Ex Machina and Wittgenstein’s Questions

One of the long-awaited films I have been eager to see is Ex Machina.  As I got up from the theater I could feel a stiffness in one of my knees and it is was there that I begin to formulate this post.  To start we must unravel the title Ex Machina from the phrase Deus Ex Machina roughly translated as God from the Machine.  In one of the quotable lines in the film, “to erase the line between man and machine is to obscure the line between men and gods”.  This draws us in to Rene Descartes comment in his Discourses that “the body is a machine that was made by the hands of God”.  One of the questions (there are many questions) that pervades the film is what is a machine?

We are very familiar with the idea of Descartes substance dualism which is still considered the reigning vulgar understanding of how the mind and the body relate to the outside.  The mind for Descartes was incorporeal and was not subject to mechanical laws.  The mind was separate from the body.  However, Descartes actually did ask the question that Ex Machina is asking as well:

We can certainly conceive of a machine so constructed that it utters words, and even utters words which correspond to bodily actions causing a change in its organs (e.g., if you touch it in one spot it asks you what you want of it, if you touch it in another it cries out that you are hurting it, and so on).  But it is not conceivable that such a machine should produce different arrangements of words so as to give an appropriately meaningful answer to what is said in its presence, as the dullest of men can do…even though such machines might do some things as well as we do them, or perhaps even better, they would inevitably fail in others, which would reveal that they were acting not through understanding but only from the disposition for each particular action: hence it is for all practical purposes impossible for a machine to have enough different organs to make it act in all the contingencies of life in the way in which our reason makes us act.

So according to Descartes a machine would be unable to exhibit adaptive behavior which is our glowing achievement as a species.  Even in our modern AI linguistic flexibility is still quite stunted.  In somewhat AI language this problem is titled the Frame Problem, the problem is a problem in first order logic where adaptability and randomness are not able to be programmed in a usable way or in some cases a moral way because of the ever changing and randomness of any situation.  Consider Paul Churchland’s discussion of tic tac toe to make our point.  There are only 9 boxes on the tic tac toe board but there are 362, 880 ways of filling it up.  This problem is important for our understanding of Ava in Ex Machina.  Can Ava make decisions that will consider the ever changing human behavior of the other two protagonist in the movie?

     Here Wittgenstein writes:

I may recognize a genuine loving look, distinguish it from a pretended one (and here there can, of course, be a ‘ponderable’ confirmation of my judgment).  But I may be quite incapable of telling the difference.

Ludwig Wittgenstein was brought up quite often in Ex Machina because of the nature of his ideas and how it relates to Ava’s relationship with Caleb the stereotypical programmer.  With a nod to Sir Geoffrey Jefferson’s oration on June 9th of 1949:

Not until a machine can write a sonnet or compose a concerto because of thoughts and emotions felt, and not by the chance fall of symbols, could we agree that machine equals brain–that is, not only write it but know that it had written it.  No mechanism could feel (and not merely artificially signal, an easy contrivance) pleasure at its success, grief when it valves fuse, be warmed by flattery, be made miserable by its mistakes, be charmed by sex, be angry or miserable when it cannot get what it wants

Ava and Caleb explore the nature of language and cognition.  The nature of language in the sense that all of language is ambiguous, and Wittgenstein’s idea surrounding the “illusory essences” that language conjures.  As Wittgenstein argues and Ava shows the idea that language is located in a spatial temporal inside is false, and meaning is not a something but instead a relation.  Caleb falsely believed that Ava’s language meant something, but in all relations the Symbolic in Lacanian terms is closely tied to the Imaginary.  This makes perfect sense because not only Ava the AI seductress (is she really a seductress) is playing a language game but every human relation is a language game, in that we believe in hallucinatory essences in signifiers, they always mean something to the one who speaks, each message comes back to you in a different form.  This again relates to desire, we want something from the interlocutor, Caleb wanted Ava to recognize him, not to be programmed to care for him but instead to truly want him.  However what becomes extremely clear in this movie is that the director is asking the question that Wittgenstein asked as well, and that is can humans pass the Turing test?  Do we ever really know how one feels towards you when it is impossible for each I to locate an emotion in oneself?

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged , | 1 Comment

This Is How Tech Will Totally Change Our Lives by 2025

Originally posted on TIME:

The ever-increasing hunger for data will fundamentally change the way we live our lives over the next decade. That’s according to a new report by the Institute for the Future, a nonprofit think tank that has released a set of five predictions for the ways tech will change the future.

Personal data will continue to be shared, bought and sold at an ever-quickening pace, perhaps with more benefits to consumers. In the future, people might be able to personally sell info about their shopping habits or health activities to retailers or pharmaceutical companies, according the report. The Internet of Things is also expected to continue to expand, with predictions that everything from cars to coffee cups will be connected to the Internet by 2025.

Increasingly sophisticated algorithms will help workers in knowledge fields such as law and medicine navigate large bundles of information. Automation could either enhance these jobs or…

View original 115 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Anti-Fuller: Transhumanism and the Proactionary Imperative, Robert Frodeman

Originally posted on Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective:

Author Information: Robert Frodeman, University of North Texas, Robert.Frodeman@unt.edu

Frodeman, Robert. “Anti-Fuller: Transhumanism and the Proactionary Imperative.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 4, no. 4 (2015): 38-43.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-1Zr

Please refer to:

victorian_transhuman

Image credit: Dave Mathis, via flickr

Academics suffer from a type of déformation professionnelle: we believe that across the long arc of history that ideas get their due. Our efforts are premised on the assumption that the best argument and deepest thinker will eventually be recognized.

Steve Fuller offers…

View original 2,630 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Trier’s Hamartiology with Sade

The credits rolling and the music blasting, the end of the movie Nymphomania by Lars von Trier.  Even before it ends my Argentina (psychoanalyst) girl begins to feel she wasted two hours of her time.  She verbally dashes from to and fro about how Trier is a child, and the movie made no sense at all.  I am waiting for the question, “what did you think about it?”  This post is in some sense what I thought about it, what made sense to me, and how I understand her disdain for it.

images (2)

In order for me to begin I will of course look to the tradition of the libertine, and with this quote:

Juliette asks me ‘what is your view?  Is there any more divine passion in the world than lust?’   ‘I would venture to say that there is not but lust must be carried to excess: in libertinage, he who applies curbs is a food who denies himself all possibility of ever knowing what pleasure is.’  ‘libertinage,’ Durand put in, ‘is a sensual aberrance which supposes the discarding of all restraints, the supremest disdain for all predjudices’.

Here we see in Sade’s work something that Trier is asking the viewer as well.  Trier much like Sade is deeply religious in the sense that he is questioning the notion of freedom and morality by allowing the libertine access to the divine, the divine is close to the excess, or in the inhuman.  As we see the young Joe which is played by the striking Stacy Martin playing a game with her friend on the train we ask ourselves if this is true, can two girls get men to fuck them by just asking?  The ultimate ‘win’ is when she confronts a married man who actually bought his wife an anniversary present, she drops to her knees and unzips his pants; she commences to perform oral sex on him.  This isn’t just a gratuitous sex scene, but it tells the viewer that there is something going on here, a older teenage girl seducing to the point of raping a man with her mouth.  Is it possible to rape without penetration?

imagesThe classic work on pornography, The Sadeian Woman, Angela Carter writes, “the prick is always presented erect, in an alert attitude of enquiry or curiosity or affirmation it points upwards, it asserts.  The hole is open, an inert space, like a mouth waiting to be filled.  From this elementary iconography may be derived the whole metaphysic of sexual differences—man aspires; woman has no other function but to exist, waiting.  The male is positive, an exclamation mark.  Woman is negative.”  Trier calls this entire idea into question in this one scene, because he is the waiting one, the inert desiring machine that is ‘overpowered’ with lust.  However again it was Sade writing in the 18th century that would be the direct influence on Trier’s Joe, Sade was adamant that women could be libertines just as men, actually he called for it, and he was correct as Trier shows that  women must behave in the same sadistic manner as men if they are to not be perceived as a “universal victims” which of course leads to a immunitary logic.  Even in Nymphomaniac II when Joe is being beaten by the sadist we never feel she is a victim.

Nymphomaniac confronts us with the question of what is good and what is evil.  This question is not puerile and not only the question of stoned teenagers, but has extreme political ramifications.  We even have two characters that are trying to exemplify one characteristic over the other, Joe the evil sex crazy nymphomaniac who has no remorse, and the angelic asexual Seligman (which in German means blessed man)who saves Joe and tries to absolve her of all her self prescribed “sins”.  It was Kant who first reminds us of this logic, the logic that good is often predicated on evil.  Was the revolution legitimate?  Was the beheading of the King a morally perverse act or was it necessary?

images (1)

In Kant’s Grounding for the Metaphysics of Morals he writes of what has been translated as the categorical imperative.  Act only according to the maxim that your action will be considered a universal law.  That all ends should become ends in themselves without any subjective advantage, to strive for the objective in order that all should follow the maxim.  However, this objective view was famously criticized by Hannah Arendt in her Eichmann book because of course Eichmann was following this maxim when he stated he was only following orders, only performing ones duty without regard to any subjective end.  Again going back to the idea of the Enlightenment, “the urge to do good can necessitate evil actions.”  Sade is the ultimate critic of the Enlightenment, or he is making us aware of the logical consequences of it.  This is exactly what Joe does in Van Trier’s Nymphomaniac part II.

Joe in her sexual addiction meeting says:

 I’m not like you, who fucks to be validated and might just as well give up putting cocks inside of you. And I’m not like you. All you want is to be filled up and whether it’s by a man or by tons of disgusting slop makes no difference. And I’m definitely not like you. That empathy you claim is a lie because all you are is society’s morality police whose duty is to erase my obscenity from the surface of the earth so that the Bourgeoisie won’t feel sick. I’m not like you. I am a nymphomaniac and I love myself for being one, but above all, I love my cunt and my filthy, dirty lust.

Here Joe refuses her castration, she like Sade’s character Julliette feels she is above or even god like because she no longer follows the morality of morals.  She makes her own rules and accepts her position as a libertine.  However, and this is the point which is extremely important in our times.  Trier and much like Sade questions the emptiness of the libertine.  He is asking the question and then what?  Sade in his published writings stated his only intention was to condemn the libertine, to show how vacuous it becomes.  Joe and Trier show us this as well; when you watch a piece of film where the sex finally becomes uninteresting (since you have watched every variation on sexuality you can think of) you know that Trier does his job.  The most brilliant thing (and yes I think the film had flashes of brilliance) we see in the film is how Joe’s character changes.  He even intentionally uses two different characters to portray them.  The younger and attractive version changes into someone hardened, lacking affect, and quite miserable.

My Argentine girl watched the second part the next day, before I got to it.  So she wasted another three hours?  Of course not, she felt the second part was more pertinent, and much more interesting.  Also, I feel in some sense she is correct.  Why are we still asking questions, or better why are we continuing to expect different results within the axioms we are setting out for ourselves?  Questioning the Enlightenment and Humanism, even though we know that a specter is haunting humanism. Sade allows us to remember that Heidegger was wrong in claiming that we need the gods to come back, we need to accept our fate, claim we are fractured, and at all cost

Posted in Philosophy | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Review of Kate Schechter 2014 ‘Illusions of a Future: Psychoanalysis and the Biopolitics of Desire’ by Justin Clemens

Review of Kate Schechter 2014 ‘Illusions of a Future: Psychoanalysis and the Biopolitics of Desire’ by Justin Clemens.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Boundary Work: Post- and Transhumanism, Part I, James Michael MacFarlane

Originally posted on Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective:

Author Information: James Michael MacFarlane, University of Warwick, J.MacFarlane@warwick.ac.uk

MacFarlane, James Michael. “Boundary Work: Post- and Transhumanism, Part I.” Social Epistemology Review and Reply Collective 4, no. 1 (2014): 52-56.

The PDF of the article gives specific page numbers. Shortlink: http://wp.me/p1Bfg0-1QT

post_and_transhumanism

Post- and Transhumanism: An Introduction
Edited by Robert Ranisch and Stefan Lorenz Sorgner
Peter Lang GmbH, Internationaler Verlag der Wissenschaften
313 pp.

Ranisch and Sorgner’s Post- and Transhumanism: An Introduction (2014) sets out to explore the connecting and diverging factors of transhumanism and posthumanism at a time of marked ambivalence towards the nature and status of humanity. Amidst a growing body of work concerned with examining each of the named movements respectively, this volume’s self-announced distinctiveness comes from it’s attempt to creatively juxtapose the two with regard to common foundations, topics, and sources of influences (18).

To this end, the text comprises 5 thematically organised sections each corresponding…

View original 2,086 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Braidotti’s The Posthuman Chapter 3

posthuman

I want to provide a lengthy discussion on Rosi Braidotti’s The Inhuman Life beyond Death which is situated in her excellent treatise The Posthuman.  This is chapter three.  As you can tell from the title of the chapter Braidotti seeks to deal with the concept of the inhuman within the framework of a Posthuman ethics.  If you are looking for a primer on what exactly posthumanism is I will provide this link http://enemyindustry.net/blog/?p=5282  .  I am starting with Chapter three in Braidotti’s book because it seems to pose some serious questions regarding posthumanism that must be addressed.  It also makes an assertion on Giorgio Agamben’s philosophy that I find troublesome.

It is there I shall begin.  Braidotti writes “For him ‘bare life’ is not generative vitality, but rather the constitutive vulnerability of the human subject, which sovereign power can kill; it is that which makes the body into disposable matter in the hands of the despotic force of unchecked power”  First it is imperative we understand that for Agamben bare life is not the same as zoe or biological life but instead it is the leftover from the originary split between zoe and bios.  Bios is a political life and zoe is a biological or nutritive life; Agamben is making a distinction because he is showing us that biological life has always been a part or non-part of western political thought and it is not something modern.  This does not mean he finds no difference in the way democracy functions, “(modern democracy) presents itself from the beginning as a vindication and liberation of zoe, and that is constantly trying to transform its own bare life into a way of life and to find so to speak the bios of zoe” (homo sacer, 10)  In other words modern democracies seem to use apparatuses (dispotif) in order to capture the subject, but to state that Agamben does not see a way out of this ignores his entire project of a politics of indifference.

images (2)

Braidotti also states something peculiar when she writes “The colonial plantation is the prototype of this political economy and the enslaved human almost the epitome of ‘homo sacer’, and there is no mention of the paradigm of the camp which Agamben uses much more than the plantation.  Most of the critique Braidotti makes on Agamben seems to have come from Timothy Campbell’s Improper Life.  Campbell in his book wants to show the similarity between Agamben and Heidegger which emphasizes the proper and the improper and how this relates to technology.  No wonder Braidotti writes that there is an over-emphasis on mortality and perishability in contemporary social theories if she follows Campbell’s one sided critique on Agamben’s distrust of modernity.  For posthumanity technology is extremely important, and this critique on Agamben’s distrust in even the emancipatory potential of technology stands.

Moving on from Agamben and actually shifting backwards to the beginning of the chapter.  Braidotti locates the inhuman within the Marxist framework by stating that, “The commodification process itself reduces humans to the status of manufactured and hence profit-driven technologically mediated objects.”  Braidotti shows us with a very quick paragraph that for Marx and Marxist such as Lenin technological innovation was important.  She writes that Marx was an anti-essentialist, but Marx also saw something we need to begin q uestion in our framework the idea that the human being is a tool maker or animal laborans.  Marx and now Bernard Steigler realize that technology is man, and man is technology or in other words, “Humans first distinguish themselves from other animals not through higher mental powers but by producing the means of their existence, indirectly producing their material life” (Casey, 46)  It is here where we move back to Braidotti because she realizes that the technological and the posthuman/inhuman results in expedient cruelty and violence which she quotes Mbembe, “We have rather entered the era of orchestrated and instrumental massacres, a new ‘semiosis of killing leading to the creation of multiple and parallel ‘death worlds’. ” How is she theorizing the inhuman and how is it related to the posthuman?

She states that Lyotard’s The Postmodern Condition is a critical piece to this chapter.  Lyotard defines the inhuman “as the alienating and commodifying effect of advanced capitalism on the human”.  The inhuman is very much related to the abject in Kristeva, and the Real in Lacan.  Here Kristeva writes about it, “Abjection preserves what existed in the archaism of pre-objectal relationship, in the immemorial violence with which a body becomes separated from another body in order to be” (Power of Horrors)  Braidotti finds potential here, and this is moving us towards an idea of the posthuman where we must dismantle the existing categories in order for an event to occur.  The event must exist prior to the symbolic and at the moment of a collapse of meaning.  She relates this to the mirror image and the image of the (m)other.  The violent confrontation with the father’s law and the mother’s body is exactly where the posthuman resides.  We dismiss Agamben’s ludditism and concur with Braidotti, “the nature of the human-technological interaction has shifted towards a blurring of the boundaries between the genders the races and the species, following a trend that Lyotard assesses as a distinctive feature of the contemporary inhuman condition.”  As she states the posthuman is not the transhuman in that we prescribe to the idea that we just need more technology to bring us to a utopian techno-heaven but again as Braidotti so wonderfully puts it, a “dislocation of the traditional understandings of the human.”  Here we move on with Braidotti to think about a posthuman theory on death.

beauty

Braidotti makes it clear that we need to begin to think of death, or ways of dying in a new way, in a posthuman way.  She writes that for her and her vitalist materialist way of thinking, “Life is cosmic energy, simultaneously empty chaos and absolute speed or movement.  It is impersonal and inhuman in the monstrous, animal sense of radical alterity: zoe in all its powers.”  She then writes what she thinks death is, “death is the inhuman conceptual excess: the unrepresentable, the unthinkable, and the unproductive black hole that we all fear.  Yet, death is also creative synthesis of flows, energies and perpetual becoming.”  Braidotti here sounds very similar to the Buddhist understanding of death, which is not a critique but an observation.  She recalls the impermanence of life and states that death is always past, and we have always already been conscious of death.  This conscious awareness of death should allow us to move beyond the terror of our finitude.  She then writes something I find extremely interesting, “life is an addiction like any other”.  She is of course correct, that to think of the posthuman is to defamiliarize ourselves even in the wake of the most terrible thing we can think of, the extinguishing of our life, to imagine ourselves not being there.  To think of death as we have always done, stuns us into a complacency instead as Braidotti writes, “death as process from the specific and highly restricted viewpoint of the ego is of no significance whatsoever.”  Individualism dies in this understanding, and we must think of ourselves as a movement of parts to a whole.  Lastly I will quote one more way of thinking, or postthinking, “life in you is not marked by any master-signifier and it certainly does not bear your name”

Posted in Bio-Philosophy, Political Theory | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Killing Yourself to Live: Foucault, Neoliberalism, and the Autoimmunity Paradigm (2014)

Originally posted on Foucault News:

Jason Maxwell, Killing Yourself to Live: Foucault, Neoliberalism, and the Autoimmunity Paradigm, Cultural Critique, Number 88, Fall 2014, pp. 160-186 10.1353/cul.2014.0038

Further info

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Since the English translation first appeared in 2008, Michel Foucault’s The Birth of Biopolitics has become an object of intense fascination within academic circles. While any new translation of Foucault’s work reliably draws a substantial crowd, this lecture series from 1979 solicited more attention than usual because its contents resonated so strongly with the present historical moment. Indeed, The Birth of Bio-politics staged a long-awaited confrontation between two hugely influential discourses. In one corner stood Foucault, who even two decades after his death still received more citations than any other thinker in the ever left-leaning humanities. In the other corner stood neoliberalism, the economic doctrine that had underwritten American conservative political practice since Reagan…

View original 569 more words

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Pilate and Jesus | Giorgio Agamben Translated by Adam Kotsko

Pilate and Jesus | Giorgio Agamben Translated by Adam Kotsko.

Aside | Posted on by | Leave a comment

Posthumanism 101: Non-Fiction and Fiction

Posthumanism 101: Non-Fiction and Fiction.

Aside | Posted on by | Tagged | Leave a comment