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“Recent neuroscience, in replacing the old model of the brain as a single centralized source of control, has emphasized “plasticity,” the quality by which our brains develop and change throughout the course of our lives. Our brains exist as historical products, developing in interaction with themselves and with their surroundings.Hence there is a thin line between the organization of the nervous system and the political and social organization that both conditions and is conditioned by human experience. Looking carefully at contemporary neuroscience, it is hard not to notice that the new way of talking about the brain mirrors the management discourse of the neo-liberal capitalist world in which we now live, with its talk of decentralization, networks, and flexibility. Consciously or unconsciously, science cannot but echo the world in which it takes place.In the neo-liberal world, “plasticity” can be equated with “flexibility”–a term that has become a buzzword in economics and management theory. The plastic brain would thus represent just another style of power, which, although less centralized, is still a means of control. In this book, Catherine Malabou develops a second, more radical meaning for plasticity. Not only does plasticity allow our brains to adapt to existing circumstances, it opens a margin of freedom to intervene, to change those very circumstances. Such an understanding opens up a newly transformative aspect of the neurosciences.In insisting on this proximity between the neurosciences and the social sciences, Malabou applies to the brain Marx’s well-known phrase about history: people make their own brains, but they do not know it. This book is a summons to such knowledge.” ~ Peperback Swap

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Cognitive neuroscience proposes that the quality of an external object is always already projected onto that object by the neuronal activity of the brain. What cognitive neuroscience lacks is a historical context, likewise what cultural studies lacks is an organic basis. An interaction between psychoanalysis, linguistics, philosophy, cultural studies, and cognitive neuroscience can break out of the closure of the humanities and give birth to the link which has come to be considered missing, between nature and nurture, organic and inorganic, empirical and conceptual, epistemological and ontological, transcendental and immanent, the objective and the subjective.  

Because of the dynamic and parallel nature of re-entry and because it is a process of higher-order selection, it is not easy to provide a metaphor that captures all the properties of re-entry. Try this: Imagine a peculiar (and even weird) string quartet, in which each player responds by improvisation to ideas and cues of his or her own, as well as to all kinds of sensory cues in the environment. Since there is no score, each player would provide his or her own characteristic tunes, but initially these various tunes would not be coordinated with those of the other players. Now imagine that the bodies of the players are connected to each other by myriad fine threads so that their actions and movements are rapidly conveyed back and forth through signals of changing thread tensions that act simultaneously to time each player’s actions. Signals that instantaneously connect the four players would lead to a correlation of their sounds; thus, new, more cohesive, and more integrated sounds would emerge out of the otherwise independent efforts of each player. This correlative process would alter the next action of each player, and by these means the process would be repeated but with new emergent tunes that were even more correlated. Although no conductor would instruct or coordinate the group and each player would still maintain his or her style and role, the player’s overall productions would lead to a kind of mutually coherent music that each one acting alone would not produce.[1]

The model of mind conceptualized by Gerald Edelman shows us that the mind is an embodied substance which has the ability to adapt to changes surrounding it. If we keep in mind that cinema, literature, art, and music show how the mind works at a particular moment in history, as well as the emotional state of that particular moment, it becomes clear why a mode of enquiry rather than a specific method is required for the analysis and critique of human consciousness and its relation to the environment surrounding it. In this context, the plot driven critique of the literary and filmic texts aims at distinguishing between the world of consciousness and the world of appearances. My claim is that it is only through looking at the mortal world of appearances with the eyes of an immortal consciousness that we can see that which is present as an absence in the predominant symbolic order. By looking at “what happens when” in a movie or a book as well as “how that thing happens,” I sustain the conditions of impossibility as the conditions of possibility for cont(r)action to take place and give birth to an immortal subject. Needless to say, this subject is also an object encountering and encountered by the unknown within the known, the chaos inherent in the order itself, that calls forth he who has died so many times and is yet to die again and be reborn many more times so as to live as dead again.


[1] Gerald Edelman, A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination (New York: Basic Books, 2000), 49

Descartes

Life and Death in a Raving New World (excerpt from The Life Death Drives)

The influence of Nietzsche’s concepts of the will to nothingness and eternal return are pervasive in Freud’s later work. Freud’s turn towards metapsychology and his consequent creation of the concept of the death drive is rooted in his need for something to fill in the gaps in his scientific and empirically observable theories owing much to Darwin. Freud was uneasy with the concept of the death drive on account of its non-scientific nature, but nevertheless he had to conceptualize the death drive as the counterpart of the life drive in order to be able to go beyond the pleasure principle. Educated as a neuroscientist Freud was aware that he was contradicting himself and perhaps even turning against his earlier attitude towards the human psyche by showing that at the beginning was the death drive and that the life drive was only an outcome, a kind of defense against the death drive… Read More

via senselogic

Being Without Thought: The Unconscious and the Critique of Correlationism

Being Without Thought: The Unconscious and the Critique of Correlationism I have decided to make available a short draft version of a larger work, what could probably be called my greater “project” that I am actively working on. As has been pointed out by both Nick and Ben in their recent interviews with Paul Ennis, I am part of a small group of speculative realists (a name I gladly wear) that not only defends, but attempts to expand on the tradition of psychoanalysis, or more specifically, the metaphysics of psychoanalysis… Read More

via Complete Lies.

The Evil Spirit and The Spiritual Automaton

It is a recurrent theme in science-fiction-thriller movies that in time humanity turns into the slave of its own creation, namely of machines. It is precisely because of this fear of being replaced that humanity attempts to get out of time, out of the physical, and eventually falls on the side of what it was attempting to escape from; be that which they fall in the direction of metaphysics or pure-physics, in both cases their thought itself becomes machinic.

The Panopticon may even provide an apparatus for supervising its own mechanisms. In this central tower, the director may spy on all the employees that he has under his orders: nurses, doctors, foremen, teachers, warders […] and it will even be possible to observe the director himself. An inspector arriving unexpectedly at the center of the Panopticon will be able to judge at a glance, without anything concealed from him, how the entire establishment is functioning. And, in any case, enclosed as he is in the middle of this architectural mechanism, is not the director’s own fate entirely bound up with it?[1]

Panopticon, then, is a mechanism that disperses power as it produces submissive subjects. The transparency of the building makes it a model for the exercise of power by society as a whole. The subject becomes one with the mechanism surrounding it and so becomes the effect and the functionary at the same time. In short, the subject starts operating like and feeling itself as a machine. The body is not replaced by a machine but starts to work like the machine it is connected to. This is the contamination of the subject by the object.

Slavoj Zizek points out Deleuze’s emphasis on the passage from metaphor and towards metamorphosis in terms of the difference between “machines replacing humans” and the “becoming-machine” of a man.

The problem is not how to reduce mind to neuronal “material” processes (to replace the language of mind by the language of brain processes, to translate the first one into the second one) but, rather, to grasp how mind can emerge only by being embedded in the network of social relations and material supplements. In other words, the true problem is not “How, if at all, could machines imitate the human mind?” but “How does the very identity of human mind rely on external mechanical supplements? How does it incorporate machines?”[2]

In Cronenberg’s films we see the theme of machines replacing humans in the process of being replaced by the theme of humans connected to machines, or machines as extensions of humans providing them with another realm beyond and yet still within the material world; the psychic and the material horizontally situated next to each other. In eXistenZ, for instance, we have seen how the game-pod is plugged into the subject’s spine through a bio-port and becomes an extension of the body. In Naked Lunch the typewriter becomes Lee’s extension. In Burroughs’s the obsession was still with the machine taking over the body. In Cronenberg’s adaptation of Burroughs the obsession is with body and machine acting upon one another. What Burroughs experienced with his body but was unable to express becomes possible to express with the film. As we know from his writings on his routines Burroughs himself was becoming-machine internally, he was incorporating the dualistic and mechanical vision of the world surrounding him, but he thought his body was being attacked by external forces and the space he occupied was being invaded by forces that belonged to an altogether different realm, an external world. In Cronenberg’s Naked Lunch we see Bill Lee becoming a spiritual automaton to keep the Evil Spirit within at bay. The paradox is that the Evil Spirit is itself his own construction which in turn constructs him as a spiritual automaton constructing an external Evil Spirit.


In what follows I will attempt to show that Cronenberg’s films are caught in a vicious cycle, that they are self-deconstructive, and that if one thinks too much about them they not only turn back on themselves but also collapse in on themselves. This is because they are shut up in themselves in a highly solipsistic fashion and are the victims of the way they attack what they consider to be dangerous for humanity. In short I will try to show how Cronenberg’s films deconstruct themselves and invalidate their own stance before what they criticize, and this turns them into suicidal rituals before which the spectator is expected to recoil in horror.

One example of what I have said concerning the self-deconstruction inherent in Cronenberg’s films is in the middle of Naked Lunch where Tom Frost, also a writer, who appears to be Joan’s husband in Interzone, tells Bill Lee that he has been killing his wife everyday for years.

Author William Burroughs, an ex-dope addict, relaxing on a shabby bed in what is known as a Beat Hotel. Paris, 1959. Photograph: Life/ Loomis Dean.

Tom: There are no accidents. For example, I have been killing my own wife slowly, over a period of years.

Lee: What?

Tom: Well, not intentionally, of course. On the level of conscious intention, it’s insane, monstrous.

Lee: But you do consciously know it. You just said it. We’re discussing it.

Tom: Not consciously. This is all happening telephatically. Non-consciously.[close-up of Tom’s mouth, his lips moving in disharmony with what he is actually saying] If you look carefully at my lips, you’ll realize that I’m actually saying something else. I’m not actually telling you about the several ways I’m gradually murdering Joan. About the housekeeper Fadela whom I’ve hired to make Joan deathly ill by witchcraft. About the medicines and drugs I’ve given her. About the nibbling away at her self-esteem and sanity that I’ve managed, without being at all obvious about it. [the movement of his lips become harmonious with what he is saying] Whereas Joanie finds that she simply cannot be as obsessively precise as she wants to be unless she writes everything in longhand.

We have to keep in mind before engaging in analysis that all this is happening in Lee’s mind, that Interzone is a construct of his psyche, that he is actually in New York, that he is hallucinating all this Interzone business, and that the year is 1953. What we have here is the loss of the boundary between the conscious and the unconscious mind. However, this is not a real loss of the boundary because we, the spectators, are informed beforehand that all this is happening in Lee’s mind. There is only the inside of Lee’s mind, and if there is anything lost it is the reality of the external world. Lee only hears the echoes of his projections. The murder of Joan has had such an impact on Lee that he is hearing nothing that the other says and he is replacing this nothing with his own scenarios concerning what’s actually going on outside.

What does the disintegration between Tom’s words and actions signify? It signifies the double-bind situation in which Cronenberg’s films are caught. In other words he is unconsciously communicating that which he thinks he is not saying. He is unconsciously doing what he thinks he is arguing against; that creativity brings with it destruction, that progress and regress are complementary. In Naked Lunch writing is identified with killing one’s wife. To keep the actual killing of the wife at bay, Lee writes not to rationalize the murder but to irrationalize not-killing one’s wife, and we know this from the fact that Tom Frost’s words are only projections of Lee’s psyche.

This scene also explicates Cronenberg’s attitude towards the recurring theme of a psyche-soma split in his films. But more importantly, since Naked Lunch is mainly concerned with the activity of writing and what happens to someone who is in the process of creating something, this scene deals with the relationship between body and language. Here I will leave aside the exhausted subject of a mind-body split who cannot make a distinction between appearance and reality and move towards the more recent theme of the relationship between bodies and languages, with the hope of opening up a field across which one passes and in the process of this passage becomes the embodiment of a new possibility of signification, another sign, neither within nor without the old mode of signification. For this a third dualism is required, and that third dualism, being that of language and Event, has already been worked through by Deleuze.     William Burroughs at his writing machine, New York, fall 1953. One of numerous, rarely seen photographs taken by Allen Ginsberg that feature in a special Gallery section of Naked Lunch@50, here Ginsberg’s Kodak Retina records a crucial moment for Burroughs, as he worked on the manuscripts of “Queer” and “Yage” before heading off towards Tangier and the writing of Naked Lunch… (Courtesy of the Allen Ginsberg Trust and Stanford University Library.)


[1] Foucault, Discipline and Punish, 204

[2] Slavoj Zizek, Organs Without Bodies (New York and London: Routledge, 2004), 16

This interview was conducted by Bram Ieven to accompany the Dutch translation of Ray Brassier’s essay ‘Genre is Obsolete’. It was published in the printed edition of nY # 2, as part of a feature on Noise (2009). 

 Bram Ieven – Your work has a fairly unique position within the field of contemporary philosophy. On the one hand you are critical of much of recent philosophy, which you reproach for its hostility toward major developments in contemporary cognitive sciences that demonstrate how consciousness can be explained as a natural phenomenon triggered by neurological processes. In Alien Theory (2001) you describe this philosophical hostility to neurosciences as a form of ‘reactionary philosophical protectionism’ and you urge philosophy to ‘emphasize – rather than minimize – the corrosive power of scientific reductionism.’ (21) On the other hand, specifically in your more recent work, you are equally critical of certain forms of reductive naturalism. Such a naturalism you argue in Nihil Unbound (2007), risks being ‘impoverished metaphysics’ (25). Instead you propose a speculative realism that avoids both these pitfalls. Could you elaborate on this philosophical stance a bit? ✎ 0

Ray Brassier – My stance is not particularly original: it’s indebted to the work of several more genuinely original philosophers. The confluence of their influence in my thinking represents my attempt to address what I see as the fundamental issue facing contemporary philosophy: how does human experience fit into the world described by science? Contemporary philosophers can be sorted into two basic camps: in the first, there are those who want to explain science in terms of human experience; in the second, there are those who want to explain human experience in terms of science. The former argue that science cannot explain human experience because there’s something about it that will always resist scientific explanation. The latter maintain that the explanation of experience will require us to revise both our understanding of it and our relationship to it. As I see it, this dispute about what ‘human experience’ is and our relationship to it lies at the heart of contemporary philosophy. I side with those in the second camp who insist that we can attain an objective perspective on our own subjectivity. Philosophers in the first camp dispute this on the grounds that to explain experience objectively would be a contradiction in terms which would only ‘explain consciousness away’ and ultimately alienate us from the subjective core of our own humanity. Some philosophers in the second camp try to defuse such worries by insisting that it’s perfectly possible for us to reconcile our humanity with science’s objectification of experience. My own view is that despite its fundamentally reactionary tenor, the objection above registers a genuine difficulty, and that it is unrealistic and a little panglossian to insist that we will remain ‘human’ much as we are now even after the explanatory ‘reduction’ of experience. My conviction is that the sources and structures of human experience can and will be understood scientifically, but this integration of experience into the scientific worldview will entail a profound transformation in our understanding of what it means to be human—one as difficult for us to comprehend from within the purview of our current experience as the latter would have been for our hominid ancestors. However, while I remain fundamentally committed to a naturalistic perspective which defers to science’s ultimate epistemic authority, I think it’s a mistake to hypostatize the entities and processes invoked by current science as though they were immutable metaphysical realities. We know that scientific theories constantly supplant and replace one another, and that if the history of science is anything to go by, even our best current theories will probably turn out to be fundamentally mistaken or deficient in some regard, much as their predecessors did. Some cite this as a reason not to invest science with any fundamental epistemic authority. I think this is an overreaction. The fact that our best current science will probably turn out be only partly true does not license the conclusion that it is all wrong and that it has no authority whatsoever. There is a world of difference between something’s being partly true and its being all wrong. (The fact that science has allowed crafty apes with opposable thumbs to grasp even a tiny part of the truth about reality is astonishing—indeed, the more we learn about ourselves from science, the more astonishing our capacity for science becomes.) As I see it, science is slowly and painstakingly excavating the deep structure of a reality whose fundamental features may turn out to bear little resemblance to the kinds of entities and processes with which we are currently familiar. Consequently, it would be a mistake to let current science dictate our account of the ultimate structure of reality. That’s why naturalism as a metaphysical doctrine which states that whatever is real must fall within the ambit of actually existing scientific theory strikes me as mistaken. I would like to maintain a commitment to science’s ultimate epistemic authority while resisting the dogmatic temptation to enthrone the entities, mechanisms and structures postulated by contemporary science as ultimate realities. ✎ 0 This is not to say that we cannot draw ontological consequences from science: on the contrary, we can and we should. But the relationship between science and metaphysics is complicated: science says nothing about how to tell the difference between what is and what is not ultimately ‘real’. It becomes difficult to let science dictate metaphysics once we acknowledge that what science says is real continues to undergo fundamental revisions. That’s why I endorse a ‘transcendental realism’ according to which science knows the real but the nature of this ‘real’ is not strictly speaking objectifiable. The basic idea is that we know the real through objects, but that the real itself is not an object. ✎ 0

Bram – You were the driving force behind the Speculative Realism conference (London 2007), which brought together you, Graham Harman, Iain Hamilton Grant, and Quentin Meillassoux. The name ‘speculative realism’ was quickly picked up to designate a supposedly new wave in philosophy, but you quickly became more critical of it. Why is that? ✎ 0

Ray – The term ‘speculative realism’ was only ever a useful umbrella term, chosen precisely because it was vague enough to encompass a variety of fundamentally heterogeneous philosophical research programmes. But people have started to pick up on it as though it was the name for a new philosophical doctrine or movement, like ‘logical positivism’, ‘existentialism’, ‘structuralism’, or ‘deconstruction’. In this context, the vagueness which was initially useful is beginning to generate more confusion than clarity. There is no ‘speculative realist’ doctrine common to the four of us: the only thing that unites us is antipathy to what Quentin Meillassoux calls ‘correlationism’—the doctrine, especially prevalent among ‘Continental’ philosophers, that humans and world cannot be conceived in isolation from one other—a ‘correlationist’ is any philosopher who insists that the human-world correlate is philosophy’s sole legitimate concern. Anti-correlationism is by no means a negligible unifying factor—but our alternatives to correlationism are fundamentally divergent and even incompatible in several regards. The first problem is that the word ‘speculative’ actually means something quite specific in the context of post-Kantian Idealism: it refers to a type of philosophy (of which Hegel is perhaps the supreme exemplar) that proceeds on the basis of the ‘speculative’ identification of thinking and being, or mind and reality, thereby repudiating both empiricist naturalism and Kant’s Critical philosophy. My naturalist proclivities make me quite uncomfortable with these associations, unlike Meillassoux or Grant, both of whom explicitly avow this post-Kantian speculative paradigm, even if only to lend it a singular ‘materialist’ twist. Harman’s stance is not strictly speaking ‘speculative’ either in this regard, fusing as it does the influences of phenomenology and Bruno Latour. Yet nor is it in any sense ‘materialist’, a tendency he abjures on the grounds that it entails privileging one allegedly fundamental stratum of reality over all others. ✎ 0 The term ‘realist’ is no less in need of disambiguation. We’re all realists about quite different things. Harman espouses a Latour-inspired ‘democracy of objects’ according to which science has no particular cognitive authority when it comes to discriminating between reality and appearance and no object can be said to be any more or less real than any other. Grant and Meillassoux retain versions of the appearance-reality distinction, but in very different philosophical contexts. For Grant it could be construed in terms of the difference between natura naturans and natura naturata, while for Meillassoux it is indexed by the difference between phenomenal and mathematical properties. I think it safe to say that neither Grant, nor Harman, nor Meillassoux shares my commitment to epistemological naturalism, or my sympathy for ‘reductionist’ accounts of subjective experience. I think they would view it as a mistake to begin philosophizing from the contrast between the ‘manifest’ and ‘scientific’ images of reality as I do, and as result their realism tends to be more catholic and ecumenical than mine, especially where subjective experience is concerned. By way of contrast, my sceptical stance towards phenomenology leads me to endorse a more austere, revisionary brand of realism that tends to undermine the reality of subjective experience, at least as ordinarily construed. Thus, given that we don’t agree that philosophy must be ‘speculative’ or about what ‘realism’ entails, the expression ‘speculative realism’ has become singularly unhelpful. ✎ 0

 Bram – What would you propose as an alternative? ✎ 0

Ray – Nothing: the label has done its work in terms of signalling possible alternatives to correlationist orthodoxy. Grant, Harman, and Meillassoux have each coined terms to describe their respective projects. My own could be characterized in terms of a new compact between metaphysics and epistemology: transcendental realism in the former and revisionary naturalism in the latter. There is a reality that transcends the bounds of possible human experience set out by Kant, but we are learning that it is populated by ‘things’ about which it is proving increasingly difficult to say ‘what’ they are using the resources of sense currently available to us. We will have to forge new vocabularies to be able to say what these things are. Admittedly, this still has a ‘speculative’ ring, but I would like to insist that metaphysical speculation be constrained by scientific knowledge. ✎ 0

Bram – The kind of realism that you defend, while certainly not hostile to reductionism, always insists on the fact that reality is far more complex than we surmise. An essential point you keep returning to when it comes to the deep structure of reality is ‘that there’s much more going on, and that it turns out to be more complicated’ (324), as you remarked during the Speculative Realism conference in London. You seem to be interested in a surplus of complexity. This also appears to be the main point in your essay on noise: instead of understanding noise as a lack of information or structure, you take noise to be a surplus of structure and complexity, as an ongoing superimposition of incompossibles. ✎ 0

Ray – Yes: I agree that there is a link and what I find particularly interesting about ‘noise’ is its informational density. In this sense, I think it prefigures (in a sense yet to be determined) the sort of challenge to intelligibility which will accrue with the gradual objectification of experience. Just as noise makes you work to decipher information by overriding familiar cognitive-classificatory sluice-gates, the objectification of experience will force us to make sense of ourselves in a quite unfamiliar and even fundamentally foreign conceptual register. Basically, I think that people who accuse science of reducing and attenuating what they consider to be life’s richness and complexity are completely mistaken: it’s quite the opposite: our conception of reality has been immeasurably enriched by scientific understanding and it’s rather our subjective experience of the world that is reductive and impoverished in comparison. But the point is not just that science enriches and amplifies our understanding of reality, but that it uncovers the truth. Noise has no such epistemic valence—it does not yield the sort of cognitive information that provides the basis for true or false judgements; but there is something of fundamental epistemological interest about the way in which it interferes with default cognitive schemas and perceptual Gestalts—epistemological in the sense that it challenges the way in which we relate to experience, rather than operating at the level of the content of experience. ✎ 0

Bram – In some of your essays (including ‘Genre is obsolete’) your ideas on philosophy and neurosciences are intricately related to the dynamics of contemporary capitalism. In an essay on subtractive ontology and capitalism you write: ‘Integrated global capitalism is constitutively dysfunctional: it works by breaking down. It is fuelled by random undecidabilities, excessive inconsistencies, aleatory interruptions, which it continuously reappropriates, axiomatizing empirical contingency. It turns catastrophe into a resource, ruin into an opportunity, harnessing the uncomputible.’ (57) It strikes me that this definition of capitalism is somehow connected to what you write on noise in your essay ‘Genre is obsolete.’ Do you see a similarity between capitalism’s stochastic dynamic and ‘noise’ – or would you rather say that noise and capitalism are each other’s opposites? What is the relation between noise and capitalism? ✎ 0

Ray – This is a difficult question. The suggestion that capitalism is somehow ‘like’ noise could easily be construed as some sort of dubiously Romantic aestheticization: capitalism as sublime, unintelligible phenomenon, etc. The passage you cite is problematic because it lends itself to such an interpretation. Basically, I do not think it at all illuminating or useful to construe capitalism as some sort of sublimely turbulent natural phenomenon. It’s important to bear in mind how, for all its seemingly unfathomable, impersonal complexity, global capitalism continues to supervene on the banal personal and psychological traits of the dealers, brokers, traders, executives, managers, workers, and shoppers, who are not just its dispensable machine parts but its indispensable support system, without which it would simply not be able to function. ✎ 0 There’s a temptation to hypostatize capital as though it were an impersonal, wholly autonomous agent subsisting quite independently of the myriad of little human subjects who compose it. This strikes me as a mistake. Here I think a sober appreciation of the mechanical banality of the processes through which capital reproduces itself might obviate this tendency to mystification: this seemingly fantastic, supra-personal complexity is not due to some mysterious self-moving cause or superhuman agent but an effect generated by the myriads of micro-processes that compose it: it is neither more nor less mysterious in its operations than any other complex, multi-layered emergent phenomenon. This kind of emergence and complexity are banal and ubiquitous. ✎ 0 I think there is an important dis-analogy between noise and capitalism in that noise as I understand it is precisely not complex in the way in which capitalism is alleged to be: the sort of emergent complexity exemplified by self-organizing systems is relatively uninteresting. The fetishizing of complexity in the sense of self-organization, along with emergence and irreducibility, etc., is part and parcel of the neo-vitalist tendency to prefer mystification to explanation, so prevalent today. What I consider to be interesting about noise is its dis-organizing potency: the incompressibility of a signal interfering with the redundancy in the structure of the receiver. Not transduction but schizduction: noise scrambles the capacity for self-organization. ✎ 0

Bram – What, if anything, could be the role of an aesthetics of noise in your work on neurosciences and capitalism? ✎ 

 Ray – I am very wary of ‘aesthetics’: the term is contaminated by notions of ‘experience’ that I find deeply problematic. I have no philosophy of art worth speaking of. This is not to dismiss art’s relevance for philosophy—far from it—but merely to express reservations about the kind of philosophical aestheticism which seems to want to hold up ‘aesthetic experience’ as a new sort of cognitive paradigm wherein the Modern (post-Cartesian) ‘rift’ between knowing and feeling would be overcome. In this regard, I would say that there can be no ‘aesthetics of noise’, because noise as I understand it would be the destitution of the aesthetic, specifically in its post-Kantian, transcendental register. Noise exacerbates the rift between knowing and feeling by splitting experience, forcing conception against sensation. Some recent philosophers have evinced an interest in subjectless experiences; I am rather more interested in experience-less subjects. Another name for this would be ‘nemocentrism’ (a term coined by neurophilosopher Thomas Metzinger): the objectification of experience would generate self-less subjects that understand themselves to be no-one and no-where. This casts an interesting new light on the possibility of a ‘communist’ subjectivity.

References

Ray Brassier, Alien Theory. The Decline of Materialism in the Name of Matter. 2001.

Ray Brassier, “Nihil unbound: remarks on subtractive ontology and thinking capitalism.” In Peter Hallward (ed.). Think Again. Alain Badiou and the Future of Philosophy. Continuum: London 2004, 50-58.

Ray Brassier, Nihil Unbound. Enlightenment and Extinction. Palgrave Macmillan: London 2007.

Ray Brassier, Iain Hamilton Grant, Graham Harman, Quentin Meillassoux, “Speculative Realism,” Collapse III. Urbanomic: Falmouth 2007, pp. 307-451.

(c) http://www.ny-web.be/transitzone/against-aesthetics-noise.html

Excerpt from Cengiz Erdem’s Ph.D. thesis

1. Method

The nature of this study requires an interdisciplinary and a multi-methodological attitude which goes beyond the opposition between merely conceptual and merely empirical approaches. It is based on a mode of enquiry which takes its driving force from thought-experiments that open paths to a new field in which various perspectives interact and form an intra-subjective dimension of theoretical practice situating psychoanalysis, cognitive neuroscience, and philosophy in the context of cultural and critical theory. For the emergence of a new truth out of the old knowledge one must pose new questions concerning the workings of the human mind. In the light of the recent developments in cognitive neuroscience, for instance, especially the works of Antonio Damasio and Gerald Edelman, Freud’s concepts of the life drive and the death drive, Klein’s concepts of introjection and projective identification, and Wilfred Bion’s affirmative recreation of Klein’s theories in the way of a theory of thinking become extremely relevant for the development of a universal cultural and critical theory.

Cognitive neuroscience proposes that the quality of an external object is always already projected onto that object by the neuronal activity of the brain. What cognitive neuroscience lacks is a historical context, likewise what cultural studies lacks is an organic basis. An interaction between psychoanalysis, linguistics, philosophy, cultural studies, and cognitive neuroscience can break out of the closure of the humanities and give birth to the link which has come to be considered missing, between nature and nurture, organic and inorganic, empirical and conceptual, epistemological and ontological, transcendental and immanent, the objective and the subjective.

Because of the dynamic and parallel nature of re-entry and because it is a process of higher-order selection, it is not easy to provide a metaphor that captures all the properties of re-entry. Try this: Imagine a peculiar (and even weird) string quartet, in which each player responds by improvisation to ideas and cues of his or her own, as well as to all kinds of sensory cues in the environment. Since there is no score, each player would provide his or her own characteristic tunes, but initially these various tunes would not be coordinated with those of the other players. Now imagine that the bodies of the players are connected to each other by myriad fine threads so that their actions and movements are rapidly conveyed back and forth through signals of changing thread tensions that act simultaneously to time each player’s actions. Signals that instantaneously connect the four players would lead to a correlation of their sounds; thus, new, more cohesive, and more integrated sounds would emerge out of the otherwise independent efforts of each player. This correlative process would alter the next action of each player, and by these means the process would be repeated but with new emergent tunes that were even more correlated. Although no conductor would instruct or coordinate the group and each player would still maintain his or her style and role, the player’s overall productions would lead to a kind of mutually coherent music that each one acting alone would not produce.[1]

The model of mind conceptualized by Gerald Edelman shows us that the mind is an embodied substance which has the ability to adapt to changes surrounding it. If we keep in mind that cinema, literature, art, and music show how the mind works at a particular moment in history, as well as the emotional state of that particular moment, it becomes clear why a mode of enquiry rather than a specific method is required for the analysis and critique of human consciousness and its relation to the environment surrounding it. In this context, the plot driven critique of the literary and filmic texts aims at distinguishing between the world of consciousness and the world of appearances. My claim is that it is only through looking at the mortal world of appearances with the eyes of an immortal consciousness that we can see that which is present as an absence in the predominant symbolic order. By looking at “what happens when” in a movie or a book as well as “how that thing happens,” I sustain the conditions of impossibility as the conditions of possibility for cont(r)action to take place and give birth to an immortal subject. Needless to say, this subject is also an object encountering and encountered by the unknown within the known, the chaos inherent in the order itself, that calls forth he who has died so many times and is yet to die again and be reborn many more times so as to live as dead again. The reader might be disappointed because I will not have pursued and incorporated Edelman’s neural Darwinism and further developed the idea of a context-bound cognitive neuroscience and a matter(brain) based cultural and critical theory. The reason for this is that I discovered Edelman’s work towards the end of writing my thesis, and then  rewrote the Introduction. As a matter of fact, after this discovery the whole thesis itself could have been rewritten. Just as the Law changes its object and is in turn changed by that object, my critical apparatus, too, changes and is changed by its objects, in this case cultural products, be they filmic, literary or philosophical texts. It is such that this theoretical narrative moves on in such a way as to cut itself from its own past and unite with its own future at the same time, that is, in one simultaneous movement in two directions at once.

Hence it becomes clear why I pay attention to “what happens when” and “how that thing happens,” at the same time. For this I am indebted to Edelman who shifted the perspective of cognitive neuroscience from “how the brain makes sense,” to “when the brain makes sense.” If one reads the writings on film and literature in this thesis with the conscious naivety of their plot based critique in mind, one can sense the underlying current of humour and the erratic undertone of irony, both of which knock down the serious tone of the critique based on a linear reproduction of a circular plot – as we see in the investigation of David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive for instance.

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.[2]

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 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 idea necessary for the emergence of the immortal subject as the enunciated content. It is only in and through a position of non-mortality within and without mortal life at the same time that the exploitation of mortality can be brought into the spotlight. A critique of the exploitation of mortality inherent in particularly exemplary cultural products will be achieved through putting them in a perspective that analyzes the life death drives in such a way as to expose the exploitation of the fear of death as the driving force inherent in them. The point is that it is indeed necessary to fantasize being what one is not, in our case being non-mortal, to be able to become self-conscious of one’s self-reflexivity in the way of creating an order of signification not caught up in the rotary motion of drives locked in Klein’s projection-introjection mechanism,  but rather one which breaks this vicious cycle and at least attempts to subtract death from life in a counter-act to the post-structuralist idea of life as a process of dying and death as an absent presence in the midst of life. It is only through such a subtraction of the absent presence of death within life that the productive interaction between Deleuze’s transcendental empiricism, Foucault’s bio-politics, Badiou’s theory of infinity, and Kant’s reflective mode of judgement give birth to the immortal subject as the womb of a new thought, a new life, and a new mode of being, free of the exploitation of mortality and engagingly indifferent to this mortal, all too mortal life.

Let us imagine a subject who finds himself in a certain situation which appears to have no escape route; a situation which nails him to a painful existence and brings him closer to extinction with every move he makes. What he needs is Bion’s theory of creative process and the emergence of new thought from within the dominant projection-introjection mechanism. In his Theory of Thinking Bion says that dismantling is as important in creative process as integration, that is, introjection and splitting are as necessary as projective identification and unification. Bion pays special attention to the process of introjection and projective identification and recreates Klein’s paranoid-schizoid position as a way of showing that it has two forms; one is healthy and the other is pathological. For Klein it was only with the attainment of the depressive position that the formless experience was given a form, the thoughts were invested with symbolic meanings. Bion sees introjection and projective identification as the two separate but contiguous halves and the paranoid-schizoid and depressive positions as the complementary parts of one another in the creative process. Now, if, following Bion, we think about Klein’s introjection and projective identification in the context of Derrida’s technique of deconstructive reading, we see that deconstruction is a mobile and dynamic mode of critique which moves between fragmentation and integration of the meaning of a text. Although deconstruction, as practised by Derrida himself, adapts itself to the internal dynamics of the text as the object of critique, it still lacks the affirmative and immanent fluidity which is necessary to open up holes, or passages, through which a new truth in touch with the requirements of the present situation can slip. This is because Derrida’s practice of deconstruction is still a negating activity and a transcendence oriented practice, which remains within the confines of the antagonistic relationship between the life drive and the death drive. To become affirmative, deconstructive practice needs to produce and incorporate its own difference from itself, that is, it has to become immanent to itself and the text it interprets.

As a mode of thinking, deconstruction attempts to erase the gap between the life drive and the death drive, but always fails, and this failure eternally confines deconstructive practice to the domain of antagonism between the life drive and the death drive. And if we keep in mind that deconstruction as a mode of thinking has become the dominant way of being creative we can understand why a critique of deconstruction is a critique of contemporary culture.

In this thesis I try to expose the workings of the deconstructive practice in certain works of art, literature, and cinema, which, consciously or unconsciously, exploit the ambiguity of the relationship between the life drive and the death drive, hence oppressing the one or the other. Needless to say this oppression of the one or the other necessarily exploits the one or the other, for oppression of the one requires exploitation of the other. As a consequence of this dynamic inherent in contemporary nihilistic culture projected onto the subject, the reader/spectator is removed out into the transcendental world of unconscious drives, leading to an illusory sense of omniscience on behalf of the reader/spectator.

The difference between deconstruction and affirmative recreation is that in the former an interaction between the destruction of a structure based on metaphysics of presence and creation of an opening, production of a void within the meaning of the text based on logocentrism is at work, whereas what is at work in the latter is a simultaneous dismantling of meaning, opening up of a void in the context of the text, and sustenance of the conditions for the possibility of the meaning’s flow in and through this void and out into the outside of the dominant context.[3] Derrida’s well known proposition that “there is nothing outside the text” is not the basic assumption of affirmative recreation; quite the contrary, a hole is opened within the context, and the meaning of the text flows through this hole. The meaning of the text is made to move on progressively, not just left without any foundations on which to stand and consequently fall. Deconstruction is concerned with exposing the rigidity and the solidity of rigid structures and solid constructions as is clear from its name. In a nutshell this is what Derrida’s self-reflexive reading strategy called deconstruction does: the socially and historically constructed and generally accepted dominant meaning of the text is explicated. And then this meaning is shown to be self-contradictory through the opening of a gap between what the author intended to say and what he has actually said. In affirmative recreation what’s at stake is a melting of the meaning and its continuous reshaping like a sculpture. The text is turned from a solid state into something like lava or clay and kept hot for further and perpetual reshaping, not into another completed sculpture. For me sculptures are products of an attempt to freeze life and/but a frozen life is no different from death.    

 2. To What End Last Words? To What End Suffering…

Throughout this thesis I have tried to develop a mode of critique in and through which nothing is excluded and/or determined. This reflective mode of critique itself enabled me to situate myself in the middle of the reflective and the determinative modes of judgment. The critical mode employed in this thesis is still context-bound to a certain extent, and yet it tries to restrictively dissociate itself from the predetermined context, rather than freely associate within it. A new field is opened, the conditions are created for the possibility of a decision beyond the Law of Militarist Capitalism and the Welfare State driven by and driving the exploitation of mortality on a massive scale. There is this transcendental field that requires a non-mortal mode of being in the world, neither for nor against it, but indifferent to it in such a way as to turn its own alienation from mortality into its driving force in its attempt to demolish the faculty of finite judgment and create the conditions of possibility out of the conditions of impossibility for an infinite judgment to take place beyond the subject/object of a Law that is mortal, all too mortal.

A truth comes into being through those subjects who maintain a resilient fidelity to the consequences of an event that took place in a situation but not of it. Fidelity, the commitment to truth, amounts to something like a disinterested enthusiasm, absorption in a compelling task or cause, a sense of elation, of being caught up in something that transcends all petty, private or material concerns.[4]

The immortal subject within and without the pre-dominant symbolic order is not only the cause, but also the effect of its own alienation from mortal life. This regulatory idea of immortality, which is also a constitutive illusion, is inspired by the post-structuralist theme of becoming non-identical as we see in Deleuze and Derrida. If one could become non-identical, why would one not also become non-mortal? If one could become alienated from one’s identity, why would one not also become alienated from one’s mortality?  Why not become immortal so as to become capable of criticizing the exploitations of this mortal, all too mortal life? But what motivated me to take immortality as a virtual mode of being was Badiou’s theory of infinity which aimed at secularizing the concept of truth. Badiou’s technique of secularizing the truth is inspired by the 19th century mathematician Georg Cantor’s technique of secularizing the infinite. As Badio claims, the secularization of infinity started with Cantor who stated that there was not one, but many infinities varying in size and intensity. From then onwards it became possible to link Deleuze’s concepts of impersonal consciousness and transcendental empiricism with Badiou’s theory of infinity and Kant’s assertion that for reflective judgement to take place and turn the object into a subject a transcendental ground is necessary.  Now I can say that for me a transcendental ground is necessary only to the extent that it enables the subject to shake the foundation of its own mode of being and opens a field for immanent critique to take place. In other words, the untimely indifference of immortality is required in order to actively engage in an exposition of the exploitation of mortality in this time.

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 non-normative and progressive universality to 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 indeed true that sometimes it takes a long journey to get there, where one eventually got at, 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.  

 Cengiz Erdem, The Life Death Drives (Lulu: London, 2009)


[1] Gerald Edelman,  A Universe of Consciousness: How Matter Becomes Imagination (New York: Basic Books,  2000), 49 

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

[3] It is important to note that here context signifies the dominant projection-introjection mechanism. To go outside this projection-introjection mechanism requires what Bion calls “the binocular vision.” Binocular vision means that the subject is still within the dominant context and yet he is also in touch with another mode of being which he is able to project onto the present and future. Binocular vision is the first step towards creating a new situation out of the present situation. Wilfred Bion,  A Theory of Thinking, Second Thoughts, (London: Karnac Books, 1984).

[4] Peter Hallward, “Introduction” in Alain Badiou, Ethics (London: Verso, 2002), x

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(c) CengizErdem, 2009.

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