Every so often the papers carry a horrific story of some family drowning sequentially. one member will get into trouble, prompting another member to jump in, prompting another member to jump in, and so on. it’s almost always the case that no one in the family knows how to swim, but still they jump in. every time i encounter a story like this i think of hume and his empirical aphorism about drowning, the futility of reason in the face of water. and i am reminded of philosophy more generally, how all the great figures line up, jumping in to save their predecessor, only to find themselves going under.
philosophy is where thinking goes to drown. always has been. always will.
and yet here we are, lining up…
this is why i have a hard time deciding whether philosophy is more tragic or more comical. funny because the stakes are so low, and tragic because the domain is so significant. like the drowning families, it’s one of those things you laugh about when telling your buddies at work, only to wince in remorse thinking about the survivors. i find philosophy hilarious in proportion to my distance to it. i write these witty and callow aphorisms that pose its presumptions like 19th century stills of the infamous dead. i don’t tell anecdotes. and then i find myself in funks like these, thinking about survivors… or should i say, the lack of them.
one thing’s for sure: no corner of human inquiry is more optimistic.
i take quentin meillassoux to be a wonderful case in point:
“By ‘correlation’ we mean the idea according to which we only ever have access to the correlation between thinking and being, and never to either term considered apart from the other. We will henceforth call correlationism any current of thought which maintains the unsurpassable character of the correlation so defined. Consequently, it becomes possible to say that every philosophy which disavows naive realism has become a variant of correlationism.”
the project of after finitude is essentially the one i attempted in my dissertation: how do we escape context?
meillassoux calls the problem ‘correlationism,’ a kind of master commitment to some kind of originary theoretical scene. i simply call it context.
what we’re trying to intellectually escape.
wittgenstein was big trouble. the pragmatists had been arguing this for years, but he crystallized the problem that normativity poses for all representational accounts of meaning. until PI, philosophers still had faith in the ability of language to logically relate us to the world. so long as language was transparent, this was no problem. then wittgenstein simply asked, what justifies your applications? he thematized normative contexts, in effect, and it all began to crumble. ‘truth conditions’ would no longer do.
now this is something that’s fascinated me for a long time. why does making something like ‘normativity’ explicit have the ‘inferential’ effects that it has? so long as normativity remained implicit, representationalists could think that the truth-function of language literally bound them to the world. as soon as normativity is disclosed the stakes are radically transformed. in a strange sense, all of creation is reinterpreted.
now how is that like, even fucking possible? reading heidegger was like this for me, a profound implicature that settled like fat snow over all of existence, suddenly snapping the world into a different focus. trippy shit.
let’s give this phenomenon a name, exhaustive philosophical reinterpretation (EPR).
kantian ‘correlation’ is an exhaustive interpreter. most all the great philosophical revolutions are. they somehow rewire something so conceptually paradigmatic that everything needs to be reinterpreted. what’s more, even if you disagree with them, there’s a sense in which their problems remain. philosophy is filled with troublemakers and peacekeepers; some philosophers, like wittgenstein, manage to be both. otherwise, they tend to come in twos.
the troublemaker kant hoped to pacify was hume. like wittgenstein, hume made explicit what had been an obvious but otherwise invisible feature of knowledge contexts: subjectivity understood in the modern sense. so long as subjectivity remained implicit, rationalists could think that reason alone could apprehend the world. as soon as it became explicit, the logical view from nowhere had to await kant and the retreat into the transcendental.
in both cases of making explicit, the normative and the subjective, the structure is almost precisely the same. some implicit (but otherwise obvious) feature of the context of knowledge is rendered explicit. you could say that this is all that ‘philosophical progress’ consists in, the making explicit of paradigmatic features. and this, somehow, seems to be what generates EPR.
so hume saddles us with what might be called the ‘subjectivity constraint,’ and wittgenstein saddles us with what might be called the ‘normativity constraint.’ when subjectivity is invisible it’s easy to think we see things as they are. when normativity is invisible it’s easy to think our claims are fixed by the way things are. both of these take an apparent ‘view from nowhere,’ a logical relation to the world, and situate it somewhere.
so, for some reason, contextualizing knowledge has the effect of rendering it more contingent. whereas, decontextualizing knowledge has the theoretical effect of rendering it more necessary. the structure of natural languages actually seems to accommodate this with propositional attitudes, the way operators like ‘believes that,’ ‘hopes that,’ ‘denies that,’ have the effect of short-circuiting compositionality. these operators bracket their attendant propositions, exempt them from the surrounding semantic economy, by literally rendering them relative to some intentional activity. they become ‘opaque contexts.’
why does contextualization lead to contingency? because contexts seem to possess what might be called ‘determinativity’: as soon as the subject contextualizes knowledge, the subject seems to somehow determine knowledge. likewise, as soon as norms contextualize knowledge, norms seem to somehow determine knowledge. since the philosophical process of making explicit seems to be a cumulative one, the tendency has been toward ever increasing contingency.
where the former strands us with the veil of representations, the latter strands us with a veil of performances. the problem with both of these contextualizations of knowledge is that they seem to render it entirely contingent, nothing at all outside of given subjective or normative contexts…
but only so long as you attribute a certain kind of determinativity to either. just because contexts seem to possess determinativity doesn’t mean they do. meillassoux is careful to reference ‘naive realism’ in passing, because to pause would be to kick open the doors to an entirely different brand of ‘correlationism,’ the kind belonging to thinkers as penetrating as searle or brandom, say.
you could say he simply takes the failure of these philosophical outlooks to find their way beyond correlationism by thinking through correlation. but this simply begs the question of why these thinkers feel compelled to begin with correlationism. it certainly isn’t because they are unfamiliar with the subjective or normative turns–a neologism (‘correlation’) does not a profound ontological discovery make.
they begin with the ‘scene of correlationism’ because they cannot see their way past the subjectivity and normativity constraints. correlation isn’t some accident that philosophy just stumbled into: hume discloses the context of subjective incapacity that is a fact of human cognition, just as wittgenstein discloses the context of normative complicity. and there is quite simply no going back, short of answering the problems that these thinkers pose–problems that meillassoux all but ignores.
meillassoux wants to characterize philosophy in the decontextualized (dogmatic) sense, as the hunt for truth, where truth is understood in all or nothing terms. he wants to find a view from nowhere hidden in some attic dormer. but I see the situation far, far differently. philosophy, rather, is the hunt for the frame of frames, the one that will allow us explain knowledge, comprehend life, describe appearance… the magical context. how do you subtract the fact that meillassoux has a normative context? how do you subtract the fact that he shares the same cognitive incapacities we all suffer?
both of these disclosures command subsequent thought.
and this is displayed in meillassoux’s abject vulnerability to the most simplest, most honest of questions… how do you know?
‘so that’s your philosophical opinion, that we have spooky knowledge at a distance? i know for you it looks like a jail break, but from my standpoint, it has to look like hand-waving. why? well, there’s subjectivity. and there’s this thing about normative contexts.
there’s these difficulties we can’t simply bluff our way past anymore.
in truth and context i thought the problem lay in the partitioning of performance and content. since i take it to be the case that all claims are not equal, i thought that ontological innovation was the solution, the provision of some paradigmatic description that could account for knowledge while meeting these two challenges.
and for his attempt meillassoux simply generalizes the epistemological dilemma into ‘correlation,’ then offers up a counterexample. the Ancestral. this counterexample allows him to pose the subjective and normative contextual disclosures as the problematic constraints they are. Ancestral claims have contexts. then he poses his question:
“In one sense, yes, the correlationist will reply, because the scientific statements pointing to such an event are objective, in other words, inter-subjectively verifiable. But in another sense, no, he will go on, because the referent of such statements cannot have existed in the way in which it is naively described, i.e. as non-correlated with a consciousness.”
the trick is this. since the subjective and normative contexts are second-order dislosures, they have the effect of relativizing first-order disclosures. parmenides hinge… you’re looking at it. there’s this creak, and a view from nowhere becomes a view from there. what meillassoux is doing is basically arguing that correlation generates a theoretically ‘opaque context’ when it comes to Ancestral statements. the truth of the first-order claim doesn’t sum with the truth of the second-order…
of course. i realize there are plenty of counter arguments that could be offered here, but the bottom-line is they needn’t be made. meillassoux’s trick lies in characterizing this problem as a choice. you see, he wants to convince you the correlationists murdered the absolute, that they freely chose to pull the trigger, when the whole time they have both hume and wittgenstein holding mk xix, .50 (action express) desert eagles to their heads. meillassoux’s trick, in other words, is to turn the challenge of philosophy after hume and wittgenstein into a kind of theoretical patsy.
to pretend that the guns aren’t also levelled at him.
you can give him his ‘past, only like, for real argument,’ or his ‘transcendental schmancendental argument.’ the more damage they do the better. these issues only serve to draw attention away from the obvious: 1) that the claim that hume and wittgenstein have rendered objectivity difficult to understand is about as trivial as any in philosophy (which just goes to show how effective philosophical rebranding can be). and 2) that the troubling facts of subjectivity and normativity still obtain.
this is just to say that the entire opening of after finitude is just a red herring.
correlation, my ass.
The magical context is the EPR triggering disclosure that does one of two things: either it reconciles truth and context in a manner that meets the constraints of subjectivity and normativity, or it renders the whole matter moot. it takes as given that the ‘movement of philosophy,’ insofar as it is ‘progressive’ at all, is the movement of making the implicit explicit. it also takes as given that this progression, thus far, has made truth progressively more difficult to understand.
we can draw at least two pessimistic inductions from this: first, that exercises in philosophical nostalgia like after finitude are as inevitable as yellow armpits; and second, the next great reinterpretation of the occluded frame will likely just make matters fucking worse.
as i mentioned at the beginning of this particular adventure, meillassoux’s project was essentially my own. unlike meillassoux, however, i made the magical context in the first sense–an EPR triggering disclosure that reconciles truth and context–my explicit goal. thanks to the arrogant idiocy of youth, i never paused to consider the trend of disclosure, the way making the implicit explicit seemed to make matters worse for truth. i literally thought i was solving a problem. what i found was disaster.
looking back, our philosophical descendants will almost certainly dub this philosophical age the ‘neural turn.’ as with past turns of the philosophical screw, there’s a kind of ambient instability about the thing turned to, an appreciation and a respect, but absent any real sense of what it means. only people interested in the philosophy of mind tuned in when i mentioned the brain ten years ago. almost universally, my continental peers reflexively dismissed the talk as ‘reductive nonsense.’ not so now. it’s taken woefully, perhaps even comically, long, but intentional philosophy is at last realizing what scientists, futurists, and SF writers have been crying from hilltops for years: a new Enlightenment is upon us, one with philosophical consequences even more profound than the old.
buckle up, kids. the ride will get scary–perhaps even lethal.
meillassoux actually agrees with me, though he hasn’t realized it yet.
“… when we raise the question of the emergence of thinking bodies in time we are also raising the question of the temporality of the conditions of instantiation, and hence of the taking place of the transcendental as such. Objective bodies may not be a sufficient condition for the taking place of the transcendental, but they are certainly a necessary condition for it.”
this is the account i offered in my previous adventure: an empirical way to conceive the ‘taking place of the transcendental,’ or why it is our perspectives have the structure they do.
“We thereby discover that the time of science temporalizes and spatializes the emergence of living bodies; that is to say, the emergence of the conditions for the taking place of the transcendental. What effectively emerged with living bodies were the instantiations of the subject, its character as point-of-view-on-the-world.”
this is one of the things that I suspect led brassier to pose his problem in the manner he did: how can the irreflexive time of the world described by science gives rise to the reflexive time of the transcendental? this is the million dollar question, one which meillassoux simply glosses and moves on.
“The fact that subjects emerged here on this earth or existed elsewhere is a purely empirical matter. But the fact that subjects appeared – simply appeared – in time and space, instantiated by bodies, is a matter that pertains indissociably both to objective bodies and to transcendental subjects. And we realize that this problem simply cannot be thought from the transcendental viewpoint because it concerns the space-time in which transcendental subjects went from not-taking-place to taking-place – and hence concerns the space-time anterior to the spatio-temporal forms of representation. To think this ancestral space-time is thus to think the conditions of science and also to revoke the transcendental as essentially inadequate to this task.”
to assert the priority of the subjective/normative over the causal is to forget that subjectivity/normativity is a consequence of the causal. i’ve always been fascinated with the way certain forms seem to float like structured strands of intellectual protein through philosophy, fastening themselves in various guises in various autoreproductive contexts. if you think about it, meillassoux’s ‘problem of Ancestrality’ bears some resemblance to kripke’s skeptical paradox. the idea is to find some apparently simple question, such as, how do you know ‘plus’ isn’t ‘quus’? that traditional philosophical schemes seem incapable of answering, then to provide your own innovative solution. so where kripke posed the ‘problem of quus’ to forcefully disclose the fact of normativity, meillassoux poses the ‘problem of the Ancestral’ to… argue that normativity makes truth difficult.
what meillassoux is saying is trivial. but there is something forceful here, a disclosure every bit as radical and threatening as kripke’s skeptical paradox.
as bones would put it: “it’s in his brain, jim!”
brain. a word never mentioned in after finitude–to my recollection, at least.
in a sense, meillassoux has to avoid the brain, simply because of the theoretically fatal (for him) way it reframes what he calls ‘philosophies of access.’ information that does not reach the brain does not reach consciousness, plain and simple. spooky knowledge at a distance is one thing, but spooky information? or what about vacuum tube delivery system of the absolute, mathematics? what happens if mathematics is something that our brains do, leaving us to observe phenomenal shadows which, since they comprise the totality of our experience of mathematics, seem like everything? there can be little doubt that the brain horrifically complicates his argument. but if any project demands an accounting of the brain, surely it’s his. think about it: he’s posing the problem ‘ancestrality’ poses for the transcendental, and he entirely overlooks the one place where they are, as he puts it, ‘indissociable.’
all I am is a phd drop-out who continues to dabble. i am not a scholar in any sense. so when i find myself this mystified by the reputation of a certain philosophical wonk and his work i really am inclined to think something is flying over my head, that i’ve gamed the ambiguities this way or that way or what have you. but i’m having a real difficult time seeing this particular book as anything other than a kind of philosophical melodrama, a theatre where the trivial is dressed as revelation, where really fucking hard philosophical problems are made up to resemble ‘errant philosophical choices.’
“those correlationists, tsk-tsk-tsk…”
“um, dude? hume and wittgenstein are like, holding guns.”
My bid for the magical context consisted of kicking a pillow into hume’s face while cartwheeling to the fireplace. if i could keep moving laterally fast enough to avoid getting tagged, i could grab the poker, hurl it like a javelin right at wittgenstein’s face, then…
did i mention i was gunned down?
just not by hume or wittgenstein.
it’s taking philosophy time. in the absence of any efficacious epistemic constraints, philosophy wanders where it will, speciating and convoluting until some disclosure like subjectivity or normativity forces a drastic change in game plans. theoretical incompetence (TI) assures that the individual philosopher almost always ‘discovers’ what they need to make their rationalizations stick, even as it assures that those rationalizations will fail to command any kind of meaningful consensus. what distinguishes subjectivity and normativity was that they made explicit something undeniable, something as plain as plain can be, as well as encompassing, something pertaining to the sum of human activity. as disclosures they were at once obvious and totalizing.
‘legalists’ like meillassoux are literally a dime a dozen, lawyers who toil in the archives looking for some kind of loophole. the problem, however, is that he wants to be a framer, to emulate those who have rewritten the philosophical constitution. so he does what framers do, diagnosing and isolating some systematic dysfunction in the existing constitution. but because he really has no new, game-changing disclosure to make, he offers us yet another legalistic loophole, a ‘context escape clause’ that does little more than raise more question than answers. but since it is his escape clause, he pretends that it’s truly a new constitution. and thus the absurd disjunct between what his discourse presumes and what it accomplishes. the perpetual comedy and tragedy of philosophy.
and me? prior to my dissertation, i was every bit the clown meillassoux is. everything i’ve written (and continue to write) reeks of the will to frame. root through the documents on three pound brain and you will find diagnosis after totalizing diagnosis, culminating in what I sincerely believed was the next great disclosure, the magical context.
i called it the occluded frame. what had yet to be disclosed, i thought, was contextuality itself, the principles that explained the disclosures of other framers. once we understood the contextual logic that makes kant, hegel, nietzsche, wittgenstein, heidegger, and so on possible, i thought, we could get to the business of designing a new constitution, one that allowed us to make sense of truth and context, while explaining the implicit assumptions that led all those past framers astray.
so i developed a theory of ‘vantages,’ one self-consciously designed to side-step the subjectivity and normativity constraints–an account of context that made room for truth. this meant running the theory through all the traditional skeptical arguments–the ones that meillassoux largely if not entirely ignores. and this meant dealing with the argument from illusion.
i had dispatched with ‘representationalism.’ since a perspective is always a perspective on something that transcends it, positing things that stand between us and the world, representations, literally makes ‘perspective’ incomprehensible–or so i thought. the problem, of course, was the simple, incontrovertible fact that we dream, we lie, we hallucinate, we tell stories, and so on. how could these things be explained absent representational intermediaries? i redescribed all these things as ‘vicarities,’ idiosyncratic angles on the world from special kinds of positions within the world. dreams were perspectives on the world from the standpoint of dreaming in the world.
i painted a picture where everything was cognitive in some respect, only not equally so. i formalized the language of positionality that we seem to instinctively reach for whenever comparing views. i explained how some ‘standpoints’ could encompass others, while other ‘positions’ left us ‘in the dark.’ i described the necessary angularity of human truth, the illusory nature of the ‘view from nowhere,’ and the way the logical function of language nevertheless exploits it. on and on i went, drunk with afferentially constrained innovation, seeing hermeneutic opportunities everywhere i turned, convinced that i had found the magical context, the EPR triggering disclosure that could reconcile context and truth.
i was going to be the next wittgenstein, the next heidegger…
but… i was a clown.
odd, isn’t it? the way we are so prone to disguise the social dimension of our philosophical writing, how everything is a pitch to the other, yet pretends to be wholly invested in its subject matter. odd, isn’t it? that out of all the second-order considerations we drag into our work, that this one would be the most assiduously avoided? the most reliably punished? out of all the clownish things about philosophy, the systematic suppression of motive–be it prestige, employment, or immortality–is the most clownish of all. when you think about it, it’s remarkable we had to wait so long for nietzsche and his great disclosure (before we could willfully ignore it).
Of course I wasn’t the next wittgenstein–I wasn’t even the next meillassoux! i was another grad student smoking from the bong of conceptual possibility. the significance of my ‘disclosure’–my account of the contextuality of context–depended on my normative context…
because my particular normative context was having none of it. i had placed all my professors in a curious double-bind, one that put their fetishization of ‘originality’ in direct conflict with the expediencies of conceptual standardization. i was a clown, and i could feel it. decades in dusty libraries were required to make the claims I was making. i was out of my depth: how could i not drown?
i had always been fascinated by so-called ‘unexplained explainers,’ those concepts that must simply be ‘given’ in some way to get any philosophical theory off the ground. ask a wittgensteinian about use and he or she will say you have to look at the contexts in which it is used. the premonition of shame and social humiliation turned my eye to my great unexplained explainer, the occluded frame.
the argument from illusion already had me thinking about brains. even a brain in a vat had a vat. i saw in this a pregnant connection between what i was saying about vantages and their empirical substrate: they were both impossible to understand absent their environment. even more, i had been playing poker with an avowed nihilist, and losing faith in the preemptive presumption of so much continental philsophy.
so what was it about the brain that could explain occluded frames?
something did not so much puncture as punch through me, a disproportion of relative velocities so great that I remained motionless around the portion of me that was torn away. an occluded heart.
i only heard the gunshot on the way down.
So long as intentionality remains cognitively closed, which is to say, a family of conceptual and intuitive unexplained explainers, we need only keep a wary eye on cognitive neuroscience as we philosophize. traditional philosophical discourse retains its autonomy. both pre-subjective and pre-normative philosophy, i think, provide excellent analogues for the ‘pre-neural’ situation that obtains today. until the neural problematic is disclosed in some undeniable manner, established normative economies will continue conserving their ‘constitution,’ and legalism will rule the day. consider the curious case of meillassoux: despite the theatrics of his exposition, the way characterizing correlation as a figure makes it seem contingent, he nonetheless remains constrained. he still has to cast about in search of a loophole. he remains, despite his remonstrations otherwise, a post-subjective, post-normative, pre-neural philosopher. his book literally should have been titled, gaming finitude.
philosophical constitutions are hardy beasts. short of some decisive formulation, only the gradual accumulation of interpretative background noise precipitates their collapse. as the activity of meillassoux and so many other intentional philosophers demonstrates, neurality still awaits the disclosure that will render it undeniable. intentionality has yet to be explained in a manner that forces philosophy’s collective hand.
for my part, however, neurality has arrived. for some ten years now the insight that ruined my dissertation, the ‘blind brain theory,’ has slipped through the various pockets of my life, a hard marble that burns the fingers for being so cold. i quite literally refuse to believe it, and yet, nevertheless, i find it undeniable. it is the context i cannot seem to escape.
the blind brain theory (BBT), assumes substantial informatic asymmetry, radical quantitative and structural disparities between the information the brain processes and the information the brain processes of that processing. the analogy is that of the brain peering back at itself through a peephole, and as such profoundly incapable of grasping itself for what it is.
the problem of consciousness has something to do with intentionality. intentionality is unique because of the way it ontologically monopolizes consciousness, and so encompasses all our activity. but it is also unique in an even more extraordinary way: where other phenomena simply ‘resist’ explanation, intentional phenomena seem to be intrinsically antagonistic to explanation. like a card trick, one cannot explain it without explaining it away. BBT simply takes this ‘magical analogy’ at its word: it presumes that intentionality as well as other ‘inexplicables’ of consciousness like presence, unity, and personal identity, are kinds of ‘magic tricks,’ artifacts of the way the conscious is a prisoner of a greater, unconscious, magician brain.
all magic tricks turn on information horizons: the magician literally leverages her illusions by manipulating what information you can and cannot access. the spectator is encapsulated, which is to say, stranded with information that appears sufficient. the sense of magic arises from the disjunct between this apparent sufficiency and what actually happens. if recursive neural processing simply is consciousness, then we can presume encapsulation, which is to say, we can presume, not only that the conscious brain is fenced with information horizons, but that the information accessed has to appear sufficient, simply because it possesses no information that could generate the ‘appearance of insufficiency.’[*]
consciousness can be characterized as a queer camera obscura, a finite ‘informatic region’ where things appear medially. To ‘appear medially’ simply means to appear ‘from nowhere.’ (and because to be from nowhere (nowhen) means to go nowhere (nowhen), we never go anywhere, and so always find ourselves here (now)). think of rules, the way they form an invisible water-slide, something that constrains us implicitly. given BBT, the ‘normativity’ we abstract from rules is an artifact of informatic asymmetry. the features we ascribe to normativity are the result of local, and therefore fractional, access to global processes of behaviour and behavioural feedback. they only apply to how we experience these systems. since the information is so local, we can’t make any global assumptions regarding the actual processes involved. but since local is all the system has, it becomes global. we presume to know what normativity is, so much so we often presume to inflict that knowledge upon others.
constraints on access structure consciousness: this is the heart of the BBT. as strange as it sounds, what the system looks like depends on what the system sees. those constraints, insofar as they constitute information exterior to the system, must remain invisible to the system. as a product of access, the conscious system must be saturated, which is to say, whole, finite, and unbounded. experience is the expression of limits that cannot be seen as limits. access to ancient environmental subsystems simply ‘becomes’ the world. access to all other systems becomes everything that accompanies the ‘appearance of a world’: the medial, the sourceless and maximally proximal. everything else is missing.
phenomenologically speaking, you’re presently experiencing a collection of multiply sourced points of access to your greater, unconscious brain. it’s all contingent. imagine a tangled mass of cables knotted into a single field of possible recursive access, one that blots all sight of the cables or anything else, that seamlessly sutures over all the etiological chasms between, simply because they are not accessible. over that field ranges another dynamic field of ongoing recursive integration. the invisible, medial arrow of intention, the you, is a kind of misapprehension, not in metzinger’s sense of self as simulation, but in every sense. you hang as volition, desire, intellect, pain, shame, bliss because your frame cannot differentiate you from yourself. time runs out the same as vision, and so you… just… hang. the manifold channels of recursive access are you, scattered like a british empire through the brain, bound by a communal inability to imagine, let alone perceive, the dividing sea.
to appreciate the radicality of this approach one need only consider the alternatives. all speculation on consciousness (that i’ve encountered at least) suffers from what–from the standpoint of BBT–might be called the ‘accomplishment fallacy.’ the accomplishment fallacy takes consciousness as experienced to be a kind of multi-modal achievement, the product of various brain functions–the famed ‘neural correlates of consciousness’ (NCCs). so consider the classic philosophical problem of the ‘unity of consciousness,’ which showed the light of dualism to descartes. In being no one (already the classic statement of neurality), metzinger claims that ‘our conscious experience of reality is held together internally by a principle or mechanism which itself is consciously inaccessible.’ the presumption here is eminently intuitive: if consciousness is unified, and if consciousness is a product of the brain, then something in the brain must be responsible for unifying consciousness. this presumption is so intuitive, in fact, that he ends up positing ‘phenomenal aspects’ and ‘hidden mechanisms’ for pretty much every reportable feature of consciousness.
BBT simply turns the question around the way einstein turned newton’s theory of gravity around. where newton looked at gravity as a discrete force acting on objects with inertial dispositions, which is to say, something to be achieved, einstein transformed gravity into a feature of space-time, which is to say, an expression of structure. BBT performs an analogous figure-field switch with respect to the unity of consciousness. where the philosophical tradition looks at unity as an achievement of some discrete neural complex, BBT transforms it into an expression of what consciousness is, which is just to say, recursive neural information integration (of the kind required, perhaps, to code brain information for linguistic transmission). the unity of consciousness, as much as qualia or objects or affects, is an expression of information access. why is consciousness unified? simply because it has no access to information pertaining to its disunity.
i understand how peculiar this must sound, but consider the peculiarity of the accomplishment perspective, [*] now that you have an alternative as a basis for comparison: why are NCC’s required to produce the inability of consciousness to discriminate its own modularity? Because this, in the end, is what we are trying to explain: the holistic unity we experience, not the super-complicated multiplicity we are.
BBT assumes that the informatic asymmetry that characterizes all conscious phenomena relative to their empirical counterparts is no coincidence. it assumes, in other words, that consciousness really is a kind of ‘trick’–and that, given encapsulation, it could be no other way. it asks of every so-called ‘phenomenal aspect’ it encounters, first, ‘what information is this missing?’ and then, ‘why is it missing this information?’
you are your thalamocortical system (TCS), but in such a way that you cannot recognize yourself as such. given the first proposition, the second becomes a platitude. the ‘explananda of consciousness,’ in other words, are informatic asymmetric ‘misapprehensions’–they have to be, not only because of the kinds of structural and developmental constraints that presumably pertain to neurorecursivity, but because of the mad complexities revealed by neuroscience. you are a brain incapable of seeing itself as a brain–what could be more obvious?
according to the BBT, all the so-called ‘puzzles of consciousness’ fall out of this–in some cases* with dreadful ease and stupefying consequences. oblivious to the privative dimension of conscious experience, the neural accomplishment perspective ‘naturally’ interprets the various phenomenal consequences of informatic asymmetry as a positive, as something that some mechanism had to achieve. BBT, on the other hand, simply sees them as structural consequences of what consciousness is: the brain’s dubious informatic grasp on itself.
a chasm lies between consciousness as possessed and consciousness as experienced. we quite literally do not have the consciousness we think we experience. as much as theorists like metzinger and dennett insist (in various guises) on this very same point, the accomplishment fallacy leads them (in various guises) to mistake our misapprehension for the thing. there is no such thing as the now. there is no such thing as personal identity. there is no such thing as intentionality. it’s not that we’re stranded with these ‘imperfect yet useful tools,’ we quite simply don’t have the tools–only misapprehensions.
the intractibility of the qualia debate is something BBT actually predicts, the one side simply regarding experience, dumbfounded that anyone could disbelieve, the other side accumulating more and more evidence of actual discrepancies. recursive systems may ‘look like’ what ‘they see,’ but what they are is an entirely different matter. we can’t just say we are what we look like without first explaining away the fact that we’re not. we do not hang nowhere; there is no such thing as now; there is no such thing as personal identity: all phenomenology is the phenomenology of misapprehension. but at the same time, we can’t simply assert we’re not what we look like without explaining why what we look like seems to exhaust what we are. we still have a phenomenology.
in the intentional terms forced upon us by consciousness, consciousness can only be a ‘misapprehension’ because whole dimensions of information have been sheered away. you need only ask what your hundred billion or so brain cells are doing this very moment (running you, among other things) to appreciate the staggering asymmetry between you and what you really are.
brain cells… you don’t want to see that shit on your carpet.
but to say we are this impoverishment is to suggest we have no other recourse. the question, ‘what is it like?’ actually bears the imprimatur of encapsulation: experience can only resort to experience to explicate experience. the ‘given,’ its content and modes of givenness, can only be hashed out in terms of the ‘given.’ phenomenology not only seems to be the ‘natural mode’ of experiential description, it seems to be the only mode. once you refuse to consider the given in isolation from the source, however, you realize that reflection upon the ‘givenness of the given’ can only compound experiential poverty. in a sense, you could say phenomenology is in the business of scalping decapitations, then claiming that the world is braided out of hair.
the very thing that suggests phenomenology is the only way, encapsulation, is the very thing that renders phenomenology impossible. encapsulation does not stand still. it’s like we’re plucking gears out of an occluded transmission only to be dumbfounded by the mangled, twisted bits in our palm. what we initially ‘see without seeing’–which is to say, what is initially given–is a ‘part of the machine’; it is given as originally sourced, or implicitly given. as soon as we turn our attention and make it explicit, it is given as secondarily sourced, which is to say, as something even more informatically impoverished, a penury that encapsulation presents as riches.
when you extract the ‘Cartesian conceit’ from this scene, realize that everything is given, and on the back of profound etiological agnosia no less, the dismal state of ‘conscious introspection,’ no matter how regimented, is revealed.[*] an (unsourced) ‘redness’ and an (unsourced) ‘apprehension’ are given together with an (unsourced) ‘interval’ that distinguishes them. siamese triplets: the first is bound, the second is crowned, and the third is forgotten whenever we undertake to ‘reflect’ on the ‘givenness of the given.’ to subject experience to experience, to attribute quiddity to quality, is to sacrifice a sourceless, radically impoverished whole in the name of a sourceless, radically impoverished fraction.
again, encapsulation means saturation, the utter occlusion of poverty and parochialism, no matter how extreme. BBT, in other words, provides a means of explaining why qualia seem the most certain thing even though they are nothing at all. in doing so, it offers a rather parsimonious solution the hard problem. in a sense, every time the brain reaches to grasp itself, consciousness chops off its fingers and cries, ‘see!’ as a product of recursive information processing, consciousness is the product of severe informatic constraint. our consciousness of consciousness can only be explained away because functional explanation is etiologically informative: it provides the very information our experience of consciousness lacks, and so seems to explain something entirely ‘other,’ something a zombie could have.
it’s the parsimony of BBT relative to its explanatory scope that troubles me the most. think of metzinger’s compendious head: the bean in being no one is filled with models and simulations and levels of description–it’s a place where brain function is discursively wired to resemble the things in our experience. the head of BBT is remarkably empty in comparison. in place of the baroque complexity of the PSM, you simply have this ‘occluded clearing,’ possessing presence, unity, and self-identity by virtue of structure. one that directly follows from the identity of consciousness and neural recursion viewed in an orthogonal light.
BBT is a theory possessing almost unthinkable consequences. far from rendering the disclosure of neurality undeniable, it seems to promise the opposite. and perhaps this will be the case. perhaps empirical verification is the only thing that will transform neurality (as disclosed here) into the successor of subjectivity and normativity.
and maybe this isn’t such a bad thing. my own inclination is to think the radical theoretical consequences of BBT amount to a reductio of some kind, that the sheer absurdity of its conclusions warrant holding out for a ‘messianic moment.’ but ‘absurd’ here is only absurd from the standpoint of the human. in general terms, science has a long track record of disappointing our aspirations. the fact is, the kinds of ‘absurdities’ that fall out of BBT are precisely the kinds of absurdities we should expect given the neurostructural and evolutionary constraints placed on human consciousness. there is good reason to presume that profound etiological agnosia is something that any biological recursive information system would suffer. BBT literally predicts that intelligent extraterrestrial life will have there own versions of our philosophical dilemmas.
but this suggests a different strategy one might take to the disclosure of neurality. if the radicality of BBT renders it too controversial to become undeniable in the way subjectivity and normativity became undeniable, then perhaps there is a way to render it unavoidable.
since BBT presumes that intentionality is an artifact of informatic asymmetry, and since intentional concepts are ubiquitous throughout philosophy, it should be possible to critique any given instance of philosophy in terms of the informatic asymmetries that underwrite their grounding assumptions. in other words, it should be possible to deploy particular instances of what might be called a ‘general information asymmetry argument.’
the general information asymmetry argument (GIAA) aims at nothing less than the total de-legitimization of pre-neural inquisitive philosophy. in other words, it aims to establish neurality as an unavoidable disclosure. it assumes:
1) every philosophical problem involves the expression of informatic asymmetry.
2) every philosophical problem should admit interpretation in BBT terms.
3) each of those interpretations will, ideally, constitute an empirical hypothesis (or failing that, lay the groundwork for one).
4) the warrant of the corresponding intentional interpretations is diminished as a result.
this, although it fails to make neurality undeniable, does highlight the reliance of traditional philosophy on unexplained intentional explainers, and as such theoretically incomplete in comparison to BBT.
so, for instance, you could reinterpret kripke’s skeptical paradox as a reductio of normativity, where the paralyzing demand that the dispositionalist account for the normativity of claims could be met by explaining away normativity in information asymmetric terms. you could argue that derrida’s differance simply is an intentional (and therefore deceptive) instance of informatic asymmetry, or that heidegger’s concept of facticity intentionalizes the effects of etiological agnosia, or how hegel simply takes encapsulation, the way the invisibility of information horizons generates the illusion of self-sufficiency, at its word.
GIAA, in other words, enables the work of EPR, a reinterpretation unlike any ever carried out in the history of philosophy. the one that delivers the great guardian of philosophy’s autonomy, the ‘philosophical problem,’ to the work of empirical speculation. the one that no longer believes. the one that diagnoses philosophy as the brain’s long and arduous pilgrimage to itself.
Once we latched onto the occluded frame, we did not let go. this is why the soul was disclosed. this is why humanity was disclosed. this is why subjectivity was disclosed. this is why normativity was disclosed. each of these disclosures made truth that much more difficult to comprehend. neurality is the disclosure that will kill truth altogether, insofar as it kills all intentionality.
the way you are reading now is about to go extinct. in the future, all reading will be bent–between the intuitive immediacy of meaning, and knowledge of the agnosiac distortion implicit in ‘intuitive,’ ‘immediacy,’and ‘meaning.’
there will be no end to the apologies. i can feel them bubbling in me, confabulatory bids to disown these very thoughts. the great gift of TI–aside from delaying the disclosure of neurality–is the ability to rationalize what you cherish or cannot relinquish. but, for the first time such philosophy will stand directly opposed to scientific discovery, the only institutional prosthesis that can correct, however imperfectly, for TI. the constructivist of the future can be told why their reasoning blinds them with apparent insight. so they will retreat, perhaps form a sophisticated, academic rind about new age thinking.
meaning will shriek its defiance–like all cornered animals.
Even as you read this, individuals across the world are theorizing the myriad, specific ways in which unconscious mechanisms deliver information to consciousness. my only innovation is to run this speculation backward, to interrogate consciousness in terms of what cannot be delivered. not so long ago, this would have been transcendental speculation, yet another philosophical attempt to disclose the occluded frame. now it’s empirical speculation.
neurality, as much as subjectivity or normativity, is encompassing, something that pertains to the sum of human activity. if it becomes as undeniable as hume made subjectivity or wittgenstein made normativity, then any nontendentious philosophy must answer to it. the blackboards will have been wiped clean.
and make no mistake, it very well could be a form of suicide. nothing abhors a vacuum more than the philosophical imagination (whatever the fuck that turns out to be). opportunities abound. names will be made. but it really could mean the end of philosophy as an institutionally independent form of human inquiry. this isn’t to say that further disclosures won’t be made–the occlusion of the implicit is always fooling us into thinking nothing remains to be made explicit–only that philosophers likely won’t be the ones to make them. this could be the point where the lake runs out of philosophical family to drown. this disclosure at last delivers inquisitive philosophy, philosophy that cares (or pretends to care) for nothing save truth, to the cold hands of science. if something resembling BBT is verified, it means that intentionality is a fundamental misapprehension as a matter of empirical fact. inquisitive philosophy will boil down into a speculative halo about the sciences, leaving only a self-conscious or tendentious philosophy of untruth in its wake, an apologetic philosophy, that seeks to organize our collective misapprehension from within, even as it rationalizes its falsity from without.
BBT is a curious conceptual tool–anything that allows for the translation of fundamental philosophical problematics across the transcendental/empirical divide has to be. consider mathematics, meillassoux’s oracular loophole. what is numerical ideality?
what is thought at all?
according to BBT, default identity obtains wherever information access precludes differentiation. in this sense, you can see ideality as a kind of informatic flattening (the result of having fewer channels/modalities engaged perhaps). subtract temporal resolution, distinction (meaning is fuzzy), medial variability (you can’t distance or walk around a meaning) and lateral variability (meanings bleed rather than bump into each other), and what you seem to be left with is the appearance of some kind of abiding differential field. neural complexes that are multi-dimensional and plastic are combed of all their complexity, flattened and blurred and detemporalized, and meaning appears to be holistic. we seem to be referencing a ‘different realm.’
ideality is just reality stripped to the bone. and in this sense, meillassoux is ‘right,’ mathematicians are paleontologists, the deluded interface where the proximal real reaches for the distal real. a place to watch the bones be put together–and with a sense of ‘willing’ stapled to it, no less. one only need ask this question: how much do mathematicians know about what’s happening–as a matter of empirical fact–in their beans as they count?
information is lost. and that loss is abject ignorance, near total etiological agnosia. the ideal never possesses more information than the real. if anything, ideality is proportional to information loss, an informatic lack which perhaps allows the brain to mimic turing’s universal machine, the spiral incarnation of the mathematical circle. meillassoux’s dilemma, that is, the dilemma of ‘correlation’ more generally, is the result of a misapprehension of a misapprehension according to the BBT. the question isn’t will meillassoux escape thought with mathematics, its, what the hell is he talking about? thought? he knows what thought is? like fuck he does.
it literally could be the case that no sciences are so unconscious as the abstract. such a claim must sound anathema to the specialist: how could the engine of the ‘information revolution’ be so ‘information poor’? because it only needs admit to consciousness what evolution demands and structure allows. no more, no less. we now know enough to know that what the subject ‘feels’ need not be indicative of anything. neuropathology reveals boggling dissociations of capacities and sensations (in precisely the fashion BBT predicts). the fact is, we have to await a more mature neuroscience to definitively answer these questions.
either way transcendence has been explained away.
you’re dead. you, dude. dwindling in a pool of blood and meaning.
maybe this is what Nietzsche meant. maybe I can convince the relevant module to affirm…
certainly this is a glimpse into what will be a ghoulish philosophical future. every domain it inherits, science seizes what is readily comprehensible and saturates it with human indifference and intentional antithesis. now it stands ready to reveal anthropos as the greatest anthropomorphism of all. more and more blindnesses will be catalogued. we will be mapped by our agnosias. inquiry into the brain will be divided, as was inquiry into the body, into organs, and functions will be argued and explored. the contradictions will be cloistered the same way that allowed deathcamp guards to make love to their wives.
public institutions will be gradually medicalized. there is no separation of science and state.
philosophy will become something you can pin on boards. before the lunacy of the post-human, we will have to endure the degradation of the subhuman, an epoch of correlation and functional description.
neurality. this is the magical context, the one where the curtain closes on the coin trick of consciousness. the most exhaustive interpreter of all. the next will be the Technological Reformation, when the neurospecialists, seeking to maximize fitness indicators, begin to augment the subhuman. a sweaty bulb on a corporate stalk. and these scribblings will be just that, scribblings, something our ancestors affix with magnets to the refrigerator door.
‘such a darling dear…’
some drownings are sequential.