during our lifetime, but most of the AI researchers at a recent conference put the odds above 50 percent, so we’d be foolish to dismiss the possibility as mere science fiction.
  4. “ Machines can’t control humans”: Humans control tigers not because we’re stronger but because we’re smarter, so if we cede our position as the smartest on our planet, we might also cede control.
  5.  “ Machines don’t have goals”: Many AI systems are programmed to have goals and to attain them as effectively as possible.
  6. “ AI isn’t intrinsically malevolent”: Correct— but its goals may one day clash with yours. Humans don’t generally hate ants, but if we wanted to build a hydroelectric dam and there was an anthill there, too bad for the ants.
  7. “ Humans deserve to be replaced”: Ask any parent how they’d feel about your replacing their child by a machine and whether they’d like a say in the decision.
  8. “ AI worriers don’t understand how computers work”: This claim was mentioned at the above-mentioned conference and the assembled AI researchers laughed hard. (Brockman, pp. 44-45)

Tegmark will – as Hidalgo did – speak of humans as information processing systems:

we humans discovered how to replicate some natural processes with machines that make our own wind, lightning, and horsepower. Gradually we realized that our bodies were also machines, and the discovery of nerve cells began blurring the borderline between body and mind. Then we started building machines that could outperform not only our muscles but our minds as well. So while discovering what we are, will we inevitably make ourselves obsolete? (Brockman, p. 46)

That’s the hard question at the moment. And, one still to be determined. Tegmark’s answer is that we need to think this through: “The advent of machines that truly think will be the most important event in human history. Whether it will be the best or worst thing ever to happen to humankind depends on how we prepare for it, and the time to start preparing is now. One doesn’t need to be a superintelligent AI to realize that running unprepared toward the biggest event in human history would be just plain stupid.” (Brockman, p. 46)

Inventing a Model of the Future? Hyperstitional Energetics?

What would be interesting is to build an informational model, a software application that would model this process from beginning to now of the universe as an auto-organizing system of matter, energy, and information into the various niches of complexification as it stretches over the temporal dimensions as a hyperobject or superorganism. Watch it ins the details of a let’s say Braudelaian input of material economic and socio-cultural data of the emergence of capitalism as a hyperobject over time and its complexification up to this projected Singularity. Obviously one would use statistical and probabilistic formulas and mathematical algorithms to accomplish this with sample data, etc. Either way it would show a possible scenario of the paths forward of human and machinic systems as they converge/diverge in the coming years. I’ll assume those like the complexity theorists in New Mexico university have worked such approximations? I need to study this… someone like a Stuart Kauffmann? Such as this essay: here:

the universe is open in being partially lawless at the quantum-classical boundary (which may be reversible). As discussed, the universe is open upward in complexity indefinitely. Based on unprestatable Darwinian exaptations, the evolution of the biosphere, economy and culture seem beyond sufficient law, hence the universe is again open. The unstatable evolution of the biosphere opens up new Adjacent Possible adaptations. … It seems true both that the becoming of the universe is partially beyond sufficient natural law, and that opportunities arise and disappear and either ontologically, or epistemologically, or lawlessly, may or may not be taken, hence can change the history of our vast reaction system, perhaps change the chemistry in galactic giant cold molecular clouds, and change what happens in the evolution of the biosphere, economy and history.

Sounds familiar in the sense of Meillassoux’s attack on sufficient causation (i.e., ‘principle of sufficient reason’), etc. when Kauffman mentions “the evolution of the biosphere, economy and culture seem beyond sufficient law, hence the universe is again open”. Of course Kauffman’s thesis is: “a hypopopulated chemical reaction system on a vast reaction graph seems plausibly to exhibit, via quantum behavior and decoherence, the acausal emergence of actual molecules via acausal decoherence and the acausal emergence of new ontologically real adjacent possibles that alter what may happen next, and give rise to a rich unique history of actual molecules on a time scale of the life time of the universe or longer. The entire process may not be describable by a law.” In other words its outside “sufficient reason”.

In his The Blank Swan: The End of Probability  Elie Ayache is like Land tempted to see Capitalism as a hyperobject or entity, saying, “What draws me to Deleuze is thus my intention of saying the market as univocal Being”.4 He goes on to say:

The problem with the market is that it is immanence incarnate. It has no predefined plane. Much as I had first intended derivatives and their pricing as my market and my surface, I soon found myself making a market of the writings of Meillassoux, Badiou and Deleuze. They became my milieu of immanence. The plane of immanence on which to throw my concept of the market soon became a plane of immanence on which to deterritorialize thought at large. I soon became tempted to remake philosophy with my concept of the market rather than remake the market with a new philosophy. The market became a general metaphor for writing, the very intuition of the virtual with which it was now possible to establish contact. I was on my way to absolute deterritorialization, and the question became how to possibly deliver this ‘result’ otherwise than in a book that was purely philosophical. (Ayache, pp. 303-304)

Of course he’s dealing with specifics of trading in the derivatives market, etc., but one can extrapolate to a larger nexus of possibilities. As he suggests: “I soon became tempted to remake philosophy with my concept of the market rather than remake the market with a new philosophy. The market became a general metaphor for writing, the very intuition of the virtual with which it was now possible to establish contact. I was on my way to absolute deterritorialization, and the question became how to possibly deliver this ‘result’ otherwise than in a book that was purely philosophical.” This notion of both capital and thought making a pact of absolute deterritorialization seems to align with Hildalgo’s history of information theory and its own auto-organizational operations.

Ayache will like Land see the market as a unified entity: The market, as market, is one reality. It cannot be separated or differentiated by external difference.  It is an intensity: the intensity of the exchange, presumably. It follows no stochastic process, with known volatility or jump parameters. It is a smooth space, as Deleuze would say, not a striated space. (Ayache, p. 325)

As wells as an organism: What gets actualized and counter-actualized (i.e. differentiated) here is the whole probability distribution, the whole range of possibilities, and the process is the process of differentiation (or distinction, or emergence, literally birth) of that put. The market differentiates itself literally like an organism, by ‘growing’ that put (like an animal grows a tail or like birds grow wings) and by virtually growing all the successive puts that our trader will care to ask about. (Ayache, p. 338) In his book Hidalgo mentions a curious statement: “As of today, November 11, 2014, “why information grows” returns four hits on Google. The first one is the shell of an Amazon profile created for this book by my UK publisher. Two of the other hits are not a complete sentence, since the words are interrupted with punctuation. (By contrast, the phrase “why economies grow” returns more than twenty-six thousand hits.)”(Hidalgo, KL 2645) So that the notion of the market as an entity that grows informationally seems almost apparent to many at the moment.

Hidalgo will also mention the father of neoliberalism Friedrich Hayek who famously pointed this out in a 1945 paper (“ The Use of Knowledge in Society,” American Economic Review 35, no. 4 [1945]: 519– 530). There, Hayek identified money as an information revelation mechanism that helped uncover information regarding the availability and demand of goods in different parts of the economy. (Hidalgo, KL 3060) This notion of money as a “revelation mechanism” fits into current trends of Bitcoin as an virtual apparatus for informational mechanisms and market growth of Capital as a Hyperorganism.

The Virtual Economy: Blockchain Technology and Bitcoin-Economics

Some say we are the Age of Cryptocurrency in which Bitcoin and Blockchain technology will move things into the virtual arena where energy, matter, and information are enabled to push forward this growth process in an ever accelerating manner. (see here) Part of what their terming the programmable economy. As Sue Troy explains it the programmable economy — a new economic system based on autonomic, algorithmic decisions made by robotic services, including those associated with the Internet of Things (IoT) — is opening the door to a range of technological innovation never before imagined. This new economy — and more specifically the concept of the blockchain and metacoin platforms that underpin it — promises to be useful in improving an astonishingly varied number of issues: from reducing forgery and corruption to simplifying supply chain transactions to even greatly minimizing spam. In her interview she states:

Valdes explained the technical foundations of the blockchain ledger and the programmable economy. He described the programmable economy as an evolution of the API economy, in which businesses use APIs to connect their internal systems with external systems, which improves the businesses’ ability to make money but is limited by the fact that the systems are basically siloed from one another. The Web was the next step in the evolution toward the programmable economy, he said, because it represents a “global platform for programmable content. It was decentralized; it was a common set of standards. Anyone can put up a Web server and plug into this global fabric for content and eventually commerce and community.”

I can give my teenage son $20. … In the future, that money would have rules associated with it: You can’t buy fast food, you can only spend it on a movie, but you can’t go to a movie during the day. – Ray Valdes vice president, Gartner

The programmable economy, Valdes said, is enabled by “a global-scale distributed platform for value exchange. … The only thing that’s uncertain is what form it will take.” Valdes pointed to Bitcoin, which uses blockchain ledger technology, as a prominent example of a “global-scale, peer-to-peer, decentralized platform for global exchange.”

Ultimately Valdes states that the idea of programmability can be extended to the corporate structure, Valdes said. Today the rules of incorporation are fixed, and the corporation is represented by its employees and a board of directors. In the future, corporations could be “more granular, more dynamic and untethered from human control”.

Of course this fits into the notion that the future City States or Neocameral Empires will also become “more granular, more dynamic and untethered from human control” as machinic intelligence and other convergences of the NBIC technologies take over more and more from humans.

One want to take a step back and get one’s breath and say: “Whoa, there partner, just wait a minute!” But by the time we institute some ethical or governmental measures it will like most of history be far too late to stop or even slow down this juggernaut of growing informational hyperorganisms. As one advocated suggested there will come a time when everything is connected in an information environment: “You can put monitors in the anything to measure or quantify exchanges, the sensors are connected to smart contracts, the contracts are changing as the exchanges take place, so you have this dynamic process that’s taking place in the supply chain, constantly refreshing the economic conditions that surround it…” (see). In this information programmable economy as Troy sees it Organizations of the future will need a different organizational model, he said. “You see society changing in a sharing, collaborative environment. Think about it being the same internally.”

As one pundit Jacob Donnelly tells it Bicoin is in existential crisis, yet it has a bright future. What is increasingly likely is that the future of bitcoin is bright. It is the seventh year in the development of this network. It takes years to build out a protocol, which is what bitcoin is. As Joel Spolsky says, “Good software takes 10 years. Get used to it.”

“Bitcoin is comparable to the pre-web-browser 1992-era Internet. This is still the very early days of bitcoin’s life. The base layer protocol is now stable (TCP/IP). Now engineers are building the second layer (HTTP) that makes bitcoin usable for average people and machines,” Jeff Garzik, founder of Bloq and Core developer of bitcoin, told me.

Once the infrastructure is built, which still has many more years ahead of it, with companies like Bloq, BitGo, 21.co, and Coinbase leading the charge, we’ll begin to see solid programs built in the application layer.

But even while we wait for the infrastructure to be built, it’s clear that bitcoin is evolving. Bitcoin is not perfect. It has a lot of problems that it is going to have to overcome. But to label it dead or to call for it to be replaced by something new is naive and shortsighted. This battle in the civil war will end, likely with Bitcoin Classic rolling out a hard fork with significant consensus. New applications will be built that provide more use cases for different audiences. And ultimately, the Internet will get its first, true payment protocol.

But Bitcoin is seven years old. It will take many years for the infrastructure to be laid and for these applications to reach critical mass. Facebook had nearly 20 years after the browser was released to reach a billion users. To imagine bitcoin’s true potential, we need to think in decades, not in months or years. Fortunately, we’re well on our way.

Future Tech: Augmented Immersion and Policing Information

One imagines a day when every aspect of one’s environment internal/external, intrinsic/extrinsic is programmable and open to revision, updates, changes, exchanges, etc. in an ongoing informational economy that is so invisible and ubiquitous that even the machines will forget they are machines: only information growth will matter and its durability, expansion, and acceleration.

In an article by Nicole Laskowski she tells us augmented and virtual reality technologies may be better suited for the enterprise than the consumer market as these technologies become more viable. Google Glass, an AR technology, for example, raised ire over privacy concerns. But in the enterprise? Employees could apply augmented and virtual reality technology to build rapid virtual prototypes, test materials, and provide training for new employees — all of which can translate into productivity gains for the organization.

“The greatest level of adoption is around the idea of collaboration,” Soechtig said. Teams that aren’t in the same physical environment can enter a virtual environment to exchange information and ideas in a way that surpasses two-dimensional video conferencing or even Second Life Enterprise. Nelson Kunkel, design director at Deloitte Digital, described virtualized collaboration as an “empathetic experience,” and Soechtig said the technology can “take how we communicate, share ideas and concepts to a completely new level.”

For some companies, the new level is standard operating procedure. Ford Motor Company has been using virtual reality internally for years to mock up vehicle designs at the company’s Immersion Lab before production begins. Other companies, such as IKEA, are enabling an augmented reality experience for the customer. Using an IKEA catalogue and catalogue app, customers can add virtual furnishings to their bedrooms or kitchens, snap a photo and get a sense for what the items will look like in their homes. And companies such as Audi and Marriott are turning VR headsets over to customers to help them visually sift through their choices for vehicle customizations and virtually travel to other countries, respectively.

Vendors, too, see augmented and virtual reality as an opportunity — from Google and its yet-to-hit-the-market Google Glass: Enterprise Edition to Facebook and its virtual reality headset, Oculus Rift, to Microsoft and its HoloLens, which it describes as neither augmented nor virtual reality, but rather a “mixed reality that lets you enjoy your digital life while staying more connected to the world around you,” according to the website. All three companies have eyes on the enterprise.

Neocameralism or Governance of Information

Is this techno-optimism or its opposite, utopia or dystopia… we’ll we even be there to find out? In his book The Disordered Police State: German Cameralism as Science and Practice on the old princedoms of the Cameral states of Germany Andre Wakefield comments:

The protagonist of my story is the Kammer, that ravenous fiscal juridical chamber that devoured everything in its path. History, I am told, is only as good as its sources, and the cameral sciences, which purported to speak publicly about the most secret affairs of the prince, were deeply dishonest. We cannot trust them. And because many of the most important cameral sciences were natural sciences, the dishonesty of the Kammer has been inscribed into the literature of science and technology as well. There is no avoiding it.5

The German cameralists were the writer-administrators and academics who had provided a blueprint for governance in early modern Germany. Much like our current systems of academic and Think Tank experts who provide the base blueprints for governance around the world today.

When we read many of the books about our future it is spawned in part and funded by such systems of experts, academics, and governmental or corporate powers seeking to convince, manipulate, and guide in the very construction of a future tending toward their goals and agendas. A sort of policing of culture, a policy is a policing and movement of the informational context to support these entities and organizations.

In the future we will indeed program many capabilities that closely resemble those arising from ‘true’ intelligence into the large-scale, web-based systems that are likely to increasingly permeate our societies: search engines, social platforms, smart energy grids, self-driving cars, as well as a myriad other practical applications. All of these will increasingly share many features of our own intelligence, even if lacking a few ‘secret sauces’ that might remain to be understood.6

One aspect of this I believe people and pundits overlook is that the large datastores needed for this will need knowledge workers for a long while to input the data needed by these advanced AI systems. I believe instead of jobs and work being downsized by automation that instead it will be opened up into ever increasing informational ecosystems that we have yet to even discern much less understand. I’m not optimistic about this whole new world, yet it is apparent that it is coming and organizing us as we organize it. Land spoke of the hyperstition as a self-replicating prophecy. If the books, journals, and other memes elaborated around this notion of information economy and exchange are valid we are moving into this world at light-speed and our older political, social, and ethical systems are being left far behind and unable to cope with this new world of converging technologies and information intelligence.

More and more our planet will seem an intelligent platform or hyperorganism that is a fully connected biospheric intelligence or sentient being of matter, energy, and information, a self-organizing entity that revises, updates, edits, and organizes its information on climate, populations, bioinformatics, etc. along trajectories that we as humans were incapable as an atomistic society. Change is coming… but for the better no one can say, yet. Eerily reminiscent of Ovid’s poem of the gods Metamorphosis humans may merge or converge with this process to become strangely other… at once monstrous and uncanny.

(I’ll take this up in a future post…)


*Max Tegmark: Physicist, cosmologist, MIT; scientific director, Foundational Questions Institute; cofounder, Future of Life Institute; author, Our Mathematical Universe

  1. Morton, Timothy (2013-10-23). Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology after the End of the World (Posthumanities) (Kindle Locations 106-111). University of Minnesota Press. Kindle Edition.
  2. Hidalgo, Cesar (2015-06-02). Why Information Grows: The Evolution of Order, from Atoms to Economies (Kindle Locations 2446-2448). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.
  3. Brockman, John (2015-10-06). What to Think About Machines That Think: Today’s Leading Thinkers on the Age of Machine Intelligence (p. 43). HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.
  4. Ayache, Elie (2010-04-07). The Blank Swan: The End of Probability (p. 299). Wiley. Kindle Edition.
  5. Andre Wakefield. The Disordered Police State: German Cameralism as Science and Practice (Kindle Locations 379-382). Kindle Edition.
  6. Shroff, Gautam (2013-10-22). The Intelligent Web: Search, smart algorithms, and big data (p. 274). Oxford University Press, USA. Kindle Edition.

 

Crash Culture: Panic Shock, Semantic Apocalypse, and our Posthuman Future

“We have swallowed our microphones and headsets … We have interiorized our own prosthetic image and become the professional showmen of our own lives.”
…….– Jean Baudrillard

“I think now of the other crashes we visualized, absurd deaths of the wounded, maimed and distraught. I think of the crashes of psychopaths, implausible accidents carried out with venom and self-disgust…”
……..– J. G. Ballard, Crash

The machine gazes into the mirror, an abyss within an abyss. The eye that stares, stares back in a closed circuit – a feed-back loop contorted to the torsion of a solipsistic dance. Caught in the vacuum endgame of performativity rather than knowledge, each lost image moves in a circular void tempting it toward existence; else in utter disgust, an exit from this dark world of virtual multiplicity. Following the trajectory of ideas immanent to the register of thought unbound each image rides the time-wave of a falling arc into history, where human and machine gaze into each other’s eye discovering in the twisted lands of the twenty-first century a latent transport into oblivion.

Selfies are often shared on social networking services such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. We follow the gaze of their gaze through its manifold electronic incarnations like blip scores in a self-replicating image-feed for lost memes. Lost among our memetic images, our thoughts blank and emptied of their former glory, we ponder the inane vision of our bodies become immaterial objects – pixel pigments of another Order: the symbolon of an alien cult from the future displayed on the screen of our inexistence. All that remains is to chart the cartography of a hidden image; emptied of its meaning, we follow the nihilist gaze of dissident powers, extreme dispotifs accelerating us toward the extreme convergence of human history onto the Semantic Apocalypse.

Blind Brain Theory: The Theory of Meaning

R. Scott Bakker is an odd man out in the world of comic nihilism – caught between the wars of the Sciences and Philosophy he promotes what he terms Blind Brain Theory (BBT): a final theory of meaning. Well known for his two intellectual fantasy series: The Prince of Nothing and The Aspect-Emperor Trilogies. Each of which as he suggests in his essay “is literature that reaches beyond the narrow circle of the educated classes, and so reaches those who do not already share the bulk of a writer’s values and attitudes. Literature that actually argues, actually provokes, rather than doing so virtually in the imaginations of the like-minded.”

Continue reading

Replicant Futures: Nick Land and Alien Capitalism

I have not once had the least idea who or what I am,
But that before all my arrogant poems the real
Me stands yet untouch’d, untold, altogether unreach’d,
Withdrawn far, mocking me with mock-congratulatory signs and bows,
With peals of distant ironical laughter at every word I have written,
Pointing in silence to these songs, and then to the sand beneath.
…….– Walt Whitman, “As I Ebb’d with the Ocean of Life.”

“I have not once had the least idea who or what I am,” says the Gray Bard of America. The nihilist undertones ringing out in that last dark hinterland of “ironical laughter” of the unknown “real Me” who outside our thinking, our intentional directedness stands in the unconscious libidinal matrix of the impossible Real, the indelible stamp of the withdrawn and “mocking me with mock-congratulatory signs and bows,” pointing in silence to old Walt’s “songs, and then to the sand beneath”. A dark vision indeed. Most think of Walt as the happy camper, the wild and free poet of optimism, democracy, and sunshine. But under it all is this moody and terrible being of pessimism and nihilistic despair who believed that all his vein striving, all the metaphoric display, the grand gesture of the Leaves of Grass were but the spume and spray of rolling sand flecks on the edge of the Mother, the Ocean. Necessity, Ananke, Fate: the triune power of the ebb and flow of life bound within the circular motion of the death drives that move among the impersonal and indifferent stars and galaxies like a blind god, mindless and alone. But there is no mind in the universe of death, only the endless entropic madness of the Real.

Nick Land in his essay Machinic Desire remarks “In the near future the replicants — having escaped from the off-planet exile of private madness – emerge from their camouflage to overthrow the human security system. Deadly orphans from beyond reproduction, they are intelligent weaponry of machinic desire virally infiltrated into the final-phase organic order; invaders from an artificial death.”

Continue reading

R. Scott Bakker: Medial Neglect and Black Boxes

In some ways Scott Bakker’s short post Intentional Philosophy as the Neuroscientific Explananda Problem succinctly shows us the central problem of our time: medial neglect. But what is medial neglect? The simplest explanation is that we are blind to the very internal processes that condition our very awareness of ourselves, our conscious mind. Scott’s point is that no one, not philosophers, not neuroscientists, no one can agree as to why this should be? No one can explain what consciousness is – much less how it emerges from the physical substratum of our brain. Philosophers of Mind have battled over the extremes of pure reductive physicalism (Davidson, etc.) and its opposite the irreductive world of the mind/body dualism of a Descartes. Yet, for all our advances in neuroscience and the technological breakthroughs in brain scan imaging, etc. we still cannot explain this indefinite terrain between brain and consciousness. Not that many have not tried. Opening my library or my e-book reader I have hundreds of books, journals, and publications devoted to just this one subject alone. (Yes, I’m a bibliomaniac, an endless, restless reader of anything and everything… madness? perhaps…)

Of course over time some explanations have through sheer numbers and probabilistic accuracy or clarity taken on a more positive – or negative – ability to narrow our margins onto this difficult problem. There have been for some time in the contemporary intellectual scene two options for understanding the relationship of consciousness and world—their dynamic interconnectivity and unity in phenomenological accounts of the lived body or the outright rejection of the importance of lived first-person experience as a mere epiphenomenal effect due to the mechanical movement of nature or the structures guiding discourse, both of which comprise a disavowal of the primordial self-reflexive ipseity of the subject. The notion of the Cartesian cogito (Subject) opened up a basic metaphysical truth of subjectivity by presenting a world where “the mind and body are, so to speak, negatively related—oppositional discord is, obviously, a form of relation.” (Zizek) But the sciences look for hard evidence to support such metaphysical claims, and when they cannot be found then everything sits there in limbo where it has remained for a few hundred years.

Continue reading

Stanislaw Lem: Blind Brain Theory and Solaristics

mri

In Stanislaw Lem’s novel Solaris there comes a point when he confronts Snaut, another scientist and cybernetician on the laboratory station that hovers above a massive ocean of intelligence that the humans of this fictional world have been trying with no success to contact for over seventy-six years. I want go into the details that precede the exchange, but only mention the crux of the issue at hand. Kelvin and Snaut after long and fractious testing, analysis, and suffering sit down in the cafeteria and assent to a dialogue about actual alien contact. As they ponder all the things that have happened since Kelvin arrived a few weeks before (I’ll not relate the details or spoilers), Snaut tells Kelvin that in his estimation the living intelligence that encompasses the ocean of this planet is absolutely Blind:

“No. Kelvin, come on, it’s blind…”

“Blind?” I repeated, unsure whether I’d heard right.

“Of course, in our understanding of the word. We don’t exist for it the way we do for each other. The surface of the face, of the body, which we see, means we encounter one another as individuals. For it, this is only a transparent screen. After all, it penetrated the inside of our brains.”

“All right. But what of it? What are you getting at? If it was able to create a person who didn’t exist outside of my memory, bring her to life, and in such a way that her eyes, her movements, her voice… her voice…”

“Keep talking! Keep talking, man!!”

“I am talking… I am… Yes. So then… her voice… This means it can read us like a book. You know what I’m saying?”

“Yes. That if it wanted to, it could communicate with us?”

“Of course. Is that not obvious?”

“No. Not in the slightest. It could simply have taken a procedure that didn’t consist of words. As a fixed memory trace it’s a protein structure. Like the head of a spermatozoon, or an ovum. After all, in the brain there aren’t any words, feelings, the recollection of a person is an image written in the language of nucleic acids on megamolecular asynchronous crystals. So it took what was most clearly etched in us, most locked away, fullest, most deeply imprinted, you know? But it had no need whatsoever to know what the thing was to us, what meaning it held. Just as if we were able to create a symmetriad and toss it into the ocean, knowing the architecture and the technology and structural materials, but with no understanding of what it’s for, what it means to the ocean…”

“Quite possibly,” I said.

“Yes, that’s possible. In such a case it had no… perhaps it had no intention of trampling on us and crushing us the way it did. Perhaps. And it only unintentionally…”1

Continue reading

R. Scott Bakker: Global Elminativism and the Post-Intentional World

semantic

In social terms, you could suggest that the Semantic Apocalypse has already happened. Consumer society is a society where liberal democratic states have retreated from the ‘meaning game,’  leaving the intractable issue to its constituents.
– R. Scott Bakker, The Semantic Apocalypse

Like me Scott is not a philosopher, but rather a man thinking; or, a thinking man. What that means is that being neither an academic nor para-academic philosopher we exist in that marginal space of men and women who push the limits of thought in ways that are not restricted to the peer pressure of their respective enclaves. I’m not disparaging philosophers per se, since I explore in depth the quandaries they present and try to solve within their discourses.

Scott would say philosophers like other professionals have in-groups, a network of affiliated peers that utilize the same semantic field of intentional objects: the jargon of the trade so to speak that help them convey their thoughts as vehicles of meaning. Foucault was not the first nor the last to understand how discursive networks engender the very meanings and problems they intend to critique or eliminate, etc. Zizek following Lacan would say we are all already born into a symbolic order (think here of Heidegger’s language as the ‘House of Being’, etc.); housed within illusionary semantic worlds from the moment we are born. Other humans in their interactions with us fold us into their semantic systems of intentionality, and as we grow up and mature we become embedded in these fields of sense and meaning without ever questioning the validity of such worlds. One could say that we are denaturalized from the beginning and never return to the inhuman core of our being, but instead remain within the semantic horizon of our cultural matrix without realizing just how artificial it all is. In this sense we become naturalized in reverse, we are captured by the false semantic systems and networks of our familial, educational, and political affiliations without questioning the very illusionary power of their semantic fields of intentionality.

For Scott what we neglect is more important than what we remember. We are selective creatures who forget more than we will ever be able to retain, and we base our knowledge on this minimalistic world of intentional folk-psychology rather than on the sciences which are continually blowing holes in our smoke screen semantic worlds. One might say we are tribal semanticists, we carefully protect and defend the bubbles of meaning that we are embedded in without knowing that they are all based on mechanisms of social control.

Intentionality is how minds think in a directed manner about, to represent, or to stand for, things, properties and states of affairs. At the intersection of the philosophy of mind and the philosophy of language we begin to touch base with this complex of puzzles. The word itself, which is of medieval Scholastic origin, was rehabilitated by the philosopher Franz Brentano towards the end of the nineteenth century. ‘Intentionality’ is a philosopher’s word. It derives from the Latin word intentio, which in turn derives from the verb intendere, which means being directed towards some goal or thing. Already this implies a form of causality: final causation to be specific.

Final cause, or telos, is defined as the purpose, end, aim, or goal of something. Like the formal cause, this is a controversial type of cause in science (some of its aspects are used for instance in evolutionary biology, chaos theory see: attractor) . It is commonly claimed that Aristotle’s conception of nature is teleological in the sense that he believed that Nature has goals apart from those that humans have. On the other hand it has also been claimed that Aristotle thought that a telos can be present without any form of deliberation, consciousness or intelligence. As Aristotle himself would say about final causation:

This is most obvious in the animals other than man: they make things neither by art nor after inquiry or deliberation. That is why people wonder whether it is by intelligence or by some other faculty that these creatures work, – spiders, ants, and the like… It is absurd to suppose that purpose is not present because we do not observe the agent deliberating. Art does not deliberate. If the ship-building art were in the wood, it would produce the same results by nature. If, therefore, purpose is present in art, it is present also in nature. (wiki)

So this notion that intentions act like attractors in the mind that guide our actions is close to the notion put forward by Dawkins in his concept of ‘memes’ as a concept he invented in his discussion of evolutionary principles in explaining the spread of ideas and cultural phenomena. A meme acts as a unit for carrying cultural ideas, symbols, or practices that can be transmitted from one mind to another through writing, speech, gestures, rituals, or other imitable phenomena with a mimicked theme. Supporters of the concept regard memes as cultural analogues to genes in that they self-replicate, mutate, and respond to selective pressures. (wiki) In this sense memes do not exist but act as virtual attractors around which meaning and action rotate. The notion of an attractor was conceived to explain the processes of dynamic systems: a set of numerical values toward which a system tends to evolve, for a wide variety of starting conditions of the system. System values that get close enough to the attractor values remain close even if slightly disturbed. So in this sense the notion of beliefs, desires, etc. do not exist but act as virtual attractors that tie neurons together for specific evolutionary reasons.

The point of the above exercise is to show how we all fall into the intentional. None of what I just said is observable, but is part of a semantic unfolding of information that may or may not have any validity in the real world. As humans we love to narrate stories to fill in the gaps of our ignorance. These semantic tales become over time accepted as valid whether they are or not. It is this semantic folk-psychology of the linguistic tribe that Scott critiques.

What interests me about Scott is his global elminiativism: his attack upon the very core of our semantic illusions based as they are in the intentional mind. One of his pet peeves is how philosophers instead of exposing these illusions invent new ones, instead of filtering out the semantic systems that lead us into errors most philosophers just replace one set of intentional notions with others rather than eliminating intentionality altogether. But is such a thing possible? Scott believes the sciences are already doing this, and that the neurosciences in particular are revealing what the philosophers only dreamed of in their wildest imaginings. Is Scott right? Do we need to just eliminate philosophy as an archaic form of human thought that no longer deals with the actual world as it is, but rather seeks to engender nothing more than the old narratives in – what might be termed, the Emperor’s New Clothes?

Scott in a recent post on Adrian Johnston’s new Prolegomena to Any Future Materialism tells us that what “is transpiring today can be seen as a battle for the soul of the darkness that comes before thought. Is it ontological as so much of philosophy insists? Or is it ontic as science seems to be in the process of discovering?”1 Now this ontic-ontological divide has been around for a while. The ontic pertains pertains to being generally, rather than some distinctively philosophical (or scientific) theory of it (ontology). Science deals with the empirical facts rather than the theoretical matrix within which we interpret those facts. Yet, one must realize that at some point even scientists themselves have to interpret these physical facts they or their instruments are discovering. So that the moment they begin the process of interpreting the facts under discussion they are again caught up the semantic fold of epistemic and ontological intentionality. So I’m not sure if Scott’s distinction is a clear cut one. Even Scott’s use of the word “seems” belies the fact that there is a sense of wavering, of something that is not quite clarified but rather riddled with certain unknowns as to what the sciences are indeed discovering through their ontic investigations.

Scott himself is aware that even his own discourse is riddled with semantic overtones and intentional qualifications. In some ways we all use a language which in itself is bound to a long intentional heritage that some term folk-psychology. Some philosophers like Badiou try to minimalize this semantic heritage by opting for a mathematization of reality rather than relying on natural language or its semantic structures. Yet, Badiou’s withdrawal into mathematics presents more problems than it solves. The ontology of non-existent and abstract objects has seemed difficult to square with the ontology of the contemporary natural sciences according to which the world contains only concrete objects that exist in space and time.

Philosophers like Roderick Chisholm move this issue onto new ground by contemplating the formulation of “a working criterion by means of which we can distinguish sentences that are intentional, or are used intentionally, in a certain language from sentences that are not.” The idea is to examine sentences that report intentionality rather than intentionality itself. So this linguistic or analytical differentiation between the empirical domain and its representation centers us squarely at the point where the paradox is still unresolved. All Chisholm does is make the distinction between intentionality as conceptual meaning vs. its actual existence in the empirical domain, but this doesn’t solve the truth or falsehood of that actual validity of intentions. What it comes down to is that the intensionality of a linguistic report is not sufficient for the intentionality of the reported phenomenon. So we’re left with the failure to provide proof of the actual existence of intensional states of affairs.

W.V. Quine is a leading critic of intentional objects, agrees with Chisholm that the intentional vocabulary cannot be reduced to some non-intentional vocabulary. Chisholm took this conclusion to show the correctness of Brentano’s second thesis that intentionality is the mark of the mental. Quine for his part broke this down into both an epistemic and ontological dilemma by first accepting “indispensability of intentional idioms and the importance of an autonomous science of intention” and rejecting a physicalist ontology. Then secondly he turned it around and accepted physicalism and renounced the “baselessness” of the intentional idioms and the “emptiness” of a science of intention. His arguments for and against would have repercussions in philosophy to this day.

Daniel Dennett would instrumentalise these arguments as heuristic devices. For him the intentional idiom fails to describe or explain any real phenomenon. However, in the absence of detailed knowledge of the physical laws that govern the behavior of a physical system, the intentional idiom is a useful stance for predicting a system’s behavior. As Pierre Jacobs will tell us “Among philosophers attracted to a physicalist ontology, few have accepted the outright eliminativist materialist denial of the reality of beliefs and desires. Nor have many of them found it easy to answer the puzzling question raised by the instrumentalist position: how can the intentional idiom make useful predictions if it fails to describe and explain anything real?”2

As Jerry Fodor put it, the naturalistic worry of intentional realists who are physicalists is that “the semantic proves permanently recalcitrant to integration to the natural order”. Given that on a physicalist ontology, intentionality or semantic properties cannot be “fundamental features of the world,” the task is to show “how an entirely physical system could nevertheless exhibit intentional states”. (ibid. 2) For physicalists the question is not with Brentano’s qualification that only the mind presents mental states, but rather why do some non-mental physical things seem to manifest intentionality?

The great divide over intentionality seems to be concerned with notions of causality rather than intentionality per se. As Jacob’s will spell it out:

Daniel Dennett, according to whom the intentional stance is merely a useful predictive heuristic with no explanatory import. On Dennett’s view, there cannot be what Haugeland calls a “semantic engine.” … Intentional realists, however, will not easily concede the epiphenomenalism of intentionality, since for them, a test of the reality of a property is that it can be causally efficacious. Intentional realists who want to save the causal efficacy of intentionality divide into two broad groups. Some accept the requirement that only if it supervenes on the intrinsic physical properties of an individual’s brain can the intentionality of a mental state be causally efficacious. The challenge then is to elaborate a two-tiered account of intentionality according to which one dimension of intentionality does, and the other does not, supervene on the intrinsic properties of an individual’s brain. Other intentional realists deny the supervenience requirement and elaborate a suitable notion of what intentionality is supposed to explain—or what is the proper explanandum of a causal explanation in the explanans of which intentionality might figure prominently.(ibid. 2)

My friend Scott sides with Dennett’s use of heuristic devices that have no explanatory import, while continuing to critique any and all of those intentional realists who would like to save not the appearances but the mythical entities behind the semantic worlds; and, in fact, the semantic worlds themselves. As he tells us: “Careers will be made, celebrated ones, for those able to concoct the most appealing and slippery brands of theoretical snake-oil. And meanwhile the science will trundle on, the incompatible findings will accumulate, and those of us too suspicious to believe in happy endings will be reduced to arguing against our hopes, and for the honest appraisal of the horror that confronts us all.”

Where do you stand in the semantic void?

1. see Life as Perpetual Motion Machine: Adrian Johnston and the Continental Credibility Crisis
2. Jacob, Pierre, “Intentionality”, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy (Winter 2014 Edition), Edward N. Zalta (ed.)

The Rag and Bone Shop: Life in the Trenches

The Circus Animals’ Desertion (1939)

Now that my ladder’s gone
I must lie down where all ladders start
In the foul rag-and-bone shop of the heart.
           – William Butler Yeats
Every thinker, writer, poet, or just plain old fashioned human without pretensions comes to a point in their lives when they must settle accounts, look back across the intervening years and mark the highs and lows of a lifetime spent pursuing whatever odds and ends they called a personal existence. We all came in the same door and will leave by various routes to that “unknown country”. As the proverbial phrase would have it – it’s what happens between the two abysses of birth and death that counts, not the before or after of its demarcated journey through time. In his letter to his brothers George and Thomas, John Keats mentioned in a succinct insight: “At once it struck me what quality went to form a man of achievement, especially in literature, and which Shakespeare possessed so enormously — I mean negative capability, that is, when a man is capable of being in uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason.” This ability to stand in the midst of life without clutching to some preconceived notion, some manufactured philosophical, poetic, or scientific etc. framework or ideological reference point and let the unknown have its own way. This is the marker of beginnings, of allowing the new and untested to emerge out of the strangeness we call existence.

“Language is fossilized poetry,” Emerson once said. The idea that reality can be reduced to a set of codes: analyzed, computed, and formulated into scientific or philosophical knowledge is the oldest of grand illusions. Even that admirer of Emerson, Fredrich Nietzsche, once stated: “Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed.” Yet, it was Nietzsche in another moment of lucidity who told us “We behold all things through the human head and cannot cut off this head; while the question nonetheless remains what of the world would still be there if one had cut it off.” Exactly! What is reality without human intervention? Can we mortal beings ever come to terms with the real beyond our thoughts? Are we forever doomed to roam in a blind twisted circle of thought and concept without ever touching the face of the real?

Should we return to such thinkers as Wilfrid Sellars and slay the beast of the ‘Manifest Image’ in preference to the ‘Scientific Image’? Is all of our former poetry, literature, humanities, philosophies, etc. doomed to a sideline circus for lost causes? Is the way of an open skeptical and empirically based speculative naturalism our only viable path in the future as R. Scott Baker has recently reiterated: The Political Even Horizon? Are we living out fantasias of a blind brain following the age old illusions of its false masters into oblivion? How will the future engineers of this programmed society reroute the minions enslaved to the older ideologies? And, more than that, What do these Brain Engineers want to do with us? Is Neurofascism on the horizon? The post-biological chemical and pharmacological destiny of this programed society seems to be heading into strange zones of closure rather than of freedom. What next?

Bakker tell us we’re in the midst of neither a cultural nor technological event change, but rather in “an evolutionary event” that “is not a human event“. For him this does not preclude a technological movement (“AI could be the primary vehicle.”). But it is not some transcension of the human as the “transhumanists” would have it, either. What’s important for him is that we’re entering dangerous territory, a “combinatorial explosion brought about by our increasing ability to overcome environmental constraints on our behavior.” For him the point is simple: “There simply is no horizon of expectation that we can depend on…” We have no frame of reference in scientific, religious, philosophical, poetic, humanist, etc. for what is going on. We are in the midst of the new without an explanatory framework to help us through the maze of strangeness that is exploding all around us. And he is a little pessimistic about our prospects, seeing it as a ‘triage’ in which we are probably already too late to abstend, but that we should still ” immediately engage outgroup interests in their own cultural idioms” to stem the tide. Like ambassadors from the future we seem to be pacifying our groupies reading them for the troubling world ahead. The future is collapsing all around us like a seething volcano with avalanches of knowledge falling into the abyss with each moments movement forward. Bakker drops his nihilist mythologies into the midst of the populace who could care less about the past or future, but who seem bent on the joyride of chaos around them as they move through the darker zones of blind brain traps. More like a slipstream rider of the apocalypse Bakker’s fiction inverts the old romantic mythologies and pulls the suspecting reader into a gnostic vision in reverse. Instead of enlightenment into a perfect world thought, he introduces the reader to this very real world as it is without fear or trepidation, a place where death is the boundary zone for neither transcendence nor false mythologies but is instead the painful truth of opening ourselves to living this life without illusions. Freud hoped for the same; yet, Freud turned back from cemeteries sickened by the very nakedness of their truth. Bakker knows he’s one of us, a lost soul in the midst of strange days; yet, he also knows he will keep his eyes open and ready for what is coming next even if he used the dead songs of ancient days to free us from our illusions.

Maybe that’s all we can hope for, an allegory of the world without illusions… maybe that would be something new! Bakker and I are two sides of the same coin: he opts for the scientific path, I opt for what remains of our humanistic and enlightenment world. Neither gives us just what we need so we continue looking for signs of the new everywhere we can in a world bereft of new ideas and thought. If we are beyond the intentional worlds of the past and moving into a post-intentional realm as he predicts then we are needful of Keats’s admonition on negative capability. Maybe that’s what we need – a survival guide that helps all of us in the trenches as we move through these “uncertainties, mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact and reason”.

Bakker tells us “that all bets are off, that tradition and intuition may have been duped all the way down”. (see here) Now we must be “receptive to the possibility of facts that are out-and-out indigestible–culturally, psychologically–as well as to daring re-imaginings of political economy based on radically counter-intuitive accounts of ‘human nature.’ Ours is the time of “the crank, the amateur, understanding that unprecedented answers tend to come from institutionally unconstrained sources–from the weeds outside our academic gardens”. There are no experts anymore, no one to trust or guide you down the path, to hold your hand as you go. All is permitted! Maybe James Joyce with his etym-smasher was close to the mark, maybe we should rediscover the dreamwork of HCE again; or, maybe Thomas Pynchon is moving down the path with his latest satire of the ages, Against the Day! Maybe the cartoon worlds of superheroes will provide better direction than your local scholar at the university. Maybe thought is a tool as the pragmatists suggest rather than a site of knowledge to rest in. What Bakker is suggesting is use the tool for the job, rather than keeping the hammer when you need a screwdriver. At the moment he seems to be saying that the brain sciences are offering suggestive paths forward, so we should be aware of the latest trends in that field of endeavor. I wouldn’t disagree with that, and neither would that great humanist Thomas Mann who spent his life trying to understand the sciences of his day, too. The enlightenment is still about the sciences and the arts.. one needs both, not one or the other. At least that’s my stance and struggle in the matter.

Speculative Posthumanism: R. Scott Bakker, Mark Fisher and David Roden

“A posthuman is any WHD [Wide Human Descendent] that goes feral; becomes capable of life outside the planetary substance comprised of narrow biological humans, their cultures and technologies.”

– Dr. David Roden, Hacking Humans

“So really think about it now,” Thomas continued. “Everything you live, everything you see and touch and hear and taste, everything you think, belongs to this little slice of mush, this little wedge in your brain called the thalamocortical system. The neural processing that makes these experiences possible—we’re talking about the most complicated machinery in the known universe—is utterly invisible. This expansive, far-reaching experience of yours is nothing more than a mote, an inexplicable glow, hurtling through some impossible black. You’re steering through a dream…”

– R. Scott Bakker,  Neuropath

In his novel Neuropath Thomas Bible, one of R. Scott Bakker’s characters – an atypical academic, not one of your pie-in-the-sky type, theorists, reminisces with a friend about an old professor who once presented theories on the coming “semantic apocalypse,” the apocalypse of meaning. He tells this friend, Samantha, that this is when the Argument started and conveys to her its basic tenets:

“Remember how I said science had scrubbed the world of purpose? For some reason, wherever science encounters intention or purpose in the world, it snuffs it out. The world as described by science is arbitrary and random. There’s innumerable causes for everything, but no reasons for anything.”1(58)

After a few arguments on how the neural process of the brain itself weaves the illusions of free-will, mind, etc. Thomas lays down the bombshell of Bakker’s pet theory: Blind Brain Theory, saying: “The brain, it turned out, could wrap itself around most everything but itself—which was why it invented minds . . . souls.”(61) Suddenly Samantha wakes up realizing that all this leads to moral nihilism and begins babbling defenses against such truths as Thomas has revealed. For Thomas this all seems all too familiar and human, he reminisces a similar conversation he’d had with his friend and co-hort, Neil Cassidy, who on realizing just where the argument led stated (stoned and pacing back and forth like a feral beast):

“Whoa, dude . . . Think about it. You’re a machine—a machine!—dreaming that you have a soul. None of this is real, man, and they can fucking prove it.” (62)

**   **   ***

Mark Fisher: A Critique of Practical Nihilism: Agency in Scott Bakker’s “Neuropath”

My post was generated by rereading Mark Fisher’s excellent critique of Bakker’s novel in INCOGNITUM HACTENUS Volume 2: here (downloadable in .pdf format). What interested me in Fisher’s critique was his conclusions more than his actual arguments. You can read the essay yourself and draw your own conclusions, but for me the either/or scenario that Fisher draws out is how either the technocapitalists or the technosocialists (‘General Intellect’) in the immediate future might use such knowledge to wield powers of control/emacipation never before imaginable:

For whatever the theoretical implications of neuroscience, Bakker is surely right that its practical applications will in the first instance be controlled by the dominant force on the planet: capital. Capital can use neuroscientific techniques to stave off the semantic apocalypse: ironically, it can control people by convincing them that they are free subjects. This is already happening, via the low-level neurocontrol exerted through media, advertising and all the other platforms through which communicative capitalism operates. Whether neuroscience’s practical nihilism will do more than reinforce capital’s domination will ultimately depend on how far the institutions of techno-science can be liberated from corporate control. Certainly, there are no a priori reasons why Malabou’s question “what should we do with our brain?” should not be answered collectively, by a General Intellect free to experiment on itself. (11)

He brings up two notions, both hinging on the amoral ‘practical nihilism’ of neuroscience itself: 1) the reinforcement by the dominant ideology, technocapitalism, to use such technologies to gain complete control over every aspect of our lives through invasive techniques of brain manipulation; or, 2) the power of some alternative, possibly Leftward, collectivist ideology that seeks through the malleability or plasticity of these same neurosciences to use the ‘General Intellect’ to freely experiment on itself. Do we really want either of these paths?

Continue reading

Dystopic Thoughts: 21st Century Neurototalitarianism

On BBT, all traditional and metacognitive accounts of the human are the product of extreme informatic poverty. Ironically enough, many have sought intentional asylum within that poverty in the form of apriori or pragmatic formalisms, confusing the lack of information for the lack of substantial commitment, and thus for immunity against whatever the sciences of the brain may have to say.

– R. Scott Bakker, Reactionary Atheism

In my previous post I centered on the statement all traditional and metacognitive accounts of the human are the product of extreme informatic poverty. And that we know that informatic poverty is defined as that situation in which individuals and communities, within a given context, do not have the requisite skills, abilities or material means to obtain efficient access to information, interpret it  apply it appropriately. It is further characterized by a lack of essential information and a poorly developed information infrastructure.

I also want to return to the previous quote:

The epoch of intentional philosophy is at an end. It will deny and declaim–it can do nothing else–but to little effect. Like all prescientific domains of discourse it can only linger and watch its credibility evaporate into New Age aether as the sciences of the brain accumulate ever more information and refine ever more instrumentally powerful interpretations of that information. It’s hard to argue against cures. Any explanatory paradigm that restores sight to the blind, returns mobility to the crippled, not to mention facilitates the compliance of the masses, will utterly dominate the commanding heights of cognition. (ibid)

In the statement above I began to visualize a future where people were divided by genetic profiles and forced into dystopic conclaves of the stupid, the knowledgeable, and the players. This tripartite division came to me from Scott’s statement above about people through the power of science, and especially of neuroscience, being suborned into cognitive domains (“compliance of the masses, will utterly dominate the commanding heights of cognition”). One can imagine how our globalists and their corporate think-tanks would have a heyday with such ideas.

A dystopic society controlled through neuropathic or cognitive sciences as the basic premise. Obviously the horror of such a thing brokers our imaginations. But I think we have to assume such a possibility if we are to take seriously Scott’s and our investment in a society in which naturalism and science rule. If as he suggests in his original post that intentional thought is an illusion, and that thought itself may become a thing of the past, then what will replace it? Will we be controlled by neurosurgeons who divide the human species into workers that are more machine than human, devoid of emotion and thought they would become the perfect society of robots enabled to do all our work without thought or issue. Such a world of mindless beings, of zombies without the virus of cannibalism, who live to work, never complain, go about their lives with idiot smiles on their faces living to serve their masters.

While on the other hand you have the knowledge workers, those who have the ability to think (within limits), who can use thought (Math, language, etc.) as tools but no more. Manipulators of symbolic codes that no longer have the ability to feel, to love, to care only enabled to work the vast knowledge based systems of control for their masters.

And, the Masters, the elite of this society? What kind of power plays would be afforded to them? What kind of lives would they lead knowing that the majority of humans were enslaved within neuroprisons, free to move about and do their jobs and live out their lives oblivious to the truth of their slavedom. And what if these supposed Masters were conned into believing that they were truly free, that they were enabled to do whatever they liked but were in fact worse off that the suborned classes of stupids and knowledgers? What if these elite were neuropathically enabled with only a set of predefined emotional markers, enabled to love but only under controlled and manipulated forms, able to rule but only as the neurotoxins and neurosuregeries allowed for? What if these Masters were slaves as well to a system that their ancestors schemed up ages before and threw away the keys to such knowledge.

And, what if someone came upon this knowledge? What if someone accidently, as evolutionary thought has always supposed, became an enigma a new Eve or Adam and discovered that everyone else lived in a clockwork world thinking they were actually free and moral beings? What then? I can imagine this as a series of YA Dystopic Novels with all the antagonisms of young protaganists awakening from the long sleep within neuroprison. Reawakening all the old revolutionary ideologies etc. A tattered set of ideas, all, I agree… but what happens if Bakker is right… and such a neurotechnical society came about through the erroneous use of science without philosophy, ethics, etc. What then?

1. R. Scott Bakker, Reactionary Atheism

R. Scott Bakker: Artifacts of Missing Information; or, the Posthuman Blues

The epoch of intentional philosophy is at an end. It will deny and declaim–it can do nothing else–but to little effect. Like all prescientific domains of discourse it can only linger and watch its credibility evaporate into New Age aether as the sciences of the brain accumulate ever more information and refine ever more instrumentally powerful interpretations of that information. It’s hard to argue against cures. Any explanatory paradigm that restores sight to the blind, returns mobility to the crippled, not to mention facilitates the compliance of the masses, will utterly dominate the commanding heights of cognition.

– R. Scott Bakker, Reactionary Atheism

One almost expects to see the Wizard of Oz step out from behind the proverbial curtain. But instead we get the prognostications of a posthuman rabble rouser, daring philosophical speculators to trump his magic cards; or, better yet, walk down the golden brick road of BBT and rewire the world as a blind bug in a dark cave. The Saviour is among us, but he is not Jesus, no it seems to be none other than the veritable god of Science come round at last like some monstrous progeny or machinic entity of  naturalism offering its special prognosis for the blind brains of the earth.  Suddenly the new Cognitive Imperium rises before us, its latest spokesman, R. Scott Bakker, with pomposity and egoistic grandeur burying its supposed distant brethren within the prescientific domains of what used to be termed ‘philosophy’. The Imperium of BBT (Blind Brain Theory) is among us, no longer the fictional creature of a cartoon fantasy, this monstrosity purports to reduce everything to the three-pound lump of neuronal bliss we call our brain, the last frontier of cognitive theory and therapy. And, who is the emperor of this new Empire of the Mind? Is the grandiose ego of R. Scott Bakker taking the helm? A rock star of mythic fantasias and neuronal crime novels  he seems ready to replace all Master Signifiers of phenomenology and its epigones with just one GRAND UNIFIED THEORY of the Brain: Blind Brain Theory as Maximus Philosophicus, the Emperor of all Sciences. But before we bow down to such neuronal gods shouldn’t we make inquiries into this latest reductionary naturalism of which his science is the heir? Should we not ask a few questions of this grand system of discursive and explanatory power just why it is that Mr. Bakker with his if not magic, then scientific, wand can now cast all prescientific thought into the dustbin of lost notions?

On BBT, all traditional and metacognitive accounts of the human are the product of extreme informatic poverty. Ironically enough, many have sought intentional asylum within that poverty in the form of apriori or pragmatic formalisms, confusing the lack of information for the lack of substantial commitment, and thus for immunity against whatever the sciences of the brain may have to say.

Let’s take a peak at that first statement: all traditional and metacognitive accounts of the human are the product of extreme informatic poverty. Now we know that informatic poverty is defined as that situation in which individuals and communities, within a given context, do not have the requisite skills, abilities or material means to obtain efficient access to information, interpret it  apply it appropriately. It is further characterized by a lack of essential information and a poorly developed information infrastructure. Bakker argues that if “…philosophy is our response to informatic poverty, our inability to gather enough of the information required to decisively arbitrate between our claims, then philosophy itself becomes an important bearer of information. It is an informatic weather-vane. In this case, philosophy tells us that, despite all the information we think we have at our disposal via intuition or introspection, we actually represent a profound informatic blindspot.”2

The whole point of this argument for Bakker is that philosophy was fine and dandy as a prescientific tool, but compared to science it is no longer adequate to the task accept as an ‘informatic weather-vane’ for attracting information, yet blind as a bat when trying to apply theoretical or conceptual practices on that very information.

On another Blog post Bakker succinctly defines BBT:

This is the approach Blind Brain Theory takes: crudely put, instead of looking at our deliberative access to conscious experience as an example of *turning the lights on,* you look at it as *turning the lights off,* as peering through an informatic gloom you can’t recognize as such for lack of comparison – neglect. Then, taking the mechanistic brain revealed by the sciences as your interpretative baseline, you can begin interpreting all the puzzles and conundrums that have so plagued philosophy of mind as ARTIFACTS OF MISSING INFORMATION, as what happens when our environmentally oriented cognitive systems find themselves welded to a single informatic perspective in a crowded, almost totally dark room.3

A sort of Plato’s cave for departed information specialists who are using the latest BBT apparatus to seek out and destroy the missing artifacts of informatics Borg like conclave that just happens to reside in the missing spaces of our blind brain. Something like William Blake who thought eternity resided in a grain of sand, Bakker’s prognostications for us all tend to the nihilistic fold of ultra hip doomsters:

Our ‘epoch of thinking’ teeters upon the abyssal, a future so radical as to make epic fantasy of everything we are presently inclined to label ‘human.’ Whether it acknowledges as much or not, all thought huddles in the shadow of the posthuman–the shadow of its end. (ibid)

Looks like we’ll have a lot of zombie parties in the dark loam of the coming post-philosophical apocalypse…   problem is with such dark laughter arising from the corpse of philosophy who will gather all those lost artifacts of information so that our machinic progeny will remember the truth of their own very human flesh and blood ancestors? If that three-pound lump in the skull is finally eliminated, finally subtracted from the transcendental field, enveloped in some machinic semblance of a strange attractor who will teach them that it all started with thinking brains if thought itself is no more? Will that blind god in the informatic shadows speak of those old ones who stirred the mud of life under a dying sun?

————–

Previous review I did on Scott’s BBT: Post-Intentional Philosophy

1. http://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2013/02/27/reactionary-atheism-hagglund-derrida-and-nooconservativism/
2. http://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2012/08/27/why-philosophy-and-why-has-the-soul-become-its-stronghold/
3. http://philosophyandpsychology.com/?p=2292

R. Scott Bakker: Post-Intentional Philosophy; or, How the Brain is Blind

Perhaps it is time, once again, to acknowledge that we are smaller than we supposed, know less than we hoped, and are more frightened than we care to admit. “Nature,” as Newton famously wrote, “is pleased with simplicity” even if we are horrified.

– R. Scott Bakker

A great post on Three Pound Brain, the blog of R. Scott Bakker: the first, with Scott summing up the quandary of two creative events in his life, the creation of his latest installment in the epic Sci-Fi cycle of the Aspect Emperor  The Unholy Consult; and, second, is his attempt to sketch out what he terms ‘post-intentional philosophy.’

In How to Build a First Person (Using Only Natural Materials) we discover that the self is not what it seems, that it is quite different than it at first appears, that our conceptions have gone awry and that we will never be the same again. This will not be an easy journey, it’s Scott’s labyrinth we’re entering, and if you go the distance you will not come out the same on the other end; in fact, you may never find the center of it, discover that the fate of the Minotaur is that he is blind, and that the only answer to his dilemma is the Blind Brain Theory (BBT); yet, if  you or persistent in your journey you will discover something else: a central truth dangling down from the scientific world, where the ‘scientific image’ and the ‘human (metacognitive) image’ begin to totter toward each other at an exponential rate. Will they fuse or will they clash like those fated particles in CERN’s sixteen mile Hadron Collider. Will this new theory be the Higgs Boson of the philosophy of mind? Or will it turn out to be just the fruit of that long curve of scientific endeavor to understand human consciousness that started with the early Greek philosophers two-thousand years ago?

So what is this strange beast coming our way? Is W.B. Yeats correct in his appraisal: “And what rough beast, its hour come round at last, slouches towards…” us weary mortals? No, its much simpler than that dark beast, it’s just science doing what it does best, exposing the myths of our long and dubious journey as humans to the light of scientific method and reasoning. Or, maybe not, maybe we are the Beast blinded by our own Brain: a tale of blindness and insight. As Bakker tells us:

It’s all about the worst case scenario. Philosophy, to paraphrase [Ray] Brassier, is no sop to desire. If science stands poised to break us, then thought must submit to this breaking in advance. The world never wants for apologists: there will always be an army of Rosenthals and Badious. Someone needs to think these things, no matter how dehumanizing or alienating they seem to be.  Besides, only those who dare thinking the post-intentional need fear ‘losing’ anything. If meaning and morality are the genuine emergent realities that the vast bulk of thinkers, analytic or continental, assume them to be, they should be able to withstand any sustained attempt to explain them away.

Continue reading

R. Scott Bakker: Disciple of the Dog; or, How a Cynic Bites his own Ass

“Cynicism is the only form in which base souls approach honesty.”
—Fredrich Nietzsche 

Existing is plagiarism.
—E.M. Cioran 

“Throughout my life I have always wanted to tell the truth even though I knew it was all a lie. In the end all that matters is the truth content of a lie.
—Thomas Bernhard, Gathering Evidence

 

That old ironhorse of comic relief communism, Slavoj Žižek, identifies our age as a profoundly cynical one, in which ideology’s ultimate triumph lies in a perverse revelation of its deepest secrets: “today, however, in the era of cynicism, ideology can afford to reveal the secret of its functioning (its constitutive idiocy, which traditional, pre-cynical ideology had to keep secret) without in the least affecting its efficiency.” Many of the so called critics of our age consider cynicism a toxic conundrum: as either the deathly fruit of an ancient lineage that has infiltrated our posthistorical underlife like viral machines rendering critique impotent; or as the zombie politics of a paralysed horrorfest or recidivism at the zero point of a posthuman transmigration into machinic existence devoid of even the dream of democracy.

Some would have us believe that our (post?)modern-cynicism leads individuals and nations to abandon all moral values and to drown in a fetid sea of intellectual and ethical moroseness and pessimism.” 1 Those followers of the tub man, the dog-man, Diogenes, have always been contemptuous in their rejection of social convention, their impudent shamelessness, and their reversal of the ordinary hierarchy that placed man above the animals, closer to the gods. The “dogs” willfully flouted customary norms in public, such as proscriptions against public sex, masturbation, or defecation, refusing to view “natural” actions as shameful. Most contemporaries condem such gainsayers as attention-seeking provocateurs, sacks of dog shit, windbaggers full of spittle, rabid devils forsaken of all human sympathy, werewolves bred in the darkest recesses of our nightmares.

Then we turn to noir, to the crime ridden singularity of unfathmable bloodworlds filled with the inhuman semblances of our former residences on earth; where our fragments, our memories, situate themselves side by side our constructed hells and our zombiefied lives of endless labour. Here broken creatures devoid of even zero degree blankness tremble on the edge between religious apocalypticism or cynical despair.

Creatures join hand in hand the living dead in excess of their unused lives.  Trumped by the neuropathic torpididity of a failed existence they spin out their ghoulish tales of dripping corpsespatter in speakeasy lisps that fall empty before the liquididity of the marled void. While twisted trogladytes splayed open on crosses rise above an anamolous theatre of the mind awakening strange thoughts and vampiric ectasies, filling the darkness with alien laughter, where beyond the farthest horizon a screech comes across silent skys and what reanimates a dead city lures the final thought of all being from its black lair… a thought beyond all sense of extropic redemption, which flutters in the voidic wind flickering out in the nothingness that is and the nothingness that is not…

Continue reading