Of late on R.S Bakker’s site Three Pound Brain he remarks on the failure of critical philosophy to produce theoretical knowledge to obviate the need to answer the primary question that it sought to answer, which is, namely, the question of securing speculative truth despite the limitations of our nature.1 Epistemic humility and finitude: the two poles of philosophy from Kant to now. Kant in his idealism argued for a “regulative principle of reason” that would guide our philosophical or scientific inquiries by “regarding all combination in the world as if it arose from an all-sufficient necessary cause, so as to ground on that cause the rule of a unity that is systematic and necessary, but it is not an assertion of an existence that is necessary in itself”.2
Bakker demarcates his own stance of Blind Brain Theory against such thinkers as Daniel Dennett’s well known conception of an “intentional stance,” which contrasts with the “physical,” “design” and “personal” stances.3 What Dennett means by an intentional stance is that it is a heuristic and predictive explanatory strategy, and the intentional stance is one that treats the behavior of the “system” being investigated as “rational” in the sense that it operates on the basis of beliefs and desires. The whole point of this exercise is an as-if strategy, since there is no assumption that the system under investigation is rational, the idea that it is such is merely a useful fiction (heuristic), a matter of treating it “as if” it were, which seems very much like a Kantian regulative idea.
Now Bakker touts his own BBT theory as being post-intentional, and he describes himself as a “skeptical naturalist”. Succinctly put BBT argues that the first-person perspective is the expression of the kinds and quantities of information that, for a variety of structural and developmental reasons, cannot be accessed by the ‘conscious brain.’ In other words the subject – or, in Transcendental Subject is blind to its own foundations or ground, it has no access to the given entity of its own formation: the brain – mind($). As he remarks: “Puzzles as profound and persistent as the now, personal identity, conscious unity, and most troubling of all, intentionality, could very well be kinds of illusions foisted on conscious awareness by different versions of the informatic limitation expressed, for instance, in the boundary of your visual field. By explaining away these phenomena, BBT separates the question of consciousness from the question of how consciousness appears, and so drastically narrows the so-called explanatory gap.”3
Against the common sense idea we all have of a first-person identity he tells us that Blind Brain Theory of the Appearance of Consciousness (BBT) is an account of how an embedded, recursive information integration system might produce the peculiar structural characteristics we associate with the first-person perspective. In a sense, it argues that consciousness is so confusing because it literally is a kind of confusion. Our brain is almost entirely blind to itself, and it is this interval between ‘almost’ and ‘entirely’ wherein our experience of consciousness resides.(ibid) Against any form of intentionality, phenomenal or otherwise, he argues that reflexivity, internal-relationality, sufficiency, and intentionality, can all be seen as hallucinatory artifacts of informatic closure and scarcity, the result of a brain forced to make the most with the least using only the resources it has at hand. This is a picture of the first person as an informatically intergrated series of scraps of access, forced by structural bottlenecks to profoundly misrecognize itself as something somehow hooked upon the transcendental, self-sufficient and whole…. (ibid.)
I’ll not rehearse either of the plaintiff’s arguments, instead the gist of what Bakker is striving to show is that the real key is neither Bryant nor critical philosophy, but is just “philosophy” itself:
…indeed, the more cognitive psychology learns about human reasoning, the more understandable the generational failure of philosophy to produce theoretical knowledge becomes. Human beings are theoretically incompetent, plain and simple. (ibid.)
Bakker’s whole ideology is based on the acceptance of the truth of the sciences, that what philosophy has been seeking for two-hundred years is a way out of the labyrinth of its own failure to solve its own problems: that the way out is science itself rather than philosophy. And if give up our philosophical pretentions we will all leave philosophy behind for information:
…my approach takes information as an unexplained explainer that is warranted by the theoretical work it enables, and not as a metaphysical primitive that warrants all that follows. Theorizing the kinds of informatic constraints (the crucial differences not made) faced by human cognition, BBT provides a powerful diagnosis of the subject-object paradigm, one that not only explains myriad traditional philosophical difficulties, but also allows, on an empirical basis, a means to think beyond the perennial, oscillating tyranny of subject and object, thought and being, and here’s the important thing, when required. It begins with theoretical knowledge, the sciences of the brain, offering speculative claims that will find decisive, empirical arbitration in the due course of time.
In the ultimate extent what R.S. Bakker is striving for in his BBT Theory is not so much science but a new explanatory framework, a way of describing what is coming at us from a future that like Nick Land’s accelerationism is moving to fast to grasp; yet, we throw our nets at it hoping something will catch, fragments of an alternate reality that is our own real world. He tells us that he cannot describe what it is (no positive account). But it looks like a mixture of sci-fi and Rube Goldberg machines for the cyborgs of the future post-human worlds:
To the question of whether we are a global workspace or a brain or a brain-environment (where the latter is understood in any one of many senses (social, historical, biological, cosmological, and so on)) it seems to answer, Yes.
More of a machine or appartatus than a theory it reminds one of mad prognostications of Deleuze or Land without all the philosophical baggage of the past two centuries. In Bakker we see the crossover movement of technology and nature, physis and techne merging into something else.
Whether physis and techne may be reconcilable is not a question that has a predetermined answer, waiting to be divined. It is more like a practical problem, whose feasible solution needs to be devised. With an analogy, we are not asking whether two chemicals could mix but rather whether a marriage may be successful. There is plenty of room for a positive answer, provided the right sort of commitment is made. It seems beyond doubt that a successful marriage between physis and techne is vital for our future and hence worth our sustained efforts. Information societies increasingly depend upon technology to thrive, but they equally need a healthy, natural environment to flourish. Try to imagine the world not tomorrow or next year, but next century, or next millennium: a divorce between physis and techne would be utterly disastrous both for our welfare and for the wellbeing of our habitat. This is something that technophiles and green fundamentalists must come to understand. Failing to negotiate a fruitful, symbiotic relationship between technology and nature is not an option.
But what’s left for Philosophy? Politics, Ethics, Wisdom? Well, some say we will all be subsumed in a global infosphere, and that information ethics will become the new science of ethics for this marriage of physis and techne.
In information ethics, the ethical discourse concerns any entity, understood informationally, that is, not only all persons, their cultivation, wellbeing, and social interactions, not only animals, plants, and their proper natural life, but also anything that exists, from paintings and books to stars and stones; anything that may or will exist, like future generations; and anything that was but is no more, like our ancestors or old civilizations. Information ethics is impartial and universal because it brings to ultimate completion the process of enlargement of the concept of what may count as a centre of a (no matter how minimal) moral claim, which now includes every instance of being understood informationally, no matter whether physically implemented or not. In this respect, information ethics holds that every entity, as an expression of being, has a dignity, constituted by its mode of existence and essence (the collection of all the elementary proprieties that constitute it for what it is), which deserve to be respected (at least in a minimal and overridable sense), and hence place moral claims on the interacting agent and ought to contribute to the constraint and guidance of his ethical decisions and behaviour. This ontological equality principle means that any form of reality (any instance of information/being), simply for the fact of being what it is, enjoys a minimal, initial, overridable, equal right to exist and develop in a way which is appropriate to its nature. The conscious recognition of the ontological equality principle presupposes a disinterested judgement of the moral situation from an objective perspective, i.e. a perspective which is as non-anthropocentric as possible. Moral behaviour is less likely without this epistemic virtue. The application of the ontological equality principle is achieved, whenever actions are impartial, universal, and ‘caring’. At the roots of this approach lies the ontic trust binding agents and patients.5
That post-Cynical Kynic Peter Sloterdijk relates that this is the age of revolutions when “old forms must be tested for reusability and new forms invented” (441).6 Maybe J.G. Ballard was closer to the truth in saying that this new revolution is one in which “the microchip, the home computer, the television itself – is actually invading people, impinging on people’s behavior, taking over their lives … All of us are now, in fact, bio-robots – we can’t exist without the equipment which we have around us. like cars, telephones, tape, recorders, contact lenses, so we’re no longer just biological organisms, we’re biorobotical organisms. (Interview, 1966).
What Bakker implies even if he has yet to explicitly state it is that we are machinic subjects – interfaces between networks of relays, or prosthetic entities – no longer conceivable as independent autonomous entities. The collision of subjectivity and technology, informatics and the visual media is our future: a future in which the subject will become more and more derealized, depersonalized in a space of networks and relays in touch with the complexity of machinic life in all its diversity. Yet, on the fringes of this brave new world there will remain a few defiant post-humanist non serviam renegades, a new kind of ‘fanatic’ wandering the wastelands of our postmodern apocalypse, brutal and full of the life energy of a violence in touch with its organic health that refuses the machinic ecstasy of collapse into a system of total peace. Such beings will seem anachronisms to the majority of that age, lone wolves and solitaires, who commit motiveless crimes of violence and do not accept the informatics ethic of machinic life hooked into the global brain nexus, but wander the outer darkness of what little freedom remains awaiting annihilation at the hands of the machine gods of our oblivious future.
1. R.S. Bakker. The Ptolemaic Restoration: Object Oriented Whatevery and Kant’s Copernican Revolution. (on blog).
2. Immanuel Kant. Critique of Pure Reason, trans. and ed. by Paul Guyer and Allen W. Wood. The Cambridge Edition of the Works of Immanuel Kant: Cambridge Univesity Press, 1997.
3. R. Scott Bakker: Post-Intentional Philosophy; or, How the Brain is Blind
4. Henry E. Allison. Kant’s Transcendental Idealism. Yale University Press, 2004.
5. Floridi, Luciano (2010-02-25). Information: A Very Short Introduction (pp. 113-114). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.
6. Peter Sloterdijk. You must change your life. Politry Press 2013.