Archive for psychoanalysis

Social Networks and Mind Evolution

Posted in Postmodern 2.0 with tags , , , , , , , on March 7, 2009 by Bonni Rambatan

Real conversation in real time may eventually give way to these sanitised and easier screen dialogues, in much the same way as killing, skinning and butchering an animal to eat has been replaced by the convenience of packages of meat on the supermarket shelf. Perhaps future generations will recoil with similar horror at the messiness, unpredictability and immediate personal involvement of a three-dimensional, real-time interaction.

 

Photograph by Chris Jackson/Getty Images, taken from The Guardian

Photograph by Chris Jackson/Getty Images, from The Guardian

Several weeks ago there was a post in The Guardian UK titled “Facebook and Bebo risk ‘infantilising’ the human mind”. Gosh, I thought, not another one of those technophobic critics again! If the name of Susan Greenfield was not mentioned right at the beginning I probably would have just read a few lines and close my browser’s tab. So luckily Greenfield was mentioned, and when she is I know it’s going to be neuroscience, and it’s going to be not so much technophobic as exciting.

And I was right. Sure enough, there were technophobic tones here and there, but tones of fascination with the brain are more prevalent. It is particularly the paragraph quoted above that took my attention. Also, the conclusion of the article reads as such:

But Greenfield warned: “It is hard to see how living this way on a daily basis will not result in brains, or rather minds, different from those of previous generations. We know that the human brain is exquisitely sensitive to the outside world.”

This is an exciting fact. A critical theorist shouldn’t be tempted to look at this merely in the vein of some cheap “postmodern” attitude of criticizing the hegemony of mathematical neuroscience while it represses the contingency of the discourse of knowledge and therefore oppresses certain minority discourse about the brain and the spirit and such and such. Rather, one should ask what truth lie behind these claims and how they will effectively play out.

As for myself, I am highly pleased that we have such articles. At least I know that I am not the only person to make the claim that Web 2.0 is changing our minds much more radically than we may think. Of course I was never the only one, but it is disconcerting to note that most of those who think so belong to the school that call themselves “New Age”, with which I never want to be associated.

Greenfield does it in terms of neuroscientific psychology. Her points, I think, are correct. I also think they deserve much more elaboration from a proper psychoanalytic point of view. After all, psychoanalysis proper is psychology, so should it not make much more sense that they work together in criticisms? Perhaps the now fashionable divergence of the fields (one to neuroscience, another to a “materialist-transcendental” Deleuzian approach) should not be embraced so dearly, after all.

So what is my Lacanian take on this issue of what I call, for lack of a better name, a “mind evolution”? Social networks and Web 2.0, even the computer logic in general, play a world of difference in the subject’s relation to the big Other, the socio-Symbolic order, as well as his relation to his own object-production. In the social Web, we have fluid identities (we consciously construct online identities), confusion of time (we can undo many things we did not want, we can think about what we want to say in a chat before hitting Enter), and virtually eternal memory (objects of our production never disappear and can be reproduced endlessly), to name a few that I think are the major. Is this not proof that the basis of language and society itself (the notion of forgetting, of property, of not-knowing, of spatial interaction, of temporality, etc.) is changing?

My point in this post had been but one: something is happening in the human mind, and questions are popping up about this change. Analysis should not be given up to neuroscientists alone, but to critical theorists as well. We are in dire need of a coherent cognitive mapping, one that I believe psychoanalysis proper will help greatly.

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.