Being, Non-Being and Becoming Non-Identical of the Subject as ∅


If the one is not, nothing is. ~ Parmenides

In a recent article citing my Postnihilistic Speculations on That Which Is Not: A Thought-World According to an Ontology of Non-Being, the giant of philosophical blogosphere and my fellow para-academic colleague S.C. Hickman has succintly outlined the roots of contemporary ontology. Drawing upon Parmenides, Plato, Meillassoux, Žižek and Badiou in praticular, he has provided new insight concerning the relationship between being, non-being and becoming. After quoting my take on the retroactively speculative new direction in philosophy he goes on to say this:

“As I was reading this post of his I felt a deep underlying, almost religious tone in his voice; the power of the absolute filtering its banal surprise (maybe a non-God, non-All, rather than the mundane gods or God religion or the philosophers). Whatever the absolute may be, it seems to ride the edges, or borderlands of between thought and non-being rather than the metaphysical realms of Being. Though secular through and through the incorporation of the themes of eternity, time, mortality, immortality, etc. like those others who have influenced our thinking: Nietzsche, Badiou, Zizek, Laruelle, Henry, Deleuze, etc. – and, lest we forget, Freud (Lacan: lack?) with his mythology of drives, that endless war of eros and thanatos, life and death, love and war – comes through Erdem’s essay. What struck me above all is the underlying mythos and movement toward transcension, toward elsewhere, immortality, transcendence. Of course as he says, this is nothing new, and it is everywhere in our present transcendental field of speculation, as if between a totalistic closure upon metaphysics had brought with it – not a rational kernel, but rather an irrational kernel of ancient thought. For do we not hear that oldest of songsters, Orpheus, the Greek singer, theologian, poet, philosophical forbear out of whose roots Parmenides, Plato, Aristotle and their ancient antagonists Leucippas, Democritus, and Lucretius down to our day still wage a war over the body of a dead thought (God?).”~ S.C. Hickman, Social Ecologies

When it comes to philosophy I usually avoid dialogue, in that sense I am strictly Deleuzean, a man of “free indirect speech”, always sustaining a kind of internal dialogue with the philosopher’s image of thought he created in his mind. Rather than engaging in polemics with the philosophers, Deleuze used to think with them, although not always in accordance with them, sometimes for and sometimes against them, always disjunctively synthesizing affirmation and negation as well as transcendence and immanence. For Deleuze the important thing was to bring out that which matters in thought. So, what I intend to do in this brief note will be an active reading of Craig’s article rather than a reaction to it. I shall therefore point out that which is missing in his account, namely the relationship between time and change.

Now, for Kant the thing-in-itself, or the noumenon, could be thought but couldn’t be known. We could only know the transcendental ground of our thought, and therefore the thing-in-itself is not submitted to change. For change requires the transcendental constitution of the subject to take place in time. The subject constitutes and is constituted by the transformation of the thing-in-itself(noumenon) into the thing-for-us (phenomenon).

In his Critique of JudgementKant distinguishes between the determinative and the reflective modes of judgement.

If the universal (the rule, the principle, the law) is given, the judgement that subsumes the particular under it is determinative. If, however, only the particular for which the universal is to be found is given, judgement is merely reflective. [1]

If we keep in mind that the reflective mode of judgement reflects on particulars in such a way as to produce universals to which they can be subjected, and that the determinative mode of judgement determines a particular by subjecting it to a universal, it becomes understandable why among these two it is the reflective mode which splits as it unites the subject of enunciation and the enunciated subject. But it must also be kept in mind that the subject of enunciation which refers to the universal is itself a constitutive illusion, or a regulatory idea necessary for the emergence of the subject as the enunciated content. It is only in and through a position of non-being within and without being at the same time that the becoming non-identical of the subject can take place. For change requires the localisation of being in a particular world submitted to time as Badiou puts it in his Being and Event. Therein Badiou asserts that there can be multiplicities not submitted to change and there can also be ones submitted to change. Change is not on the side of multiplicity but on the side of the relationship between multiplicities. There can only be a relation between multiplicities in a particular world. Change is the property of being when being is localised in a world. Change is not the destiny of being as in Heraclitus, but is submitted to the relation between multiples. Hence Badiou can say that “the one does not exist.” It exists neither as a totality as in Parmenides, nor as a multiplicity as in Heraclitus. While for Heraclitus being is in constant change, for Parmenides being is that which never changes. Kant splits being into two halves, one half of being ever changes(phenomenon), while the other half of being never changes(noumenon). For Heraclitus there is only multiplicity, while for Parmenides there is only one. If we have mutltiplicity then there is also change, if we have the one there is no change at all. Being an atomist, Democritus says that being is composed of atoms and the universe is composed of an infinity of atoms. Democritus is the atomic explosion of Parmenides and the sub-atomic implosion of Heraclitus at the same time.[2]

We find ourselves on the brink of the decision, a decision to break with the arcana of the one and the multiple in which philosophy is born and buried, phoenix of its own sophistical consumption. This decision can take no other form than the following: the one is not.[3]

Is there an existing totality before thought? If there is one, is there a part of this existing totality which is outside change? We exist in a world of change and when we think the world we think its change. For change to be thought there has to be an identity first. The relationship between identity and difference is probably the oldest and most complicated philosophical problem. The two orientations of thought concerning the problem of change and the interaction between identity and difference have their roots in Socrates and Zeno as analysed by Badiou in Being and Event.

If one allows that being is being-in-situation—which means unfolding its limit for the Greeks—it is quite true that in suppressing the ‘there is’ of the one, one suppresses everything, since ‘everything’ is necessarily ‘many’. The sole result of this suppression is nothingness. But if one is concerned with being-qua-being, the multiple-without-one, it is true that the non-being of the one is that particular truth whose entire effect resides in establishing the dream of a multiple disseminated without limits. It is this ‘dream’ which was given the fixity of thought in Cantor’s creation. Plato’s aporetic conclusion can be interpreted as an impasse of being, situated at the deciding point of the couple of the inconsistent multiple and the consistent multiple. ‘If the one is not, (the) nothing is’ also means that it is only in completely thinking through the non-being of the one that the name of the void emerges as the unique conceivable presentation of what supports, as unpresentable and as pure multiplicity, any plural presentation, that is, any one-effect. Plato’s text sets four concepts to work on the basis of the apparent couple of the one and the others: the one-being, the there-is of the one, the pure multiple and the structured multiple. If the knot of these concepts remains undone in the final aporia, and if the void triumphs therein, it is solely because the gap between the supposition of the one’s being and the operation of its ‘there is’ remains unthought. This gap, however, is named by Plato many times in his work. It is precisely what provides the key to the Platonic concept par excellence, participation, and it is not for nothing that at the very beginning of the Parmenides, before the entrance of the old master, Socrates has recourse to this concept in order to destroy Zeno’s arguments on the one and the multiple.[4]

Badiou proclaims “the multiple as heterogeneous dissemination,”[5] while Žižek rightly criticizes Meillassoux in particular and Speculative Realism in general for not having an adequate theory of the subject for the present, for the time of being in change.

I think that, in its very anti-transcendentalism, Meillassoux remains caught in the Kantian topic of the accessibility of the thing-in-itself: is what we experience as reality fully determined by our subjective-transcendental horizon, or can we get to know something about the way reality is independently of our subjectivity. Meillassoux’s claim is to achieve the breakthrough into independent ‘objective’ reality. For me as a Hegelian, there is a third option: the true problem that arises after we perform the basic speculative gesture of Meillassoux (transposing the contingency of our notion of reality into the thing itself) is not so much what more can we say about reality-in-itself, but how does our subjective standpoint, and subjectivity itself, fit into reality. The problem is not ‘can we penetrate through the veil of subjectively-constituted phenomena to things-inthemselves’, but ‘how do phenomena themselves arise within the flat stupidity of reality which just is, how does reality redouble itself and start to appear to itself ’. For this, we need a theory of subject which is neither that of transcendental subjectivity nor that of reducing the subject to a part of objective reality. This theory is, as far as I can see, still lacking in speculative realism.[6]

Today philosophy has a tendency to think outside the contemporary world, whereas the goal of Ancient Greek philosophy had been to find an orientation of thought for the good life in time. The quest was how to live in accordance with a conception of goodness in mind. This is not an abstract goal, but rather aims at transforming subjectivity as it is here and now.

If one took the point of being which seemed to be the smallest, much like a dream within sleep, it would immediately appear multiple instead of its semblance of one, and instead of its extreme smallness, it would appear enormous, compared to the dissemination that it is starting from itself.[7]

In his Logics of Worlds, Badiou makes a distinction between being and existence.

I have posed that existence is nothing other than the degree of self-identity of a multiple-being, such as it is established by a transcendental indexing. With regard to the multiple-being as thought in its being, it follows that its existence is contingent, since it depends—as a measurable intensity—on the world where the being, which is said to exist, appears. This contingency of existence is crucial for Kant, because it intervenes as a determination of the transcendental operation itself. This operation is effectively defined as ‘the application of the pure concepts of the understanding to possible experience’. In my vocabulary—and obviously with no reference to any ‘application’—this can be put as follows: the logical constitution of pure appearing, the indexing of a pure multiple on a worldly transcendental. But, just as with the object, Kant will immediately distinguish within this operation its properly transcendental or a priori facet from its receptive or empirical one.[8]

As the subject’s intensity of self-consciousness increases, so does its pain and anxiety in the face of death. This causes hopelessness and despair which may or may not lead to a total devastation of the project of inverting and putting into the spotlight the nothingness at the centre of the subject. Heidegger repeatedly puts all this down in Being and Time when he says that “being-towards-death is angst.” One cure for expelling anxiety has been to believe in god, any other metaphysical construct, or in some cases it has even taken the form of a materialist system of thought; in all these cases, however, an escape is seen as a solution when in fact it is the problem itself. For our concerns, an escapist attitude, and especially one that tries to go beyond the present, does not work at all, for what we are looking for is a way of learning to make use of the reality of the death drive as an interior exteriority constitutive of the subject as a creative agent of change at present, in the time of the living and the dead at once.

And finally here is the Lacanian definition of the subject referred to by Badiou towards the very end of Being and Event

I am not, there where I am the plaything of my thought; I think of what I am, there where I do not think I am thinking.[9]


Reference Matter

[1] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgment, trans. James Creed Meredith (London: Wilder Publications, 2008), 13

[2] Alain Badiou, Being and Event, Meditation Two: Plato, trans. Oliver Feltham (New York: Continuum, 2005), 31-7

[3] Badiou, BE, 23

[4] Badiou, BE, 36

[5] Badiou, BE, 33

[6] Slavoj Žižek, Interview with Ben Woodard, in The Speculative Turn: Continental Realism and Materialism, Graham Harman, Nick Srnicek, Levi Bryant (eds.), (Melbourne:, 2011), 415

[7] Badiou, BE, 34

[8] Alain Badiou, Logics of Worlds, Section Two, Kant, trans. Alberto Toscano (London: Continuum, 2009), 237

[9] Badiou, BE, 431

Zizek and Badiou on Philosophy and Psychoanalysis (Videos)














Dezarie ~ Download De Criminal

Postnihilistic Speculations: The Ontology of Non-Being

southern nights

For speculation which founded itself on the radical falsity of the Principle of Sufficient Reason would describe an absolute which would not constrain things to being thus rather than otherwise, but which would constrain them to being able not to be how they are.
….Quentin Meillassoux

Is this what we’ve been waiting for all along? The movement beyond the troubled circle of Being and becoming, of Time and its figural and literal tropes of disquieting lapses into finitude? The fragments of this lie all around us in such thinkers as Nietzsche, Bataille, Deleuze, Badiou, Zizek, and so many others within this metamorphic thought of a non-thought, this disquisition of an anathema.

My friend Cengiz Erdem in his essay Postnihilistic Speculations on That Which Is Not: A Thought-World According to an Ontology of Non-Beingcharts such a history:

A speculative move in the way of mapping the cartography of an ontology of non-being…

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Nihil Unbound: Subtractive Ontology and Thinking Capital

Total Assault On Culture

Here is my exegesis of Ray Brassier’s compelling conjectural reversal that moves from thinking Capital to the bold conclusion that Capital thinks. In his text ‘Nihil Unbound: Remarks on Subtractive Ontology and Thinking Capital’ he grapples with how it might be possible to think Capital by providing an objective determination-in-the-last-instance. Beyond the Marxist analysis of the dynamics of accumulation, Brassier draws on recent philosophical insights in continental thought, mathematics and informational theory that appear eminently useful supplementing our conceptualization of Capital as a dynamic that refuses totalization. In order to achieve this he examines the subtractive ontology of Alain Badiou — turning his attention to precisely that which Badiou’s axiomatic set-theory elides — reconciling it with the profound diagnosis of capitalism as auto-axiomatic by Deleuze and Guattari. He then supplements this with the innovative informational theory and epistemological sophistication of mathematician Gregory Chaitin — namely in his work on uncomputable…

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Ethics of the Anthropocene?

Much appreciated as always dear Craig. I shall return to this post as well as our recent dialogue on the Promethean responsibilities and the Hermetic ambitions of the Anthropocene as soon as possible. Meanwhile here is Catherine Malabou’s take on the subject

southern nights

 …the “ancient wound” that, never healed, “lets . . . the stars / Into the animal-stinking ghost-ridden darkness”…
……– Robinson Jeffers

This morning I got a pleasant surprise. My friend Cengiz Erdem, of Senselogi©, a Cyprian who lives in Kyrenia and teaches social psychology, literature, philosophy and critical theory, who received his doctoral degree in Cultural and Critical Theory from The University of East Anglia in May 2009 with The Life Death Drives, his PhD thesis quoted me and provided a wonderful reflection and opening onto his own philosophical stance: Altering the Supposedly Predestined Future. Cengiz in a previous post outlined his basic philosophical stance this way, saying,

To begin at the beginning we shall say that philosophy is the dialectical process of truth in time, it is an infinite questioning of that which is known, a continuity in change of the unknown, a practice of situating eternity in…

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Hermetico-Promethean Postnihilism



To begin at the beginning we shall say that philosophy is the dialectical process of truth in time, it is an infinite questioning of that which is known, a continuity in change of the unknown, a practice of situating eternity in time. Without a relation to the requirements of one’s own time philosophy may still mean many things, but these do not amount to anything worthy of rigorous consideration much. This doesn’t mean that philosophy must have an absolute conception of good and constantly strive towards it. Quite the contrary, if anything, philosophy would much rather resist against the evil within this inconsistent multiplicty falsely named world. No, there is no one world against which philosophy can situate itself, but rather many multiplicities out of which philosophy infers meanings and values in accordance with a better future in mind. Not necessarily better than today, but less worse than it will have been if nothing is done to slow down worsening. So having an idea of a better future is not necessarily imposing a totality, an absolute conception of goodness upon the multiplicity of existents. What’s at stake might as well be that the resistance aganist evil in time is itself a creative act sustaining the less worse condition of future existence. It’s all bad and it can only get worse, the question is this: How can we decelarate this worsening condition of we humans, we animals and we the plants?

My interest in science in general and neuroscience in particular derives from this understanding of philosophical activity as a dialectical process in nature. For me science is not an object of philosophy but a condition of it. Presumably you can already hear Badiou’s voice here, and rightly so I must say. Badiou had once said that “philosophy is the conceptual organisation of eternity in time.” What, then, is dialectic? Dialectic is simply “the unity of opposites,” as Fredric Jameson defines it in his Valences of the Dialectic. Everything has within itself nothing and inversely. The self and the other are always already reconciled, but in order to actualise this unity philosophy splits the one in such a way as to sustain the process of its reconciliation within itself. The one is not, it all begins with two and continues ad infinitum. Of course a designation such as Hermetico-Promethean post-nihilism is paradoxical, but this being paradoxial is itself creative of the space out of which something not only new but also good, or less worse than that which is or could be, can emerge. That said, a positively altered future itself only ever emerges from a split introduced in-between the past and the present, the good and the bad…


Now, I see nothing bad in interrupting the process of negativity, but needless to say one cannot achieve this by affirming it. One still needs negativity to interrupt negativity. It is in this sense that nihilism turned against itself becomes a condition of progressive philosophy. If science is making a huge progress while the whole planet is rapidly dying, what’s the point of that progress in science? It becomes a meaningless activity for its own sake. Without a future there can be no science either, but it is only by way of putting science into good uses that we can have a future. And when I say we I mean we humans, we animals and we the plants. Paradoxical though as it may sound, robots are of no concern to me, but enhancement technologies such as neuroplasticity softwares are…

I take whatever rings true to me in accordance with my intention. Intending something is not necessarilly willing without consciousness. One may be driven to anything at all, including willing nothingness as Nietzsche has taught us, adding that “man would much rather will nothingness than not will.” Although Nietzsche’s proclamation may be valid for some, it is not necessarily valid for all. To say again now what I’ve already said some other time, I’m still up for consciously desiring good life. That said, I reckon it’s not even worth mentioning that will, drive and desire are not the same thing. As for the difference between consciousness and self-consciousness, we must return to Hegel as always. There are indeed many illusions in this life, some for life yet some others not, some necessary while some irrelevant. Not that I am one, and yet it’s not for nothing that Hegel had once said, “the great man of his time is he who expresses the will and the meaning of that time, and then brings it to completion; he acts according to the inner spirit and essence of his time, which he realizes.” This, I think, is still true and ever will be, if we are to have a future worthy of the name, that is…


Academics Including Harvey, Chomsky, Ali and Balibar: We will not be a party to this crime

Noam Chomsky

“A petition entitled “We will not be a party to this crime”, calling on PM Erdogan and the Turkish government to stop the unlawful curfews in Kurdish cities that have caused many civilian deaths, was signed by 1128 Turkish scholars and almost 400 world-renowned intellectuals, including David Harvey, Noam Chomsky, Tariq Ali, and Etienne Balibar.”

“We ask the state to put an end to violence inflicted against citizens right now, we as academics and researchers of this country declare that we won’t be a party to this crime and that promise that we will sustain our stance in the presence of political parties, parliament and international public”.

Over 1,400 academics and researchers from Turkey and abroad have signed the statement titled “We will not be a party to this crime”.

Academics for Peace which has initiated the campaign has shared their next steps and signees in the press statement held simultaneously in İstanbul and Ankara.

1,128 academics from 89 universities in Turkey, and over 355 academics and researchers from abroad including figures such as Noam Chomsky, Judith Butler, Etienne Balibar and David Harvey have signed a text calling on state of Turkey to end state violence and prepare negotiation conditions.

The petition is ongoing.

As academics and researchers of this country, we will not be a party to this crime!

“The Turkish state has effectively condemned its citizens in Sur, Silvan, Nusaybin, Cizre, Silopi, and many other towns and neighborhoods in the Kurdish provinces to hunger through its use of curfews that have been ongoing for weeks. It has attacked these settlements with heavy weapons and equipment that would only be mobilized in wartime. As a result, the right to life, liberty, and security, and in particular the prohibition of torture and ill-treatment protected by the constitution and international conventions have been violated.

This deliberate and planned massacre is in serious violation of Turkey’s own laws and international treaties to which Turkey is a party. These actions are in serious violation of international law.

We demand the state to abandon its deliberate massacre and deportation of Kurdish and other peoples in the region. We also demand the state to lift the curfew, punish those who are responsible for human rights violations, and compensate those citizens who have experienced material and psychological damage. For this purpose we demand that independent national and international observers to be given access to the region and that they be allowed to monitor and report on the incidents.

We demand the government to prepare the conditions for negotiations and create a road map that would lead to a lasting peace which includes the demands of the Kurdish political movement. We demand inclusion of independent observers from broad sections of society in these negotiations. We also declare our willingness to volunteer as observers. We oppose suppression of any kind of the opposition.

We, as academics and researchers working on and/or in Turkey, declare that we will not be a party to this massacre by remaining silent and demand an immediate end to the violence perpetrated by the state. We will continue advocacy with political parties, the parliament, and international public opinion until our demands are met”. (BK/TK)

* For international support, please send your signature, name of your university and your title to .

Related Links


Roar Mag

Revolution News


Zizek and the Hungry Seagull

Appeal by Sartre, Foucault, Guattari, Deleuze and others on imprisonment of Italian intellectuals, 1977

Sartre, Foucault et al 1977 - Appeal by Sartre

In 1977 Sartre, Foucault, Guattari, Deleuze, Barthes, and others wrote an open letter protesting about the imprisonment and investigation of a number of Italian intellectuals, including ‘Bifo’ (Franco Berardi) and Antonio Negri. I’d not seen this before and it is the first (but I’m sure not the last) thing missing from my bibliography of ‘The Uncollected Foucault‘ which recently appeared in Foucault Studies.

An English version appeared in Italy, 1977-8: ‘Living with an Earthquake’, a pamphlet published by Red Notes in 1978. Few libraries have a copy and second-hand versions sell for obscene amounts. The inside front-cover of the pamphlet says that “This pamphlet or any part of it may be freely reproduced by any tendency in the revolutionary movement. Copyright protects it from being poached by capitalists.”

I’ve uploaded a scan of the two pages here.

You can download the whole of Red Notes, Italy 1977-8: ‘Living with an Earthquake’ – entire pdf or individual pieces.

Stuart Elden

via Progressive Geographies

Zero Cult ~ Heartwork

On the eve of philosophy and beyond it the logic of sense lost itself in calculations without end, only to find itself in this poetic time of truth eternally dismembered…

The Collapse of Change: A View from the Future

This video narrates the story of the collapse of human civilisation from the perspective of a desolate future of earth to come. Special attention is paid to the demise of capitalism itself as the final stage of human extinction. It’s a rather sarcastic gaze upon our present human-condition which is driven by the saying, “it is easier to imagine the end of the world than the end of capitalism.”

The Collapse of Change: A View from the Future from Centre for Digital Cultures on Vimeo.

synthetic zerø

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Derrida and Laruelle in Conversation

 Controversy over the Possibility of a Science of Philosophy
Jacques Derrida and François Laruelle

JD: Mines is not an easy task. After what youve just heard, you can see the risk I took in speaking of François Laruelles ‘polemos.

You spoke in the name of a certain peace. Yet I have to admit that, with regard to polemos and terror, there were moments while I was listening to your description of philosophical terror as transcendentally constitutive of philosophy, etc., when I was sometimes tempted to see in your own description a rigorous analysis of what you were in fact doing here. I say sometimes, because I did not succumb to the temptation. I shall nevertheless attempt to say something else. I am obliged here to play devils advocate.

Among the many questions I would have liked to ask you, slowly, patiently, text in hand, in the manner befitting a philosophical society or a scientific community; from among all these questions, it seems natural for me to pick a few and to formulate them in a schematic fashion, since we dont have much time, and to refrain, at least for the time being, from referring to your latest book1.

I shall state in a word or two, bluntly, the questions which occurred to me while listening to you, and my perplexities.

Would you say that the scientific community, the community of science, of the new science which you described, is a community without a socius, in the sense in which you defined the socius?

This question is not about whether or not you have been cautious enough, but rather about the way in which your precautions run riot and counteract one another. When you talk about the essence of science, while being careful to say that what is at stake is this essence prior to its political and social appropriations, which is to say prior to what is called its effectivity, its effectivity rather than its reality─where do you find this essence of science, which science in its effectivity always falls short of? What is it apart from its effectivity, its political and social appropriations? This is a very general question, which I shall naturally try to reiterate by means of other questions which I have prepared.

My first question ─a massive one─ concerns the reality of this real which you constantly invoked in your talk, or ─and this comes to the same thing─ the scientificity of this science, this new science, since this reality and this scientificity seem to be related. You oppose reality to a number of things; you oppose it to totality ─it is not the whole, beings as a whole─ and you also stressed its distinction from effectivity and possibility. The distinction between reality and possibility doesnt look all that surprising.
But what is rather more surprising is when you oppose reality to philosophy. If
we were to ask you in a classical manner, or in what you call the ontologico-Heideggerian manner “What is the reality of this real?”, and whether
it is a specification of being, you would I suppose dismiss this type of question, which still belongs to the regime of ontologico-philosophical
discourse, and even to its deconstruction, since it is easy to assimilate the
latter to the former. Such a question would still be governed by this law of
philosophical society to which you oppose this real, the new science,

What makes it difficult to go along with the movement I would like to accompany you in, is that it sometimes seems to me to consist in you carrying out a kind of violent shuffling of the cards in a game whose rules are known to you alone… Which is to say that the hand ends up being completely reshuffled. The only thing is that I seem to detect ─and this is probably a philosophical illusion on my part, one which I would like you to disabuse me of─ a real and philosophical programme which has already been tried and tested. For example, when you say:

“By way of contrast, one can ask another question, one about [sciences] conditions of reality. I am careful not to say ‘conditions of possibility, these being the metaphysical and the State combined together with the metaphysical and philosophical interpretation of science, whereas I am talking about sciences transcendental conditions of reality…”

Under what conditions is research a real activity as opposed to a social illusion? This is all the more crucial given that you go on to state:

“The problem then becomes that of a critique of reason [let us say heuristical]; of a real rather than merely philosophical critique.”

Is this distinction pertinent for a transcendental philosophy? Can a transcendental philosophy distinguish between the possible and the real in the way in which you yourself do?

I should say that I often felt myself in agreement with you. For instance, with your initial description of the researcher, of research insofar as it seemed to follow a certain Heideggerian logic, in the description you gave of the principle of reason, and what you said about programming and about non goal-oriented research, which in fact re-institutes a goal…; I was willing to subscribe to all this. Then you went on to oppose to this description this new science, which you distinguished from its political, social, etc., appropriations, and there, obviously, I had the impression you were reintroducing philosophemes ─the transcendental being only one of them─ into this description, this conception of the new science, the One, the real, etc. There, all of a sudden, I said to myself: hes trying to pull the trick of the transcendental on us again, the trick of auto-foundation, auto-legitimation, at the very moment when he claims to be making a radical break. So if, for example, the distinction ‘real/possible is pertinent independently of philosophies of the transcendental type, another hypothesis arises, which I immediately have to dismiss along with you: isnt this distinction already characteristic of a Marxist or neo-Marxist type programme? Real and no longer philosophical: at least insofar as the philosophical would seem to be restricted to a theoretical rather than transformative interpretation and hence would remain confined to what you call the social illusion. But you rule out this hypothesis for us by telling us that when you say ‘real, you are not referring to material structures. So I seemed to understand that this kind of Marxist-style interpretation was also among the things you wanted to rule out.

You claim that:

“This amphiboly of philosophy and the real, which is the secret of philosophical decision, can only be discovered in accordance with another, generally non-philosophical experience of the real.”

Here, I would like you to explain very pedagogically what you mean by a ‘generally non-philosophical experience of the real.

You also claim that:

“Philosophy and unconstrained research are the abundant forgetting of their real essence; not of their conditions of possibility but of their conditions of reality. There is no forgetting of philosophy; on the other hand, there is a forgetting by philosophy as principle of sufficient philosophy of its own real essence.”

A little further down, we encounter this notion of ‘force, about which I have many questions I would like to ask you:

“[I]t is this latter thesis that must be radically contested in order to found a critique that would be more forceful than all the deconstructions of philosophical sufficiency.”

This motif of force reoccurs forcefully but associated with a project of auto-foundation, of transcendental legitimation ─these are the terms you use, albeit in inverted commas, and my question concerns these inverted commas. I could have been very quick and simply asked you: what is the status of inverted commas in your text?

For example, when you say “This instance must be real rather than material; it must be of a cognitive order in order to measure up to philosophy and to research; finally, it must have its foundation and legitimation in itself, without requiring the mediation of philosophy, which is to say it must be transcendental in its own way.” ─ my question, my perplexity, the point on which I am asking for illumination is: What is a transcendental project of auto-foundation and auto-legitimation when it is non-philosophical? And when you then go on to attribute this non-philosophical project of transcendental auto-foundation, auto-legitimation, to a science, to what you call science insofar as you distinguish it from all of its appropriations, and which you also call the force-of-thought (you yourself underline the ‘the), my question is: What is it in this force, this science, that is not philosophical, etc?

This force will be a force capable of ─I dont want to go too far and say that it will be capable of imposing peace─ but it is nevertheless a force in the name of which the peace proper to this community founded by the new science will be possible.
What is this force belonging to a subject whose undivided identity, without
identification, anterior to division, will ultimately found a community? When
one knows, having read you, that the One to which you refer in your discourse,
and on the basis of which you critique ─you prefer ‘critique to
‘deconstructing─, or rather send philosophy packing; when this force, this subject, this science, this undivided subject, is a ‘One which you tell us is not the identical, must not be understood in the classically philosophical sense of ‘One; what then is the difference between this One and the entire chain that accompanies it, i.e. science, the real, the entire community, enforced peace, free peace?

What is the difference between this One and what others call ‘difference, since it is not identity?

Ultimately, all the questions I wanted to ask you come down to this schema: Why do you reduce ─and isnt there a violence here of the kind you denounce in philosophical society?─ so many gestures which could accompany you along the path you wish to pursue?
To take just one example among many: the gesture of proposing scientific approaches which would no longer conform to the conception of current practices, to the philosophical concept of science; of interrogating certain discourses which claim to be scientific, of helping science make critical progress through movements which would no longer conform to what is understood
in those appropriations which you talked about?

Why ignore the existence of this gesture in the various deconstructions which you evoked in passing?

Why, in this or that approach putting forward propositions very similar to yours─ for example, with regard to constitution, given that you said that some things were un-constituted─ why class these gestures among everything else you dismiss? It is obvious that among movements of the deconstructive type, which you have thought about and whose analysis you have developed at greater length in your book, there is among other things a movement to deconstruct the model of constitution, to avoid that constitutive or constitutional schema which you identify with everything you want to reject.

Why proceed thus, if not on account of a gesture tantamount to socio-philosophical war? There, bluntly put, are all the questions I would like to have been able to formulate better, in a situation other than one of improvisation and haste.

To what do you tie your concept of democracy, what does ‘democracy mean, once this concept is emptied of all its philosophemes?

FL: I notice that all your questions are interrelated, obviously; they form a coherent whole, just as one might expect. These questions are indicative of the resistance of the Principle of sufficient philosophy.

JD: No surprise there, needless to say…

FL: Which is to say that your questions have a very particular style, which I found highly interesting, that of retortion: “Youre just like those you criticize”; “Youre doing just what you claim to abhor”. You taught me in your work that one should be wary of retortion. So I would like to suggest that to the extent that you are making a certain use of retortion, and this is a theme that recurred throughout, right up to the end via the accusation of socio-philosophical war, then it is necessarily the case that some of your objections in a certain way say precisely the opposite of what I said.

Let me take your first question. You tell me I am practising terror [prostestations from Jacques Derrida].

Do I practice terror? There are obviously two readings of my text. There is a philosophical reading, one in which I do practice terror. And there is a non-philosophical reading, which is obviously my reading. And from the latter point of view, I am reluctant to concede that I am practising terror. I would like to suggest to you why not.

I was careful to say that terror was bound up with overturning. I only used the word ‘terror in contexts that related it to overturning.

So, are the relations I described between science and philosophy relations of overturning?

Absolutely not. The whole problem for me, having studied your work along with that of other contemporary philosophers, lay in defining a point of view on philosophy that would not be acquired philosophically; which is to say, a point of view that would not be acquired via philosophical operations, be they those of doubt, controversy, or overturning as principal philosophical operation, and even displacement insofar as it is of a piece with overturning. From science to philosophy ─and I will return to this point, since this is the direction that governs everything I write─ there is no overturning. There is merely a limitation, but one which does not take the form of an overturning. Perhaps it should be stated more explicitly: there is a limitation of philosophy by science; that is all.
But I absolutely do not overturn philosophy; were I claiming to overthrow it,
it would be a pointless gesture, a zero-sum game. The entire enterprise would
then be contradictory.

JD: When you say you are calling into question the sufficiency of philosophy, in what way is that particular gesture different from a host of others, mine among them…? Why erase the latter gesture and consign it to the realm of sufficiency?

FL: You often claim that I conjoin ontology and deconstruction. Obviously, I only conjoin them under certain conditions, not generally, and I have sufficiently emphasized in other works how seriously I take the difference between certain forms of metaphysics and your own work on and in metaphysics. But if I allow myself to conjoin them, it is in the name of the struggle against the Principle of sufficient philosophy, and in that regard alone. What is more, I do not call any philosophy into question, since I posit the equivalence of all philosophical decisions.

What is probably wounding for philosophers is the fact that, from the point of view I have adopted, I am obliged to posit that there is no principle of choice between a classical type of ontology and the deconstruction of that ontology. There is no reason to choose one rather than the other. This is a problem I discussed at great length in my book [Les philosophies de la différence]: whether there can be a principle of choice between philosophies. Ultimately, it is the problem of philosophical decision. And I sought a point of view ─one may then query the way in which I arrived at it, or constituted it─ which implies the equivalence of all philosophical decisions, or in other words, what I call democracy and peace.

Obviously, I defined democracy and peace only insofar as these might be pertinent for a community of philosophers, and only within the bounds of that framework. So I am in no way conflating your work with a classical ontology, not at all. But in the name of the principle of sufficient philosophy, and since I adopt a point of view which allows one to discover the latter principle, I am obliged to stipulate that equivalence. Because the principle of sufficient philosophy cannot be discovered from within philosophy. It can only be discovered from elsewhere.

But I would like to return to this point about terror, because it is really close to my heart.

There is no overturning of philosophy. There isnt even a reduction in the Husserlian sense, or a bracketing of philosophical decision. There is, if one wants to take up the term reduction ─but you will take me up me on my use of philosophical vocabulary so I will come back to this in a moment─ what I call an already accomplished, already actual reduction of philosophical decision by science. Because science is precisely not constituted in the way in which a philosophy is constituted, through a set of operations among which there may be transcendental reductions; science is already a transcendental reduction in act. And that is why the order I follow, the real order, is the order which proceeds from science to philosophy. If you follow the opposite trajectory ─and as a philosopher, someone who is in a certain sense governed by the principle of sufficient philosophy, you cannot but follow the opposite trajectory─ you will necessarily register my gesture as a particularly aggressive one. But I am bound to tell you ─and this is the consistency proper to my own position─ that your impression of terrorism and aggression is an impression that is internal to philosophical resistance; it is a philosophical self-defence mechanism.

On then to the second problem, that of the new science. It seems to me that, unless I made a mistake, I did not speak of a ‘new science?

JD: I am absolutely sure of it.

FL: If I did then it was in a certain sense a philosophical lapse, precisely. Philosophy is always stronger than one imagines. In no way do I want to talk of a ‘new science, precisely because what I mean by science is what everyone else means by science. What I dont want to do is reiterate the philosophical distinction between the so-called empirical sciences and transcendental science. This is precisely the distinction I dont want to make because to do so would be to reconstitute a hierarchy whereby philosophy can characterize itself as thinking while relegating science to the status of a merely blind, technical production of various kinds of knowledge.

Since my concept of the transcendental differs from the use to which philosophy puts it, likewise, my concept of the empirical will also differ from its use in philosophy. For me, all sciences, even those philosophy degrades by calling them ‘empirical; all these sciences partake of transcendental structures. They are already consistent in themselves, they already have access to the real. On the other hand, what is possible is a science, maybe a new one ─or at least one that could be called ‘new insofar as it still has to be constructed─ , a science that I will call transcendental and whose goal will consist simply in describing the transcendental constitution of those sciences which philosophy calls ‘empirical. But this transcendental science is not superior to those empirical sciences, since it no longer relates to them in the ways in which philosophy related to them. It is a science absolutely on the same level as the others.
There is in a certain sense a community, a kind of equivalence among all
sciences, whether ordinary or transcendental. I wanted to break the relation of
domination which philosophy enjoys over the other sciences.

JD: This is what you wrote:

“Thus a community of researchers in philosophy will be democratic and peaceful only if it refrains from founding itself upon the principle of sufficient philosophy in order to consider itself as the subject of science. And if it then contents itself with treating philosophy simply as the object of a new science and new practices elaborated upon that foundation …”

FL:What I describe with the term ‘essence of science are the
structures of any science whatsoever. Once these transcendental structures have
been elaborated, or rather once these already existing structures have been
described (it is not my description which creates them), it then becomes
possible to envisage a specific science for philosophy and to extend, so
to speak, scientificity as I understand it to the study of philosophy itself.
So in this sense, yes, there would indeed be a new science to create, but the
science I describe is the most banal, most ordinary kind of science.

You also asked me: Isnt there also a socius in science? Yes, obviously; I alluded to it when I said, with regard to the politics of science, that the latter are an overdetermination of transcendental structures, which I have not analyzed here.
I left it to one side precisely because it is an overdetermination. But obviously, the sociological, political, economic intrications of science need to be analyzed, and its transcendental structures include or may be affected by the effective conditions for the production of forms of knowledge. I do not deny

You ask: Where does this essence of science come from?

This is obviously the principal question, in a sense, because it means: From where do you derive what you are telling us? There are two ways of answering this question: a philosophical answer, which I dont want to give, and a rigorously transcendental answer. The philosophical answer would be to say: Having reflected upon the philosophical decision and the ultimate prerequisites for transcendence, for the mixture of transcendence and immanence, I concluded that philosophy assumed something like the One and the One had always been presupposed by philosophy but that the essence of the latter had never been elucidated by philosophy.

But I have to say that this answer did not satisfy me at all, because it led me to position myself in your territory, which is that of philosophy, and to want to give a ‘false (the term is not quite right) description of what is at stake. The true answer I must give to you ─maybe it will seem rather cavalier to you─ but ultimately it is just as simple as the question:

“Where do I get this from?”

I get it from the thing itself. This is as rigorous an answer I am able to give. Because the criterion for my discourse was a rigorously immanent or transcendental criterion, there is no other answer I can give on pain of placing myself upon the terrain of effectivity, and I neither can nor want to think science on the basis of transcendental effectivity.

JD: I dont understand what ‘transcendental means outside of philosophy. But when you tell us: My answer is the thing itself, I want to put two questions to you: Isnt this a philosophical move, the appeal to the thing itself? What; which; what is the thing itself?

FL: The One is the thing itself.

JD: You think that the relation to the One as the thing itself is a non-philosophical relation or experience?

FL: Yes, precisely because it is not a relation. This is the crux of the
misunderstanding, which is to say that you insist on wanting to make a philosophical reading, through the prism or optic of the philosophical decision, albeit a decision which has been worked upon ─you persist in trying to read what I am doing through the medium of philosophy.

No doubt, you will object: “But you yourself constantly use philosophy. In the name of what do you allow yourself to use the term ‘transcendental or the term ‘One if not in the name of philosophy?”

I have to tell you that this is an absolutely standard, normal, common objection; it is always the one people put to me first: “You use philosophy in order to talk about something which you claim is not philosophical.” Listen…the objection is so fundamental that it is
tantamount to indicting me of a crude, rudimentary self-contradiction. It is
entirely obvious that I allow myself the right, the legitimate right, to use
philosophical vocabulary non-philosophically.

It is a defining characteristic of philosophy, of the principle of sufficient philosophy and its unitary will, to believe that all use of language is always ultimately philosophical, whether sooner or later. Philosophy, which I characterize as a ‘unitary mode of thought, cannot imagine for an instant that language can be used in two ways: there is the use of language in science, which is not at all philosophical, contrary to what philosophy itself postulates in order to establish itself as epistemology or fundamental ontology of science; and the use of language in philosophy. Philosophy postulates that every use of language is a use with a view to the logos, or what I call a use-of-the-logos, language being taken as constitutive of the being of things. From this point of view, if this were the only possible use of language, then obviously an escape from philosophy would be out of the question. But I postulate ─actually, I dont postulate it, since I begin by taking them as indissociably given together from the outset ─the block of the real as One and a certain use of language which corresponds to this particular conception of the real. Since I take as indissociably given from the outset a certain use of language, which is not the use of the logos, and the One which founds it, I do not contradict myself, I do not relapse into philosophical contradiction. Philosophy has a deeply ingrained fetishism, which is obviously that of metaphysics, but which may not be entirely destroyed by philosophical critiques of metaphysics, and this is the belief that ultimately all use of language is carried out with a view to being, in order to grant being, or to open being, etc.; that all use of language is ‘positional.

But science ─I dont have time to develop this here─ makes a non-positional, non-thetic use of language. There is an entire theory of scientific representation waiting to be elaborated, because the latter does not have the same ‘ontological structure as philosophical representation. I think that most of the objections put to me are a consequence of this belief that there is only one use of language, and that not only does being speak through language, but as soon as you begin to speak, it is ultimately being that speaks and you are no more than an intermediary. It is this belief that science extirpates. That is why I allow myself the right to use the term ‘transcendental under conditions that are no longer ontological, my only problem then being to display a requisite degree of internal rigour or consistency, which is to say, to transform the word ‘transcendental so as to render it better suited to describe this non-thetic experience which the One is. So if I continually oppose the One of science, which from my point of view explains scientific thoughts profoundly realist character, its blind aspect, its deafness to the logos, its unbearable character for philosophy; if I distinguish this particular One from philosophical unity, this is for reasons that are relatively precise, ones which provided the starting point for these investigations. It seems to me that philosophy cannot help but deploy itself through a hybrid structure that combines transcendence and immanence. Whatever their modes, however varied these two coordinates, philosophical space is a space with two coordinates, transcendence and immanence. It may be that metaphysical transcendence has a kind of tain or lining of alterity; that may well be possible, in which case there would no longer be just two dimensions, but three or four, one could try to discover them. But it seems to me to be a defining characteristic of philosophy to combine something like a position with something like a decision, and hence to deploy unity, but to always deploy unity along with its opposite.
This opposite may not always be immediately given, one may have the impression
that it has been expelled from immanent unity, but in reality transcendence
returns in the form of a pedagogy: you are told that the soul has to identify
itself with the One…Philosophy thereby shifts to a pedagogical stance which reintroduces transcendence, and as a result the One of philosophy…(there is no doubt that the subject is obliged to identify with the One) simultaneously transcends the subject.

But I claim that sciences paradoxical nature for philosophy, its fundamentally obscure, non-reflexive character from the viewpoint of philosophy ─which explains why philosophy has denigrated it throughout the centuries, since Plato at least and right through to Heidegger (“science does not think”)─ follows from the fact that with science immanence is given right from the outset in itself and solely by itself. Absolutely immanent data, Husserl used to say, are without “the slightest fragment of world”. I am in fact very close to Husserl, obviously, but with one slight difference, which is precisely the crucial, non-philosophical difference, and which is that with Husserl, in spite of everything, a transcendental reduction is required in order to actualize the transcendental ego. But I claim that in science, no preliminary transcendental reduction is required: we already necessarily start from the One. Which obviously seems very odd: this is not where we expected to find science! We start from the One, we dont arrive at it. We start from the One, which is to say that if we go anywhere, it will be toward the world, toward Being. And I frequently use a formulation which is obviously shocking for philosophers, particularly those of a Platonist or Plotinian bent: its not the One that is beyond Being; its Being that is beyond the One. Its Being that is the other of the One.

Hence this great upheaval, this seismic shift in philosophical concepts, which philosophy is in a certain sense obliged to suppress. But as I have often repeated, it is neither a permutation nor an overturning.

As for the distinction between the possible and the real, obviously, it is initially a philosophical distinction. But in philosophy one distinguishes between the empirical real and the possible (the a priori), and then the real of possibility; one envisages a synthesis or mixture of possibility and the real. All I am saying is that science is a type of thinking that is realist in the last instance and that it is exclusively realist. At least initially, or in the last instance, because obviously I have not developed the analysis of science, particularly the problem of objectivity, which would have complicated matters a bit. But science in its principle or absolute foundation does not acknowledge the possible, it knows only the real. Obviously, it will make use of the possible and effectivity, but it will make use of them on this basis, which is to say that contrary to philosophy, which very often starts from the empirical in order to posit the possible or the a priori in opposition to the empirical ─and you know all the problems this generated for Kantianism, and how the neo-Kantians tried to overcome this problem of the a priori posited in opposition to the empirical, a problem the disciples of Kant and Fichte were already aware of─ science starts directly from the One, which is to say from the most radical experience there is. You have to start from the real, otherwise youll never get to it.

Who wants the real?
Philosophy. And because it wants the real, it never gets it, which is to say it
has realization instead, in other words, war.

The force in the name of which peace is imposed?

If I grant myself this force as One, through a use of language which corresponds to this anteriority of the real over representation, then I am quite straightforwardly obliged to deduce peace from it, an undivided peace, as I said; I must deduce it from science, I cannot do otherwise, it is simply a matter of rigour. So either youre saying that this entire project is an act of force, in which case, obviously, all of its details are also acts of force; or we have to start from this One and this real.

As for this interpretation in terms of an ‘act of force, I am perfectly willing to acknowledge its plausibility if I position myself on the terrain of philosophy. But I think that once one has, not made the leap, because it is precisely not a leap, but rather realized the ‘stance proper to science, there is no act of force. I did not claim to be exiting philosophy, that is not my project at all… My project is quasi-scientific and science is not governed by any practical ends, at least not to my knowledge. In this regard, I am very Spinozistic: all teleology must be absolutely eliminated. Science contents itself with description and my attitude is purely descriptive. In reality, science contents itself with describing the order of the real, and the order of the real goes from science toward philosophy. It is philosophy which transcends science; science is not some sort of black block or black transcendence for philosophy, contrary to what some claim.

I understand why one may have the impression of terrorism or of a totally uncompromising set of demands. I think that in theory there can be no compromise, unless compromise is constitutive of the real. But since I dont think that compromise is constitutive of the real, I make none, I remain content with being consistent, which is to say that I try to elaborate a rigorous science.

1-Les philosophies de la différence, Paris: P.U.F.,

Paru en français dans La décision philosophique n°5.

Translated by Ray Brassier
via ONPhI

Ray Brassier in conversation with Thomas Metzinger

A Special Form of Darkness

Picture by Alex Woodward @ Crimson Glow Photography / Arika

Ray Brassier: I am going to begin, first of all, by talking about, or asking Thomas about the concept of transparency. The title of this event A Special Form of Darkness, actually comes from, is a quotation taken from Thomas’ work. The quotation is “The transparency is a special form of darkness.” And transparency in Thomas’ work is the idea that we experience the world through various complicated representational mechanisms. But we never represent these representational mechanisms themselves. We have minimal access to the machinery that conditions our subjective experience. The simplest way to understand transparency is that if you are looking through a window, the plain of glass which frames the optical vision, the optical image that you are contemplating, is not itself registered as an object in the visual field. In other words, the physical frame and a medium through which this visual scene is experienced is not itself part, or a component of the visual experience. So first thing, Thomas, is what I have said an adequate description of the concept of transparency. And why do you think it is such a crucial idea? Why do you think it has very, very, significant implications for understanding the way which we experience ourselves?

Thomas Metzinger: Well, a steep start. A difficult philosophical concept right in the beginning. So, in philosophy there are at least three technical uses of transparency. And the one you have mentioned is phenomenal transparency. So the first thing to notice is that it is a property of conscious states only. Unconscious states are neither transparent nor opaque. But it is not entirely true that all conscious states, all conscious experience, is transparent. If you remind me I will give some examples of opaque conscious states later. So let’s take a simple example, the idea is if you all have this conscious visual perception of this microphone here, right now, there are edges, there is surface, texture, there is a color. And in your conscious mind appears as a bound object. And even if you were to belief what scientist tell us that there are no colored objects in the world, and this is just an internal microphone model that is currently active in your visual system, in your brain, its hard to believe it, because its so ultra realistic. And transparency is about experiential realism. If we would have a picture of the microphone projected to the screen there, then you could say, I’ll go to the screen and look at it closely and I will see little pixels and then I will realize, oh, there is a projector, this is constructed, there is a medium, there is a screen, there is a light beam. With conscious experience you can’t do this. Even if you would believe what this crazy philosopher says that this is all just actually a reality model active in your brain right now. You can look a this microphone as hard as you want to. There are no pixels. And the empirical hypothesis is that the construction process in your brain is so fast and so reliable, optimized by millions of years of evolution that you just get the final product – the content – a microphone in front of me. And this is the reason that this is a transparently active neuronal representation in your brain, right now, that it seems so real to you. That you just cannot believe all this should be, as I’ve sometimes called it, a form of online dreaming. A form of a very complex, multi root simulation, right now. Why is this interesting? First thing, it explains why all of us are according to their own subjective experience, naive realists. I mean, it just feels real. You all, for instance, have the feeling that you’re situated in this room, right now. Embedded, its totally seamless and real, and in a way we know its not true. Could be the same in a dream. It’s determined by internal factors, the neuronal dynamics in your brain, right now. So, I will mention just two applications of this. In my own work the most interesting general step has been that I have applied this to the self model active in your brain, right now. So I have said that human self model is also transparent which means that the system harboring it, developing it, cannot experience it as a model. And that is how the quality of being someone, of selfhood, emerges in a informational processing system. If it operates under transparent self model it will, so to speak, be glued to the content of that self model. For instance, as you probably all right now have the experience that you are just directly in touch with your body, that you feel you body from the inside, you are not. You are introspecting the content of a model of your body. You could have that experience, in principle, as a disembodied brain in a liquid which was perhaps appropriately stimulated, or something like this. So its a local phenomenon in the brain, but the question is how does this super realistic experience A.) of not being in the brain, and B.) being someone, emerges? In a nutshell, my idea has been that this identification, this experience of being infinitely close to your self, that this is because of large parts of the human self model are transparent. There is a second thing – transparency is not only about microphones looking ultra realistic, or your arms feeling ultra realistic, or the whole scene. There are other forms of conscious experience. I will give an example: certainty. If you shake analytical philosopher and say: now what is that, what is certainty? He will say something very boring, for instance, like that this is this knowing that you know. If you know something and you also know that you know it – that is certainty. Now, we all have that, we all know the phenomenology of certainty, right? Sometimes we have these very deep intuitions. And we have this direct experience of certainty. This world exists. I exist. This isn’t asshole, I just looking to his face. Transparent [he clasps], right? And this experience if it’s transparent it feels ultra real but its just an appearance. So, it could be that there are things about which we have this very, very deep and solid experience of certainty, beliefs, intuitions, or something, and there is no certainty involved. You would need a completely independent argument to show that this is knowledge. So things could really feel like knowledge, and things could feel like certainty but they just could be a transparent representations in you brain.

Ray Brassier: OK. I think the point you’ve just made is very important. The fact that once we understand the notion of transparency we can’t invest phenomenological experience, which is to say, our immediate conscious experience of reality, with the kind of cognitive authority many philosophers want to invest with. In other words, many philosophers think that, you know, Descartes most famously, thinks that obviously you can reasonably doubt a lots of things. You can doubt that the world is, as it seems to be, in fact, you can entertain hypothesis that you’re in fact being systematically deceived about the nature of reality by an evil demon. And it’s plausible to think that you’re the victim of a vast conspiracy which is masking the true nature of reality. But what Descartes then says is the one thing you cannot doubt that you’re doubting, the experience, the subjective experience of bewilderment or of confusion is real, has a kind of an indubitable authority. Which is why Descartes basically argues that you can be wrong about how things are but you can’t be wrong about how thingsseem to you to be. So on this level, immediate conscious experience has, for Descartes, kind of epistemic authority. It means, you do know something, you know about how things seem to you. Now, one of the things that I think is suggested in your work, is that because we’re not entitled to be, because our certainty does not license cognitive certainty, it means that just because we’re absolutely convinced of something it does not mean that it really is … It doesn’t mean that we know about it.

Thomas Metzinger: What you mentioned is just that second notion of transparency: epistemic transparency. I mean, a classical assumption following Descartes for many people was: I cannot be wrong about the contents of my own mind. I can be wrong about the things in the world but I can’t be wrong about what is going on in my own conscious mind. And that is one thing that I think has historically flown out the window through hundred years of scientific neuropsychology in the last century. We know many cases where people are wrong about the contents of their own mind and not able to notice this fact.

Ray Brassier: Could you give some examples? I think this is very helpful …

Thomas Metzinger: There are different forms of the so called anosognosia, where people will have a disease and not be able to experience the fact that they have a disease. For instance, they may have a hemorrhage and their whole left side of the body will be paralyzed. And you come to them and they want to go home and you say how long have you’ve been here? They say, oh two weeks. And why do you think you’ve been here and people say, my left side is paralyzed but its not paralyzed. And you say, could you please take your left index finger and point at the doctors nose? And patient says: yes! And the arm, of course, does not move at all. You say, can you see you own finger in front of the doctor’s nose? And the patient says: yes I see it, right now. We have also extreme psychiatric syndromes like Cotard syndrome which is just basically like the mirror image of Descartes. Descartes said: I am certain that I myself exist because somebody has to think or doubt. And these Cotard patients they have what is called monothematic delusion. You can talk to them pretty well. They’re not completely crazy. But they defend a thesis that they’re dead or that they do not exist. And they demand, you know, take this body and throw it away, get disposed of it, get rid of it. So the have this firm, stable conviction that they do not exist. The first neurologist who diagnosed it, he call it nihilistic delusion. There are so many of these examples. I’ve seen videos with people with certain brain lesion, typically old people who can not recognize themselves in the mirror anymore. Mirror self-recognition, we now know, is – some chimps have it, bottle-nose dolphins have it, some elephants have it. Children develop it between 18 and 25 months – the capacity to recognize themselves on the video tape or in the mirror. And some human beings lose that after brain lesions or old age dementia. They have a problem that there is a stranger in the mirror. There is a strange person there always and they complain. I’ve seen this video where you stand with this patient in front of the mirror and say, so this is not you. And whose the person standing next to the person? That’s you. And I am holding your hand in front of the mirror. Yes, you’re. Do you see this hand in the mirror? Yeah, that’s your hand. And then you touch the patient’s hand and say: whose hand is that? That’s the other person’s hand. The amazing thing is that this, say, loss of self-recognition is so robust or so closed. Philosophers sometime say cognitively impenetrable. It does not help to argue or to explain to the patient. The phenomenal experience: it is not me in the mirror – stays absolutely robust. And that’s the trouble you have when you have transparent model of reality or of your self and something goes wrong. Then you suddenly have certainty that you do not exist. Certainty that there is a stranger in the mirror. Something that we have also learned, through science in the last century, is to finally take this people seriously. Don’t think they’re hysteric, or they try to catch our attention.

Ray Brassier: They’re having an experience which is impossible or inconceivable if we accept that kind of standard phenomenological model. In other words, we think that the experience of reality of well adjusted, allegedly well adjusted sane, rational, responsible adults is this kind of, this model for the way which all the possibilities of experiencing the world must be understood. And interestingly, with the examples that you’ve just given, we can’t imagine what it is to experience yourself as nonexistent, or not to recognize yourself in the mirror.

Thomas Metzinger: Interesting point. Why can’t we? I think it is because imagining, I mean, also very different people, for instance, people on spiritual path, people interested in meditation, spiritual practice, often would also be interested in actively simulating or emulating a state of no-self or non-centered awareness, or something like that. Why can’t you do it? Because just as you said simulating in that case is a form of inner action. It is not only outer action, there is also inner action like directing your attention, for instance. And running a film in your mind actively and making a plot for that film creates this quality of agency. And there you have a self. So there are certain things that you cannot actively simulate because you get this sense of inner effort: I am doing this, I am controlling this, and there is yourself. So in that sense some things are inconceivable.

Ray Brassier: You talked about the production process that undergirds conscious experience. How much is known about the mechanics of this process, the backstage machinery that generates the phenomenal self model, the experience of reality? The reason I want to ask you about this is because obviously the more we understand the more we can manipulate it.

Thomas Metzinger: First, very little. And having eminent experts in the audience I will not dare to amateurishly explain you the mechanisms. The first thing we have learned is that, what many philosophers didn’t want to believe, is that certain contents of conscious experience can in very isolated and well circumscribed way disappear. You can lose color vision just for one half of your visual field. You can lose the feeling of shame, or guilt and just that after certain brain lesion. We know for instance, some of us strive to be moral or ethically integrated people – we’re very vulnerable in this. If some physical event in our brains happens we will never be able to do that. We will never be able to emulate pains of others or be interested in the damage we do. We learn new things about antisocial personality disorder. You can put people in a scanner who have been diagnosed. I will not go into any details but the ugly truth is you find things, if you put hundred people with antisocial personality disorder in a scanner, you do find things, very localized things in part. And so for many things. We’ve learned a little, a blood vessel that explodes in your brain, a tumor here and this can selectively disappear and that can selectively disappear. And that was actually the basis for scientific neuropsychology because if you know a you can lose a without b, and you can lose bwithout loosing a. These things must be two building blocs functionally dissociable. And from this we get an idea of the architecture of the mind and we have a lot of data about what you can lose. You can lose color vision or just certain kinds of smell or certain aspects of language comprehension. And other things you cannot lose in an isolated fashion. But I think there is in the consciousness community with which I have been very much involved during the last fifteen years, there is something like a basic consensus. Of course, there is no theory, there is no consensus among philosophers, competitive neuroscientists push different models but the general idea is that for every conscious content, say like the blue cap of this bottle here, or something, there is a minimally sufficient neuro correlate. So there is some process in you brain, a set of properties that you cannot make smaller anymore without it disappearing. That’s minimal and sufficient, that brings about that conscious experience. Now this whole notion, people look for the neuro correlate of consciousness. A whole research industry does this for about ten years. This brings other aspects with it. If there are, at least in some cases, locally sufficient causes in the brain you can do all kinds of things with electrodes, with new drugs. Very general thing I could go more into details here but we will able to technically control our conscious minds to a much greater extent in the decades to come than we could have in the past. Human beings have always done this through drumming, through sacred mushrooms, through various magical herbs, through caffeine, opium, religious rituals. Human beings have always tried to engineer and to manipulate their mind. There is a long tradition of consciousness technology in the history of our species. Art, for instance. Now the instruments will get more precise and we will probably also know what we are doing. In the past we were always testing odd stuff and then suddenly we got addicted or something nasty happened.

Ray Brassier: Why do you think now we’re in a better position to understand what we’re doing? Consciousness technology seem to have existed as long as human cultural civilization in some form or another. But clearly there is a phase transition here. Now that we understand, know more about the machinery, neurological machinery that generates conscious experience we can intervene directly on the level of the neurological machinery itself. But in what sense we’re better informed now about what kinds of conscious states are desirable or undesirable?

Thomas Metzinger: Not at all! That’s a completely different issue. I mean, with every science, technology follows on its heels and the ugly thing is, I don’t know how to say this in English. It gets coupled to a capitalist logic of exploitation and marketing, right? Typically the technologies are not developed in a way of how would they do us good. Its under a profit or also dominance oriented general idea where these technologies are developed and marketed. And now we have this word neurotechnology and its actually one of the things that I do with the group. Applied ethics for neurotechnology. So we have brain implants, people develop new so called cognitive enhancers. One question – just to make this concrete – people are discussing is what would happen if we had safe way without side effects to do something like moral enhancement? If we develop a kind of pill that wouldn’t make you addicted but which would increase altruism and prosocial behavior or your capacity for empathy or your capacity for insight in ethical issues. Somebody I think would come and say: OK everybody who wants to act ethical at all, knows that he is constantly failing and wants to improve his own ethical integrity. If new tools are available there is even an obligation to improve your own morality so to speak. If new instruments come along. This could happen in the next two, three, five decades. There are first pilot studies to show that this could be done pharmacologically. Somebody is going to say: take the role of the government, say, we want prosocial behavior, don’t we? We all want it, don’t you? That’s one example. Another example, there are brain implants, there are all kinds of new ideas around the area of medical neurotechnology. There are new and better ways to help people with epilepsy, serious brain damage, Parkinson that couldn’t be treated. Depression. In 2006 we had these cases where patients who had a really severe depression that cannot be treated by anything known. Nothing works. And then they tried directly stimulating with an electrode and the immediately reported about a disappearance of the painful void, as they they call it. This utter emotional emptiness that hurts. And even the visual detail become more crisp in the room. I don’t know how many people know these avatar experiments I was involved in myself? So in 2007 some people, Swedish scientist have done these experiments where you would see an image of yourself, you were filmed from behind, and it would in virtual reality [goggles]. You would be synchronously stroke on your back and see while your own body is standing in front of you was being stroked. For some people this generates the experience of jumping into the avatar. So the phenomenal experience is: “I am this” jumps there. The phenomenology of identification you can identify with an avatar. This has been widely over-reported in the press. I was at a press conference in London myself, I’ve never experienced something like that. We were hunted by the world press four days and they all told people: out of body experiences in the lab. But it’s not true because in an out of body experience you really see from an elevated perspective. In these experiments you don’t see out of the eyes of the avatar. But everybody think: no! Video games are going to be really cool and addictive. And now this is it we are going to go in through the screen. What is just totally false. This effect is very weak, it doesn’t work for everybody and it works just in a passive condition. But now there is another project. Just to give you one example where this may go, where this may effect society. Its called the VERA group, scientists from different countries, I am in the group too. And they going to built … its called virtual embodiment and robotic re-embodiment. The idea to enter with your sense of self either an avatar in virtual environment or a robot while it senses and moves. My official position is this will never work. For serious reasons. But I am also impressed with what these kids are doing for only two years. So ten days ago I was at the Weizmann Institute in Telaviv and there for the first time people in the scanner can control an avatar directly with the fMRI signal in the scanner. This is something called motor imagery brain-computer interface (BCI). So what you do is you imagine you do a movement with your right hand and then directly the computer takes this signal from the scanner and wirelessly robot will move, or an avatar in a virtual scene, will move to the right. You imagine I move my left hand and the avatar will turn left and you imagine I shuffle my feet and the thing moves forward. Of course it’s much more complex than that. But what we have now is for instance one video I saw already couple of months ago – you sit there with glasses on and just with your thoughts, so to speak, by moving the self model in your own brain you control this humanoid robot. It’s about that high. And you make it walk. This robot has a cameras in its eyes and you’ve got this glasses on and you see through the robot’s eyes while you control it just by imagining body motions of yourself. So this is already a sense of active embodiment. But then the funny thing is the subject made turn the robot around and looked at himself. So where is yourself? Where is it in this moment, you tell me? So what I saw last week in Israel is that they did this from Israel to France. So somebody lies in a scanner and robot is in France and lab goes through the internet and he can just see with the eyes of a robot in France and just control it just lying in a scanner in Israel, so to speak, by his thoughts alone. Maybe this goes anywhere. I still think there are major technical obstacles for fully embodying the sense of self in second bodies, third bodies. But maybe I am wrong. Maybe in thirty years all those smart people will overcome these obstacles.

Ray Brassier: Are these obstacles simply empirical obstacles, or like technological obstacles or you say fundamental …

Thomas Metzinger: I think there is principled problem that human self model, self model that is active in your brain right now which you think you are. You, the system as a whole, who confuses itself with the model in its brain, right now. In our case this is anchored in gut feelings, in introception, in proprioception, in this massive feedback from your body. And how would one cut that connection to transpose it into a robot or into an avatar? So far these avatars, they will soon give haptic feedback. You get suits and vibrators and things that you will actually feel you touch something when you act in a virtual world. But how are you going to get this whole inner world of feelings. How should any avatar feed that back to you? So I think this will not work. We will always be strangely disembodied in this virtual world. But I maybe just wrong. You know, I am just a stupid philosopher. And there are those all smart young neuroscientists and programmers. Now, that’s an example. Imagine in thirty years that would work. Merging virtual reality technology with neurotechnology. What would that do to our culture? To our societies? What would it do to people who still want to believe in an immortal soul?

Ray Brassier: You’ve mentioned something very important. You say that basic norms, the ethical and moral norms that we prize and we try to inculcate in others especially in children. So for instance empathy, responsibility, etc., etc. Now, one offshoot of what you’ve just said is that if a brain lesion can morally incapacitate someone, if someone is simply incapable of responding in what we consider to be an appropriate ethical way, simply because like of your logical deficits… Then there is this divide between the isand ought [D. Hume], between reality and the norms in terms that we judge things to be good or bad. And if it turns out that our evaluations, our basic fundamental moral categories are simply a function of having the relevant neurological functioning organization… Does this mean that any attempt to give morality or ethics some kind of – the word that philosophers usually use is transcendental – some kind of status that is irreducible to the physical and biological domain – does this completely destroy this kind of …

Thomas Metzinger: Well, I have so much to say to this that I don’t know where to start … The simple thing that has become very clear is that moral behavior has not always been here on this planet. There had been millions of years where there was not moral behavior. Second, many animals have moral behavior too. For instance, monkies if you offer them a bad deal – if you see the other guy gets raisin and I just get a piece of cucumber – they throw the cucumber at the experimenter’s head. Which is irrational self-damaging behavior. It would be in a evolutionary setting better to take keep that and eat it. Some animals represent the interests of the whole group and they punish, I guess perpetrators is the English word (the free riders) – that’s not human. We have a long history of the evolution of moral behavior, group cohesion, and in us it taken completely different dimension. But there are many aspects to this. One aspect is that we know there is an evolution of morality. We know that there is a big difference between, saying, it is simply some neuro tadada … or saying there is also a neural description or that there are neural conditions to make moral behavior possible. That’s an important distinction. Human being can be describe on many levels of description at the same time. And I think many descriptions as a person, subpersonally, brain – they can all be true at the same time. So we should be very careful with this “nothing but” reflex. This is often a mistake but still – as you’ve said earlier – there is also an ugly mirror image. If I can lose my capacity for perspective taking, for empathy, for prosocial behavior, for altruism by microscopic events in my brain. It could also be that saints or people who are very good at this, people who have founded religions were in any interesting sense responsible for what they did. Recently somebody has calculated that there were about 106 milliard human have lived on this planet. And there have been people who were two meters forty tall, people at that size, people were enormously fat, athletes, super intelligent people. It’s only natural that among these milliards of peoples that some have emerged with brains, just by chance perhaps, who were so enormously empathic or full of loving kindness, whatever, prosocial, that they just looked like saints to everybody else or divine. This is not my position but there is for instance a temporal lobe epilepsy theory of religious experiences. There are some ultra reductionist people that say that those people who founded religions because they had visions of god were actually a specific kind of epileptics. I think that this is scientifically false but you could see where it could go. You could find a neuro correlates not only of this turquoise here but also the neuro correlates of religious ecstasy for instance.

Ray Brassier: Why, given that you don’t accept “nothing but” reductionism. You don’t accept what Dennett sometimes called greedy reductionism. So why not, why is do you think it would be a mistake to infer from that identification of neuro correlates for empathy, responsibility, etc.,etc. the claim that these ethical norms are nothing but physical states. Why is that identification illegitimate?

Thomas Metzinger: OK. There will be a story about how moral behavior emerged. I think that it doesn’t say anything about ethics, in a first place. There will also be a story about how religious behavior evolved. These are good ideas. People are working on it. I think it does not speak to the question of god, if it exist or not. It just speaks to the question why so many people believe in god. So I think these are distinct questions but I tell you about a conflict I have, for instance. I have very strong ethical intuitions. For instance, I think we must think about what valuable states of consciousness are. We shouldn’t only think like in a tradition we did – what is a good action but now that we will be able to manipulate, amplify and inhibit our conscious experience, to better and better degrees, technologically we should also have something like a normative psychology. We should think about in what states of mind do we want to live? What states of consciousness do we want to show our children? What states of consciousness is it ethical to inflict upon animals? What stages of consciousness would we eventually like to die in? I don’t not if anybody have thought about that? What state of consciousness would you like to die in? Maybe neuroscience can help you when you’ve made a decision? So on the one hand I think we should think hard about an ethics for consciousness. Its necessary in this historical transition. On the other hand as a philosopher my official position is: normative sentences have no truth values. So what does that mean? Some sentences have no truth values, for instance, sentences in literature, in poems. They’re not true or false. Sentences like: You should not kill or You should think about what a good state of consciousness is, might also be sentences of this kind. There is no knowledge in them because the world in just silent. We kind of ask the world: what is a good action? And the world stays quiet. In a nutshell there could be no ethical facts in reality that make sentences like, you should not kill, true or false. This seems likely to me on philosophical grounds. Its called non-cognitivism. I hated it. I am a philosopher who hates a lot of his own official positions. But if that were ultimately true, right, that there is, strictly speaking, nothing like ethical knowledge in an interesting sense, that we can not know what a good action is, why should we …

Ray Brassier: But given the logic of your own account, that no one can help us when it comes to constructing norms or like deciding what’s right or wrong. If, and I completely agree with you, it’s a mistake to think we can read norms of nature. The world is silent. The world does not tell us what to do or not to do. Then isn’t it a mistake to claim that moral judgments or our devoided truth values, simply because the world is silent, you looking in a wrong place. The world is not the place to look for truths or falsity of those normative claims.

Thomas Metzinger: Where should I look?

Ray Brassier: The claim would be that there are … perhaps truth is no always about correspondence. There are alternative kinds of truths which is to say that you can be justified in claiming that something is true and the justification for that claim is about the internal consistency of set of beliefs or thoughts. So this is what’s called coherentism in philosophy. But the claim is that when thinking – and here I want to ask you about the distinction between thinking or rationality and consciousness – now, I think that it is absolutely imperative to distinguish thinking from consciousness. I think that consciousness is a natural phenomenon. I don’t think that thinking is a natural phenomenon. The ability to deploy concepts rationally is not a supernatural phenomena either but it emerges on a different level. Now, first of all, do you accept some version of that distinction or do you think it is untenable? Secondly, if you don’t accept any such distinction then in many ways like given that if you’re really thoroughgoing naturalist … the claim is that ultimately you become … evolution doesn’t care, evolution will simply inculcate whatever amplifies adaptation. In other words, whether its chimpanzees or bonobos or humans, whatever is, evolution will simply select for those characteristics which are beneficial. The consequence of that is to say just forget about right and wrong altogether. It’s just about survival, adaptation, reproduction, and then, some kind of thoroughgoing nihilism would follow. That there is no right or wrong. Its all an illusion. All there is is reproduction, survival, adaptation. And if it so happened that cruelty, ruthlessness, unscrupulousness are maximally adaptive then who are we to tell what is desirable or undesirable?

Thomas Metzinger: I really agree on this distinction between intentional content and phenomenal content. Although they overlap, consciousness and thinking are not the same things. One difference for instance is that we know that conscious experience is a locally determined phenomenon in the brain. To have visual experience you do not need eyes. You all have visual experience at night when you’re dreaming, when your eyes are shut. So in some ways it’s a local phenomenon. I am quite convinced that almost all forms of thinking are things that are distributed processes that we do together. We’re thinking together, right now. The conscious reality models are in our brains right now. But what really connects us, or maybe it’s just like a distributed process running on us, maybe there is no ownership for thoughts. I think this is also one of the reasons why Descartes was wrong. It’s just not true if you take your phenomenology seriously that there is “I think”. Thoughts are there – that’s the phenomenological truth if you look closely, that they are like a moving clouds in the sky. So I think that human intelligence, rational thought is almost always an extended process, social process, an intersubjective process. Of course we can simulate that internally. Sometimes we can sit in our armchair, in our room at home, and think: Yeah, but Ray said that! So I simulate a social situation. I think rationality is probably to a large extent something above brains. It’s a group phenomenon. Just as is science and philosophy. There is something as a history of theories. That is something that no animal has created before us. We have a history of thought, a history of theories. We’re all connected to each other through books, the internet. And it’s a conversation that actually runs over centuries. It’s a completely new phenomenon. And that conversation can come to conclusions and find out things. Like, most of your conscious experience is transparent, and by the way, the paradigm example for me in normal states for conscious experience that is not transparent is the experience of thinking. When you think thoughts the experience is one of operating with mental representations, as philosophers say, that might be true or false. This transparent microphone is not true or false. It’s just bloody real, you know. The contents of my body image, that is always real. I have not doubts, there is this certainty about it. The rational thought, or something that have just come very recently in evolution, it is so slow that we can introspect the construction process. And that is how we suddenly realize that this is something that is happening in me. Something that creates a medium, that might be a crack in the window, or spots on the window. It might be false, and that is also what enabled us human beings to distance ourselves. I think many animals probably just have a fully transparent model of reality which means, in a certain sense, they’re caught. They may have rich, dense experience, maybe richer than us, in smell, or body perception, or also anger and rage and pain. But they cannot distance themselves. Because this process of representing while you know that you’re representing hasn’t yet started, it’s not running on these animals. Andy Clark’s active externalism is a current philosophical term for it, right now. There are many very good English philosophers working in this domain of distributed cognition. I remember when eleven years ago I came San Diego for the first time for a year as a German philosopher. And a first person I met was this PhD student in philosophy department. Deborah, I said, so what are you working on? She said, I just came back from Nigeria, I’ve been living in tents for a nine months … I said, for philosophy PhD? Yeah, she said, I was observing and filming chimps in a jungle. Troops of chimpanzees. And I asked her, what are you writing your thesis on? A distributed social cognition. And then for the first time I realized, ah, philosophy is bit different here than in an old fashion Germany. That was a baffling experiencefor me – a young philosopher goes to observe chimpanzees for months, to write about that process.

Ray Brassier: One final question. I want to come back to this issue about this distinction between transparency and opacity, which you just explained, emphasized … what distinguishes thinking from mere consciousness, in other words, the capacity to represent your own representation. To be able to have this reflexive distance, so that your representational world is not simply transparent vehicle but something that is itself represented. Precisely this distancing, which makes thinking in philosophical sense possible. And I want to ask you then, why is transparency … if transparency is a special form of darkness then consciousness itself or brute consciousness is darkness. Animals live in darkness. Precisely because their world is completely transparent.

Thomas Metzinger: In a certain sense, especially the transparent self model, the transparent conscious self model, is one of the nastiest inventions of mother nature. It is because it forces an organism to …, how to say it in English, to irrevocably appropriate their own pains and needs and fears, and whatever, impulses. They cannot distance themselves from it. We cannot from many of these internal states. Because they’re transparent they are not just “hunger,” or “jealousy,” or “horniness.” They are my“hunger,” or “jealousy,” or “horniness” and they are real. If anything is real that’s pain, for instance. I mean that is real. That fully transparent. That’s owned and it’s not easy. I guess, no philosopher has managed to distance himself from his own pain. So it glues animals to the logic of survival in a very nasty way by not creating not only joy and pleasure and reward but also suffering. Maybe it is evolutionary accident that something like us appeared for various reasons. Some of us at least behave strangely – instead of trying to have children, try to understand a process as a whole, which was not meant to happened, or write books and things … or, you know, shave heads and become monks and have no children – no animal does something like this. I think that one fact that many of us repress is that the evolution of consciousness on this planet has been like an expanding ocean of suffering and confusion. And it’s not funny. Many things just happened that are actually not funny. Like the evolution of predators. Why should animals evolve that have absolutely like all of us transparent urge to survive and the only way to do this is, like philosopher Schopenhauer said, to become the living grave of hundreds of other sentient beings. That’s not nice! Some of these naturalists have a tendency to glorify the process of evolution. I really respect Richard Dawkins and there is truth in the greatest show on Earth but this show have really two sides. Something I find interesting for philosophers in that respect is that the conscious self model as many of us think has become ever and ever and ever better in evolution. We have better bodies, we introspect on more brain states but it can actually be shown that was also an evolution of self deception. That is to have self models with false content is really adequate. I’ll give you some simple examples. Like you can show that all parents directly, not cognitively, directly perceive their own children as more pretty and intelligent than everybody else. There was a famous study in the seventies: of you ask American college professors if they are average or over-average, ninety six percent of them have the firm conviction that they are over-average in their achivements. They all know that it cannot be true. It’s unlikely. But, you know, it’s good when for instance you want to pick up a fight with somebody, or impress somebody, to enter a delusionary state for certain time, when you actually believe that you’re stronger than this guy. So you don’t give of any subliminal cues. If you’re politician and your job is to lie to thousands of people all of the time and you know that all of these people have developed cheater detector modules. They look at your body language, at every move you make – what kind of guy it is? The solution to it is to develop a delusional self model, to at least in moments when your public appearance peak, to actually believe it. Because then nobody can detect the cheating or the deliberate lying. There is this new scientific approach developing, showing that self deception is not only something to protect yourself – you know, denial – from things that you don’t want to know, past failures, but it is actually a strategy of aggression. To become momentarily deluded. Statistically strongest effect if you look at human catastrophes it is overconfident males. Many people have believes that we know are false. For instance that children make you happy. It’s not true. If you put buzzers to peoples arms and just let them report: how do you feel now? Happy or unhappy? And you do it with people who don’t have children. It’s very clear parents are more often unhappy and stressed. If you do interviews with them there is this robust self description that their life has become so much meaningful and happier since they have children. It’s clear that these forms of delusion would have been evolutionarily successful. These people were our ancestors. People who became monks and didn’t have children they were not our ancestors. You’ve got the general idea.

Ray Brassier: One final question. Given the pressures on us to deceive, given how useful, how advantageous the self deception is, how do we measure …, is it possible that…, someone like Scott Bakker who has written a book entitled Neuropath about this blind brain theory of consciousness, says he take the stance that we’re systematically deluded about ourselves and the world we inhabit. And that our predicament is truly desperate because everything we confidently believe about ourselves and the world we inhabit is almost certainly false. The problem is how do we measure, how is it possible to measure the discrepancy between the world as it really is and the world as we misperceive it in order to reproduce better, to adapt better, to do things?

Thomas Metzinger: Well, first of all, he can say something like that. He can write books like that. We can do science about this. And there is an enormous knowledge about the different biases human beings have. We know statistics that are well researched. And it looks like either we delete an information – if it was painful or something or it destroys our self image – or we keep it unconscious and we use the conscious self model for action control but in a crisis. And suddenly this unconscious knowledge pops up…


More on the subject @ Social Ecologies & Speculative Heresy

ArikaFebruary 2012.

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The Transcendental Materialist Logic of Enlightenment in a Hegelian Sense

The relationship between the subject and power is a theme that has played a significant role in determining the direction of European thought since Nietzsche, Marx, and Freud weighed in on the scene. Both the Frankfurt School thinkers such as Horkheimer and Adorno, and the Parisien philosophers such as Deleuze and Foucault, took on this subject as one of the objects of their studies in different ways. Although I was deeply influenced by Adorno’s Negative Dialectics and Marcuse’s Reason and Revolution at the beginning, I later on turned towards Deleuze and Foucault to find tools for repairing the restrictive implications of the early Frankfurt School thought. I think poststructuralism and critical theory have a lot more to offer one another that can be used in practical critique of the predominant order in particular and nihilisms in general, than many, such as Habermas, suggest.

The point of departure of this investigation is the modern discourse on power that emerged with the Enlightenment in the Eighteenth Century. A response to metaphysics and Christian dogmatism, Enlightenment is a system of thought which proclaims itself to be governed by universal reason alone. In the Dialectic of Enlightenment Horkheimer and Adorno situate Marx and Freud, together with themselves, in this tradition. I situate Foucault himself in this same tradition of Enlightenment.

Enlightenment signifies the secularization of the authority of the Big Other, and erection of instrumental reason in the place of the absolute authority of the Bible. In this light Enlightenment appears to be merely a change of roles between the masters and the slaves; the problem inherent in the metaphysical world of representation remains the same. Walter Benjamin, for instance, warns against this trap set by the panoptic mechanism which creates a Leviathan within the subject. In his essay, The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, Benjamin argues that cinema can turn out to be a fascist propaganda machine if it falls in the wrong hands. Benjamin is not only against the aestheticization of politics but also the politicization of aesthetics. What remains unthought in Benjamin’s essay, though, is the ideology of representational and metaphysical conceptions of nonreason, which is itself the problem inherent in the structure of the system. I now return to Hobbes through Foucault, whose thoughts on health and death and their relation to the predominant power structure become relevant.

Foucault’s interpretation of the Panopticon and Thomas Hobbes’s Leviathan become relevant here precisely because they present us with metaphors representing an idealized model of modern power structure. This power structure is not only still dominant, but also increasing its dominance as it decreases its visibility. It does this by making the subjects believe that they are governed by the reality principle when in fact they are governed by the pleasure principle. This situation causes a shift in the subject’s conception of health. I’ll come back to this in the future, but now I have to mention something else which is very closely linked to this shift in the subject’s conceptions of health and death.

The most important thing that Hobbes says in Leviathan, which I think is still relevant to a considerable extent, is that death is the absolute master, and the fear of death forces the subjects to adapt to the existing social order. Leviathan feeds on this fear of death, and it is Leviathan itself that instills the fear of death in people. If we keep in mind that in Western societies death is associated with nothing/ness, it becomes clearer why and how Foucault’s use of Jeremy Bentham’s Panopticon in Discipline and Punish as a metaphor of the modern power structure which has nothing/ness at its centre gains new significance.

At the periphery, an annular building; at the center, a tower; this tower is pierced with white windows that open onto the inner side of the ring; the peripheric building is divided into cells, each of which extends the whole width of the building; they have two windows, one on the inside, corresponding to the windows of the tower; the other, on the outside, allows the light to cross the cell from one end to the other. All that is needed, then, is to place a supervisor in a central tower and to shut up in each cell a madman, a patient, a condemned man, a worker or a schoolboy. By the effect of backlighting, one can observe from the tower, standing out precisely against the light, the small captive shadows in the cells of the periphery. They are like so many cages, so many small theatres, in which each actor is alone, perfectly individualized and constantly visible. The panoptic mechanism arranges spatial unities that make it possible to see constantly and to recognize immediately. In short, it reverses the principle of the dungeon; or rather of its three functions – to enclose, to deprive of light and to hide – it preserves only the first and eliminates the other two. Full lightning and the eye of a supervisor capture better than darkness, which ultimately protected. Visibility is a trap. ~ Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 200

Foucault, without directly referring to him, shows that Hobbes’s monster has become a machine. I argue that this machine is itself in a process of transformation today, and is in the way of taking the form of something that is neither organic nor inorganic, neither visible nor invisible, but felt. This is power as affective force. Power can no more be represented by metaphors. For metaphor is a concept that belongs to the world of metaphysics which exists only as a fantasy world, whereas today power has a more material existence than it has ever had and its materiality splits as it unites the psychosomatic and the sociopolitical realms of experience.

The automatization of power, that is, transformation of power from an organic state, as demonstrated by Hobbes, towards an inorganic state, as demonstrated by Foucault, has been studied in a different way and in a different context by Mark Poster in his Foucault, Marxism, and History. Influenced by Poster’s interpretation of Foucault in relation to Marxism, and in the context of the relationship between discourse and power, I reassert, in a different way and for different reasons, that Foucault’s conceptualization of the Panopticon is useful and yet insufficient in understanding the workings of power today in the face of the recent developments in technology.

In this new situation the subjects know that they are still locked in the Panopticon, but pretend that they are free floating across the Superpanopticon. This is because they are being locked deeper into the Panopticon; and there finding themselves dismembered, losing themselves in the terrible condition of being pushed further into the hitherto undiscovered corners of one’s own room, in their cells.

A new formulation of Foucault’s concept of biopower, the Superpanoptic discourse reverses the roles of Eros and Thanatos; abuses our understandings and misunderstandings of the life drive and the death drive, as well as manipulating our inner conflicts and turning us into antagonists. It does this by erasing the necessary boundary between life and death, the organic and the inorganic, so as to create the conditions of possibility for manufacturing an illusory sense of oneness with the world, hence uniting the subject of statement (the enunciated) and the subject of enunciation which should remain separate from and/but contiguous to one another for the perpetual transformation and multiplication of life forms to take place at the same time.

In his Critique of Judgement Kant distinguishes between the determinative and the reflective modes of judgement.

If the universal (the rule, the principle, the law) is given, the judgement that subsumes the particular under it… is determinative. If, however, only the particular for which the universal is to be found is given, judgement is merely reflective. ~ Immanuel Kant, Critique of Judgement, 13

If we keep in mind that the reflective mode of judgement reflects on particulars in such a way as to produce universals to which they can be subjected, and that the determinative mode of judgement determines a universal by subjecting it to a particular, it becomes understandable why among these two I shall be using the reflective mode which splits as it unites the subject of enunciation and the enunciated subject. But it must be kept in mind that the subject of enunciation which refers to the universal is itself a constitutive illusion, or a regulatory ideal necessary for the emergence of the subject as the enunciated content.

I don’t know if it is worth mentioning that in this time we are all slaves and yet some slaves dominate the others. Where time goes no one knows. There are necessary illusions in this life, some for life, some not. Both the extreme belief in civilized progress and barbaric regress are good for nothing. These two are now in the process of being left behind. A third possibility of developmental process is emerging in the form of a becoming reconciled which is based on the recognition of the otherness of the other as it is, that is, prior to the additions and the subtractions imposed upon the self and the other, nature and culture, life and death.

For a nonnormative and progressive work it is necessary for the participants to become capable of making distinctions between their natures and cultures, their cliniques and critiques. It is a matter of realizing 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) and the subject of enunciation.

It is true that sometimes it takes a long journey to get there, where one eventually got to, and realise that one is other than one thinks itself to be. Apparently the numbers indeed start with zero and continue with two, but it takes time to realise this actuality and become capable of actualising this reality. Perhaps we should indeed know that absolute reconciliation is impossible and yet still strive to reconcile ourselves as much as we can to all the living and the dead.

There is always another breath in my breath, another thought in my thought, another possession in what I possess, a thousand things and a thousand beings implicated in my complications: every true thought is an aggression. It is not a question of our undergoing influences, but of being ‘insufflations’ and fluctuations, or merging with them. That everything is so ‘complicated,’ that I may be an other, that something else thinks in us in an aggression which is the aggression of thought, in a multiplication which is the multiplication of the body, or in a violence which is the violence of language—this is the joyful message. For we are so sure of living again (without resurrection) only because so many beings and things think in us. ~ Gilles Deleuze, The Logic of Sense, 298

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