Situating Neuroscience in the Context of Transcendental Realism/Materialism and Non-Reductive Naturalism
The question I had in mind as I was in search of funding for a research project that would enable me to write “a book comparing the ontological and the epistemological modes of being and thinking in and through which the subject constitutes itself as object of knowledge in contemporary social and natural sciences” was simply this: “How does it further our understanding of the subject to situate neuroscience in the context of transcendental realism/materialism and non-reductive naturalism?” The answer I have in mind to this question is that “the ideas are objects we are embedded in and embody at once.” This ontological/epistemological principle is the point of departure for a broader research into the developmental possibilities of a new mode of enquiry which would put philosophy and neuroscience into a more interactive relationship with one another, driven not only by the dialectical process constitutive of the methodological differences between natural sciences and philosophy, but also by the sustenance of a generative interaction between the ontological and epistemological modes of being and thinking.
As is well known since Kant, the instruments (software and hardware tools) social and natural scientists have at hand to investigate natural and cultural phenomena play a very significant role not only in the analysis, but also in the production of the object/subject of study itself. This study is a venture into the relationship between the manifest and the scientific images of humanity designated by Wilfrid Sellars and Alain Badiou’s materialist dialectics of the human animal and the immortal subject of truth. The rigorous disjunction introduced by Sellars and Badiou between sentience and sapience will be investigated in conjunction with the contemporary thought embodied by and embodying transcendental realism and materialism, taking into consideration the emerging technologies within the Neuroscientific field in the light of Gilles Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism and François Laruelle’s critique of it. These explications will then be followed by a reconstructive rendering of Michel Henry’s theory of the subject as immanent affectivity and the role of representation in its self-constitutive process which associates the algorithmic dynamics of the neuroplasticity softwares as well as the programs visualising the neuronal interactions and even analysing the data provided by the synaptic network in all its complexity. By way of referring to Laruelle/Henry as the representatives of Non-Reductive Naturalism on one side and Sellars/Badiou as the representatives of Transcendental Realism/Materialism on the other, I hope to demonstrate, at least in theory, that the constitutive link which has come to be considered missing between the mental phenomena and the physical entities is actually a non-relation rather than an absence of relation, for it is neither transcendental nor immanent to the subject, but is rather the manifestation of a pure affectivity intervening in the ordinary flow of things, initiating a rupture in time itself, for the subject is now in the domain of the death-drive, a concept introduced by Freud into the field of psychology together with a paradigmatic change of the field itself into meta-psychology. This innovative act was a consequence of Freud’s dissatisfaction with the neurobiology of his day, which did not even ask many of the questions he had mind, let alone answer them.
Statement of Intent
My aim is to produce a book in the way of contributing to the contemporary debates between Analytic and Continental philosophies of mind, cognition and language in the context of neuroscience. With the recent developments in neuroscience, computational linguistics and neuroplasticity softwares it seems that Plato’s, Descartes’ and Hegel’s claims as to the dual modes of being/thinking, mind/body, and self/other turned out to be more sensible and less unrealistic than many philosophers thought they were. By way of problematising the correlative mode constituting the triadic relationship between the dualities of being/thought, consciousness/brain, and subject/object I intend to draw a cognitive map tracing the contours of the current theories concerned with connecting natural sciences and humanities in general, and neuroscience, philosophy and psychoanalysis in particular.
What Neuroscience lacks is a cultural context, likewise what humanities and social sciences lack is a natural basis. Situated in-between the dualities of ontology/epistemology and phenomenology/noumenology, the goal of this project is to establish a non-reductive interaction between neuroscience and philosophy, nature and culture, organic and inorganic, empirical and conceptual, epistemological and ontological, transcendent and immanent, the objective and the subjective. In the way of establishing the link which has come to be considered missing between the mental phenomena and the physical entities, and in order to break out of the closure not only of humanities but also of social and natural sciences, I shall therefore attempt to establish a triadic correlation constitutive of a mode of being and thinking subsumed under a non-reductive and non-physicalist account of the relationship between reasons and causes, intentions and actions, inferences and references, concepts and percepts.
Mode of Enquiry
The nature of this study requires an inter-/trans-/multi-disciplinary and mixed-methodological attitude which goes beyond the opposition between merely conceptual and merely empirical approaches. It is based on a mode of enquiry which takes its driving force from a gap that opens paths to a new field in which various perspectives interact and constitute a theoretical practice in order to initiate the emergence of a new subject out of the old paradigm. To achieve this one must not only pose new questions, but also provide new answers concerning the workings of the human brain and its interactions with the world surrounding it, out of which the concepts of mind, consciousness, affectivity and intentionality emerge.
This project can be summed up as the investigation of the relationship between concepts, percepts and affects in contemporary analytic and continental philosophies of mind, cognition and language in a psychoanalytic and neuroscientific context. To name more exactingly the subject of this project, we shall define it as an investigation concerning the concepts of consciousness, intention and agency in the emerging field of neurophilosophy. If one is to embark on a journey within this new field one should be prepared to take upon oneself the difficult task of demonstrating the existence of something, or the non-existence of nothing, immanent to and yet transcending the physical realm as well, in turn acting upon the matter which has caused it to emerge and become a vital force with material effects in the first place.
If we keep in mind the Parmenidean and the Cartesian axiom that “thought is being”, it becomes clear why, in his article on Plato, Kant and Sellars, Brassier tries to answer the question of how to orient ourselves towards the future in accordance with that which is not. Against the idea that thought and being are one and the same thing, Brassier claims that thought is non-being rather than being. Put otherwise, the correlate of thought is non-being rather than being, being and non-being are entwined.
While Brassier openly asserts that he endorses a “transcendental realism” by way of engaging in a rigorously affirmative reading of Wilfrid Sellars’ take on the subject in comparison with Thomas Metzinger’s “self-model theory of subjectivity”, Adrian Johnston takes it upon himself the task of refuting John McDowell’s theory of “first and second nature,” proclaiming a transcendental materialist theory of subjectivity as a Phenomenology of Spirit for today, in the light of the recent developments in neuroscience, that is. I would like to introduce to this ongoing discusson the concept of affect and the role of agency in relation to the formation of concepts and percepts in and through a close analysis of the effects of the subject’s relation to pain and suffering as well as joy and pleasure in its own self-constitutive process. It is at this point that I intend to bring in Thomas Metzinger who is known for his innovative research and novel output on the subject. That said, although Metzinger is an eminent neuroscientist and philosopher of cognition, he reserves no room at all for affects in relation to consciousness and agency in his books on the self as no one and the subject as non-being. Lacking a sufficient theory of the subject as an agent acting in accordance with rational thought, or a “rational self-consciousness” as Sellars would put it, a conception of subjectivity as agency in the service of truth as manifestation of a dynamic real, Metzinger remains trapped in Plato’s cave with his “phenomenal self-consciousness”, thereby failing to give an account of how more than material subjectivity emerges from matter itself. What is required today is a conception of self-consciousness which also includes the concepts of affectivity and agency within the field of neurobiology, or a “non-reductive naturalism” as John Mullarkey puts it.
In a world wherein conscious desire is absent, one cannot know what is to be done, what can be done, and how to do it. The reduction of consciousness to physical matter deprives humanity of the possibility of rationally intended change. The idea that intervening in the workings of nature solely by way of that which nature presents independently of culture is to fall into the trap one sets for oneself. It is not only necessary, but also possible to develop a theory of self-conscious subjectivity as being aware of one’s embeddedness within one’s own time and space. Thought can mean something only in so far as it is situated within an already given context indeed, but for thought to mean something worthy of the name of truth it also has to leave the old paradigm behind, change the co-oordinates, and perchance initiate a new course of continuity in change separate from but in contiguity with the “myth of the given” at the same time. The emergence of a “more than material subjectivity arising from matter itself” is indeed a consciously desirable drive to sublate the very mode of being and thinking in which the subject is embedded and embodies at once.
It is a matter of realising that theory and practice are always already reconciled and yet the only way to actualise this reconciliation passes through carrying it out and across by introducing a split between the subject of statement (the enunciated content) and the subject of enunciation (the formal structure in accordance with this content). In Hegel’s work this split is introduced in such a way as to unite the mind, the brain and the world rather than keeping them apart. It is a separation which sustains the contiguity of these three constitutive elements of consciousness, not only as concept but also as percept and affect. The presumed dividedness of philosophy into the analytic and the continental theories of mind, language and cognition is not a division between different modalities of the same thing, this division is rather between something and nothing, and therein resides a gap that splits as it unites the physical and the metaphysical in a fashion analogous to the synapses connecting and disconnecting the neurons in the brain.
 Ray Brassier, “That Which is Not: Philosophy as Entwinement of Truth and Negativity”in Stasis, No.1 2013.
 Ray Brassier, “The View From Nowhere” ‘The View from Nowhere’ in Identities: Journal for Politics, Gender, and Culture, Vol. 8, No.2, 2011.
 Adrian Johnston, “Second Natures in Dappled Worlds: John McDowell, Nancy Cartwright, and Hegelian-Lacanian Materialism,” Umbr(a): The Worst [ed. Matthew Rigilano and Kyle Fetter], Buffalo: Center for the Study of Psychoanalysis and Culture (State University of New York at Buffalo, 2011), 71-91.
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Angelaki 13 (1): 27–49, 2008.
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