Archive for G.W.F. Hegel

Your Mind is Now Undead!

Posted in Divine Science with tags , , , , , , , , , , on December 19, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan
Teh ceiling cat is in ur machine, reading ur mind...

Teh ceiling cat is in ur machine, reading ur mind...

Less than a week ago researchers in Japan confirmed a way to extract images directly from brains. Yes, you read that correctly; in a nutshell: by hooking you up to this machine everyone can now see what you are thinking, because it will be shown in a monitor. I had this reply in my Twitter stream when I tweeted about it, and although I have not yet seen that movie it is nonetheless very easy to imagine this invention being taken right out of a science fiction gig. (Being the shameless otaku that I am, my personal memory that this news recalled is none other than Japan’s anime ambassador, Doraemon.)

I often have people asking me what I think of the newest mind-blowing inventions the world has to offer (which is one of the reasons why this blog was created). Perhaps surprisingly to some, I never throw out horrible paranoiac scenarios of nightmarish dystopias people commonly take as “critical” reviews of a certain technology. While I do acknowledge the potential new narratives of paranoia such technologies — and especially mind-reading technologies — will engender, I like to look at technology the way I look at bodies, Lacanian style — i.e., as the false representative, the lacking signifier of the subject.

Being able to record one’s thought into an image on the computer screen is one of the basic tenets of posthuman fluidity. After all, if video games can read your mind, why shouldn’t the computer be able to see your mind?

Here, however, I have a very basic question: will our mind, after being replicated into a computer screen, remain our mind? Will my mind not, rather, take the position of an “undead” mind, a mind that is both mine and not mine at the same time, giving me the uncanny experience akin to listening to a recording of my own voice, a voice both mine and not mine at the same time? In the domain of the voice, we have horror movies like The Exorcist, in which a ghostly intrusion is symbolized by the changing of the voice. Similarly, we also have scenarios like the Imperius Curse in Harry Potter, in which a Death Eater intrusion is symbolized by the changing of a victim’s mind.

What this implies, however, is a much more radical thesis: today, with neuroscience and other mind-reading technologies, the mind reveals its inherent split: my mind is not my mind. (Or, to put it in Hegelian tautology-as-contradiction: my mind is my mind.) It is no longer the age-old “Cartesian” split between the mind and the body — we are now forced to realize that even without the body, the mind is already inherently split from within. Yes, we can extract minds, read them, project them onto screens, record them and store them, build them from individual neurons, etc., but the fact remains that there is an irreducible kernel behind its presence, its irreducible (misrecognizing) reflexivity. After all is said and done, we still have a gaping void in the middle of the thinking mind, its “true” presence (compared to the “undead” simulation of the projections on the screen, which is not fully our mind, etc.), what Žižek calls “the unbearable lightness of being no one”.

It is here that we may come up with another definition of the posthuman subject: the posthuman subject is the subject whose mind is undead, a subject whose externalized mind as such loses its phenomenological vigor of living presence and turns into a zombie.

As an additional note, it is fun to imagine the birth of “mind art” in the future with this technology — far from needing any motoric skills, the artist would only utilize his sharp concentration to create stunning artworks. Like, you know, porn.

Now, replace the snowman with a nude chick.

The snowman is actually a nude chick.

What is Critical Thinking?

Posted in Pure Theory with tags , , , , , , on October 30, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

What is critical thinking? How do you conduct philosophy? What does it mean to be a Lacanian cultural theorist, as I claim to be? A while ago I was challenged by a Facebook friend because it seems that I throw names and phrases all too easily. Another day my campus colleagues asked me to enlighten what it means to do a critical thinking. And yet another day another friend asked why I, perhaps unlike most writers in the country, like to drop names and references as to whom I refer my theories to.

Critical thinking for me is not merely looking at things in a way that uncovers hidden oppressions and inner violence, by using the ontologies and methodologies of a certain favorite thinker, as many suggest. Being a Lacanian theorist, therefore, is not merely to look at things the way Lacan does. But it is not also, as yet many others suggest, to build things into something new, to bring new things into realization. What it brings is instead merely a new perspective to look at things that are already familiar to us, and what it brings into realization is the obscene, unpleasant, and sometimes downright disturbing underside of that very familiar thing.

Slavoj Žižek makes an excellent metaphor for critical thinking in one of his introductions to MIT Press’s Short Circuts series [citation needed], which is none other than the name of the series itself. To think critically is to link concepts that are not meant to link together and create a short circuit in the usual mind network of the general public, thereby making it possible to know and speak about things in a new way. The art is not the new theoretical creation itself, but the ingenuity by which old theories are combined — short-circuited — to create these new ones.

To get more specific, my own work is mainly about short-circuiting Lacanian psychoanalysis with posthuman theory. It may be best summed up, to repeat myself, “to question not what, why, or even how we deisre, but where we desire” — which is to say to contextualize desire in embodiment, an experience so fragile today in this age of rapid technological advances, networked knowledge, and disembodied social life.

Obviously, because truth is almost never pleasant, harsh responses and backlashes are only to be expected (I have been accused of being a pervert and an idiot many times). There is a Hegelian-Lacanian lesson I love most, which is that truth is always a dialectical process we create through speech, never a transcendent metaphysical knowledge to which only crazy philosophers have access. Being a Lacanian cultural theorist means that, first and foremost, one must constantly negate the illusion that he knows everything, while maintaining that society itself also understands itself only insofar as the stupid stories it tells about itself.

To put it simply, nobody really understands anything. As Lacan put it, truth has the structure of a fiction. Thus, the philosopher’s job is to create better fiction by challenging its established boundaries, questioning its implicit horizon of understanding. The philosopher the one who ultimately strives to make society suffer less; not become a more normal, healthy, spiritually enlightened society (as there is no such thing), but only to make it suffer less, by guiding it to articulate better truths.

Psychoanalysis, All too Human

Posted in Pure Theory with tags , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Family failing of philosophers: All philosophers have the common failing of starting out from man as he is now and thinking they can reach their goal through an analysis of him. They involuntarily think of ‘man’ as an aeterna veritas, as something that remains constant in the midst of all flux, as a sure measure of things. Everything the philosopher has declared about man is, however, at bottom no more than a testimony as to the man of a very limited period of time. Lack of historical sense is the family failing of all philosophers.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All too Human

We all know that historical consciousness starts in the beginning of the 19th century with Hegel, before strongly re-emphasized by Marx and Nietzsche in the late 19th century. But Hegel never got around to reading On the Origin of Species, which was published 28 years after his death. The stupid straightforward question I would like to pose is thus embarrassingly simple: what would Hegel have thought if he had had a chance to read it? What if he had books of Dawkins beside his collection of Thucydides lying on his bookshelf? Would he perhaps extrapolate his Phenomenology of Spirit to a Phenomenology of Species?

When did the self begin? When did the unconscious begin? When did Freudian triad and Lacanian Borommean rings begin? Psychoanalysis is bound to be hit by these questions, as new researches show mirror recognition in animals and robots, various perverse acts of animals (homosexuality, oral sex, prostitution, even necrophilia), beside older findings of animal dreams and stress disorders. While I am old enough to not entertain the possibility of psychoanalytic therapy for a poop-eating dog or your future Roomba, psychoanalysis for me has so much more to do than individual therapy and, as such, is the basis of my philosophical ontology.

A xenolinguistic psychoanalysis is thus only prudent considering the fact that we are currently in the midst of news about all the achievements of bioengineering and cybernetics (the Haylesian posthuman, the Mitchellian age of biocybernetic reproduction). Lacan was certainly aware of a historical sense of man, as were his intellectual contemporaries — but he was not, I would claim, at the very least, entertaining the possibility of a serious interrogation on Love and Sex with Robots. A recurring subject in my researches is thus an evolutionary Lacanian psychoanalysis by way of a deeper linguistic and communicational research in new realms — new media, psychedelics, animal communication, artificial intelligence, virtual sex….

As with Hegel and Nietzsche, we cannot forget that man has become. If we are to make a comprehensive cognitive mapping, we should avoid falling into the trap of non-historicity, or, in this posthuman age, the trap of non-evolutionarity. Modifying Nietzsche, I would claim that lack of evolutionary sense is the family failing of all psychoanalysts.

Fukuyama was Right, but Hegel Lives on

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , on July 19, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Readers of Žižek should probably be familiar with the famous Žižek quote of “It’s easy to make fun of Fukuyama, but aren’t we today all Fukuyamaists?” Yes, indeed most of us today are clearly Fukuyamaists, in the sense that we do not muse about ideological alternatives to global capitalism anymore. Instead, the primary concerns of today are mainly how to make the system more open, tolerant, humanist, ecological, religious (in some cases), and so on. History in the sense of ideological battles is over, save perhaps for Muslim backlashes.

But what is interesting in the Muslim backlash — and other struggles in the contemporary society, including non-“ideological” ones — is the immense stress people tend to put on their cultural and ethnic identity. Of course there has been many researches on this matter, probably spawned by Huntington’s The Clash of Civilizations. People are becoming increasingly sensitive in their physical being — race, ethnicity, cultural heritage and customs, sex, gender. It is important to read Fukuyama by his 2002 book, Our Posthuman Future — in this book he basically fixes his end-of-history thesis, claiming that a revolution in biotechnology will provide new terrains of struggle, thus continuing history.

Here we see a line, a pattern in current struggles: physicality. People are becoming increasingly sensitive towards their physical state and what physical states can and cannot do, what the misrecognized image of themselves are and are not. Technology and the increasingly augmented gaze it has brought forth has dissected and questioned the significance of the human body with all its properties. The body itself is now, more than ever, the terrain of struggle.

It is here that I am being a Hegelian, both in the broadest sense of seeing history as a dialectical process and in the idealistic, disembodied “Spirit” sense. What we are now seeing is in fact a dialectics between man and machine, between body and information. We can see clearly the negation of negation present in contemporary history: Cold War – End of History – Posthumanity, Modernism – Postmodernism – Žižekian 180-degree turn, and so on. Thus, although history may have ended (we are only denying the fact and calling Fukuyama an idiot because of “postmodern” or “cultural” reasons, but we nevertheless skeptically believe, and so on), I would claim it naive to dismiss Hegel as well. Perhaps, he may be more relevant in the posthuman — isn’t that the “Spirit” that Hans Moravec just downloaded into a computer to become immortal?

The Problem of Institutions

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , on July 10, 2008 by Bonni Rambatan

Ideology, in the general sense of the way society works, can always be conceived as a problem of institutions. This view is simple, one which looks at cultural-societal structures and the ideologies that constitute them by analyzing what dominant institutions are at play in shaping the general world view of the day. In the past, we have had the church as the key institution in society. Afterwards we had political parties. Today, when virtually the majority says they could not care less about politics — many in an attempt to portray themselves as more “cool” and generally having more ability to enjoy life — we have corporations, that play just as large a role as the dominant institution. We can of course extrapolate this notion to include why an “ideology of cynicism” with its “superego to enjoy,” in Žižekian terms, works very well in the contemporary age of presupposed freedom, but that would start another discussion.

(One may also be tempted to continue this with a reading of corporations personified, as is done in the 2003 documentary The Corporation, the opening lines of which inspired this post, but I will not delve into that here, though I would agree this should have some significance.)

In a posthumanist-Marxist terms, that is to say in a future-oriented Leftist movement, then, the revolution problem becomes a problem of overthrowing the corporation from its current dominant state — not dismantling the entire system altogether, since such a vision continuously turns out to be an impossible task and renders itself as a project with an already presupposed loss, done for somewhat perverse masochistic pleasures. And after all, we did not have to dismantle the Catholic church altogether to make way for the Reformation. This gesture should in turn provide the Left with a bit more confidence — all we need to do is to start institutions that have appeal to the public that would eventually overthrow the corporate form as the dominant institution. It would again serve well to read Hegel at this point, as many good Marxists do.

Surprisingly this task gets even more simple. Already we have an institution that is growing in popularity, very much against the interest of corporations. Yes, you guessed it: the populist side of Web 2.0 — its P2P networks, free software movements, wiki systems, etc. Steal this Film provides a great documentary on this matter (though I doubt you still need more proof). And although they approved ACTA, I think the matter will continue to be a controversial polemic. As I mentioned in this post, the 21st-century subject needs a new institution, a new system other than global capitalism.

What is to be done? I will not be naive and suggest to continue the piracy and open source usage and so on — I know that we have so much more problems ahead of us — but understanding that we are in a moment of tension in which the Left can fully take advantage of should bring forth some hope and perhaps even a renewed sense of dualistic class (bourgeoisie vs proletariat becomes corporate vs pirates) needed for real social change. As the famous Friedmanite idea often quoted by Naomi Klein, in times of crisis, “the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around” — the best way to read this is not only to be prepared as Klein suggests, but also to produce better ideas ourselves. We have a world to win. Pirates of all countries, unite.