In the end of march 2013, some of us took part in “Unlike Us” Conference about new horizons on Social Media in theory, culture and politics organized by the Institute for Network Cultures at Trouw Amsterdam. It took me some time to finally be able to write about those days of pure brainfeeding, but that’s one point about the ambiguity of digital information flows: on the one hand the internet never forgets, on the other hand due to the enormous and ongoing masses of data running through the different networks at the speed of light – overwhelming our poorly developped inner filtering mechanisms – every bit of potentially so important news gets old within days, hours, minutes, seconds or milliseconds.
So it already means to go against the tide in just _not_ letting it fall down and taking the time to write about it, even if it happened
a month four months ago. I don’t know, sometimes I wonder how people in ancient (= pre internet) times coped with not knowing. When did we loose the ease about not being up to date?
It took twelve days, until the information that Abraham Lincoln was shot reached Europe. Twelve. Days. We are the generation _now_, everything has to happen now, has to be reachable now, we try to live in and make the most of now and at the same time we know that we face an uncertainly fragile future and that we have to invest the most ressources possible into long-term and sustainable development, which is paradox in itself.
But maybe those reflections already show that the digital revolution also looped back on our inner engineering, our ways of thinking and handling complex thoughts and figures. If you’re still willing to follow me, now we will go deeper into scientific imagination.
I hope my professors will not be reading this, because I don’t believe in science in the way most of the people do. My image of science can best be described as a science fiction vision of science, as while looking closer the differences between those two concepts – science fiction and science – are not as big as one might think. It also won’t surprise that science fiction got popular not so far from the point in time where what we call modern (especially natural or ‘hard’) sciences have been starting to succeed.
“Der Mensch muß bei dem Glauben verharren, daß das Unbegreifliche begreiflich sei; er würde sonst nicht forschen.” (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
Basically, for me science is rather to be described as applied science fiction than the search for a so called truth. That’s because it is impossible to not have pre-assumptions and everyone who tries to tell me that he or she follows the path of reality in order to unveal a new facette of it is simply lying. At least that is my preassumption. Even with the most advanced hermeneutic circle, how can you discover something that you don’t know it will be there? How can you as an indigenous person be able to see spanish ships arriving on the shore of Bahama Islands when for thousands of years, in your cultural memory noone has ever seen a sailing ship appear and therefore you might not be able to imagine the possibility of the horizon to ever change its face? Can it be a true ship or should you consult the medicin due to obvious mental illness? What will the group decide on what they think is the truth based on their decision hierarchy and group hegemony of interpreting reality? Yeah, when strange pale ghosts from the outer spheres of imagination visit us, let’s give them all our treasures before they make the sea dry or the sky fall. Bref, a scientist has to actively decide WHAT is there, WHAT you will discover and groups of scientists fight on what they think is closer to their truth. Figures and tables, images and explanations, instruments and measurements, theoretical and empirical research will be your vehicles in order to complete your mission of constructing YOUR truth. In the end, I don’t see why doing research on cloning embryos should not be seen as applied science fiction.
There was a point in time when we made a great shift, in this sense modernity is still alive: in premodern times, reality was such a big myth that you where happy whenever you came to understand what we call the most basic ways of functioning of our universe now. If an apple falls to the ground, it might happen because there is something way heavier (earth) that attracts it and behind that there might be a general force called gravity. Wow, how impressive. Can I get a nobel prize for that discovery? At some point the knowledge about the basic functioning of the universe grew in a way that we started to explore regions where our own senses and experiences were not helpful anymore. The macro and the micro. However, people build instruments to make things visible. Obviously, here we started to explore spheres of the world, which we don’t have direct access to. We don’t feel electro-magnetism, yet as we know and use it now, it became real for us. Reality is a value- and belief system co-developped by our commom sense and the everyday evidence we base it on – the legitimation institutions and all the instruments and devices used. This is the crux about modern sciences and the point of further investigation: scientists think they discover reality yet they help reconstructing, reshaping and expanding it every single day. In this understanding, the world real is not even helpful for anyone and the active part of it all should more be reflected and this is why I like to see science rather as applied science fiction than as ‘pure’ science – the essence of it is long gone and I am already waiting what terrific and world changing outcomes all the science labs are going to produce within the next decades. A teleporter would be nice. Even if you don’t agree, you feel that it somehow could make sense – because actually people do work on a teleporter already. What a wonderful world we’re living in.
Only in this introduction we travelled through space and time, through facts and imagination, through certainties and possibilities. I don’t want to oppose nature and human sciences in any ways because they all invoke parts of the other somehow, it was just important to point out that in human sciences and especially philosophy, we are even closer to this imaginery image of science. There lies advantages and disadvantages in everything, but thinking the unthinkable, exploring the ways of how we engage with ourselves, our mindsets, our privileges and our errors and failures is fruitful for the development of our societies and I do believe that just in confronting us with psychic and social mechanisms that might appear odd and scary to us will help us from leaving the paths that lead to developping those mechanisms.
After all I do believe that we are still premodern in the way that we are more unable than ever to steer, shape or actively construct the society we want to live in – yet the whole politics and value system is based on this premise. So even when critique is not explicate in every sentence, providing people with thoughts they find ugly, dangerous or undesireful could be a push into acting in ways that excludes or lessen the realization of those concepts.
In the following I hope I can just touch some of those thoughts Bernard Stiegler rolled out in his speech on that windy morning of march 22nd 2013 – I guess now we are ready to visit Stieglers speech, which I will review and comment in my own words.
After arriving half an hour before the official start of Unlike Us #3 and having had some delicious dutch bakery snacks as well as coffee, tea and probably the best juice I ever had on a conference, the first concept I noticed Stiegler talking about after Geert Lovink’s introducing words was Foucault’s BIOPOWER. Just some time ago I saw a swedish TV series about a parallel universe in which humanoid roboters had started to replace people in most of the work, service and compagnon fields. Non-robotic people just could not adapt to the perfection of the robotic ones, but their presence forced them at least to do their best and some of the “successful” human beings didn’t seem that far away from the roboters in the end. Biopower will be the last field of control institutions have over individuals, yet the strongest one known so far. If someone controls the ways you think, the ways you work and the ways you engage with yourself without directly intervening, thus controlling indirectly as all the control is left to yourself, it doesn’t surprise me that on a friday afternoon the two people sitting next to me in the train that have been on a work trip since 6am are just not stopping to work. Maybe noone will ever read this phrase as there is surely more important work to do. The role the computer plays in this we will have to examine further and it the postmodern society of control it is not so easy anymore to provoke acts of subversion.
Stiegler started off with the process of individuation, which I understand as the becoming of an individual, an ongoing process and a kind of learning. Nowadays we could observe a transindividuation, which consists of psychic individuation and co-individuation where the network-based ways of interacting digitally short circuit the co-individuation and participation on co-individuation. In networks, we are groups of psychic individuals who individue themselves. Of course the ego is constitutive for the incorporation of individuation – after Freud the ego holds the history of object choices and so we are conditioned by artefacts that co-constitute our being in form of transitional objects or premordial pharmacons as for example the blanket and the teddybear. Now digital technologies may intervene through »linguistic capitalism« and a new process of transindividuation – a computed one at the speed of lights. Stiegler points out two essential algorithms: advertising and linguistic engineering – both are to be seen as the roots of the success of google (see Frederic Kaplan “Google et le capitalisme linguistique”). We live in an economy of expression where the page rank scans the state of transindividualisation process. Thus performativity leads to the world of the automat, advertising means auctioning worlds. Following Stiegler, combining the digital technologies with new forms of marketing will establish a new power at the core of the cerebral organ itself – the brain. This obviously is his strongest announcement. This is why he used Foucault in the beginning and this is what I understand Stieglers main argument he wants to develop: linguistic capitalism in network-based communication forms helps establish a new kind of power at the very core of the inner functioning of the human being itself, the brain (here, social philosophy uses a power microscope it seems).
After having shortly mentioned his thesis, Stiegler went back into the early days of social sciences and phenomenology in order to build the fundament of his thoughts first mentioning Tarde and Husserl. The every so often forgotten french genius is to see therapies as an approach to the brain in the first place and education as a culture and cultivation of a brain – like cultivating a garden with trees, plants, fertilizers and gardening tools; the latter reflecting not only about speech flows which are constituted by its temporality. It is us who say what it is that she is saying. There is a unity lying in the temporal object and a unity in the discourse he was adressing at us. Still it is undoubtful that every notebook of all the listeners to Stieglers speech will be filled with different words, different understandings. Moving on to the fabric that mind memories are build of, Stiegler points at primary and secondary retentions to constitute this mind fabric. Explaining what those retentions mean to him, he goes further back in history of philosophy taking Hume and Kant into account. Hume speaks of associative filters in his sense of associations, Kant is mentioned with his critique of pure reason where we do not retain everything – aggregating primary retentions already is a primary selection. After Husserl, secondary retentions are somehow charged with expactations in a way that neurons are charged with energy. For me to go back to the science battle for a second, Neurons can be seen as a trial in getting something ‘hard’ – like elemental particles in physics – into social sciences. Yet I have to admit that I strongly prefer philosophers talking about neurons than neurobiologists doing the same. However, in secondary retentions after Bergsson there is a relation between perception and memory, which brings him directly to Derrida’s differAnce. We are only able to write down a fraction, it is impossible to note everything – differAnce is a process and therein everything is devided into linguistic units. For now he picked some important anchorpoints in social philosophy, but soon he will come back and combine some of his thoughts with recent media developments. As most of the linguistic units are parallized, Stiegler finds a monoculture of brains, a form of neural politics that articulate biopsychic automatisms. He emphasizes that real politics must be neural politics and not industrial politics of spiritualisation of value, because the fall in the spirit of value will always lead to fascims. So does facebook alter the process of transindividualisation as a code of rules in a relational field where it is shortcircuiting the social relations. From a linguist perspective, social networks are the actual state in a process of grammatification which is ongoing since 30000 years and now is leading to the grammatification of the self. It is the exploiting of the network effect, the wisdom of the crowds – or spoken with Freud: künstliche Massen. Similar processes of the grammatification of the self can be seen in the army or the church, where the individual can be seen as a psychic atom with Guattari. Stiegler thus turned his viewpoint focussing on a negative pharmacological situation we’re in. We want to find a cure for a sickness and start to invest – which means setting up a process of academic publication. All academic knowledge is based on publicity. Kant already illustrated the conflict of the faculties, where groups constituted by the interest of knowledge form the discourse and therefore the republic of the letter. Slowly we’re getting closer, by comparing Social Networks to Academics we get an idea what Stiegler wants to point out, but first he speaks about institutions a bit, mainly saying that they indulge young psychic individues and that there is an iteration of the brains which is illustrated by Maryanne Wolfs “Proust and the Squid“, which Stiegler calls the best book in the past ten years.
Finally coming back to social networks, he identifies one need in particular: they have to become spaces. Spaces, in which critical production of data and meta data have to be enforced according to the criteria of knowledge. Science is based on controversy, on disagreement. Agreement is ideology. What does facebook promote? A like button. Conformity. Flattened expresses of sentiments and no actual discussion. In the end the social networks we inhabit have to change radically and become the vectors of a new republic, a new RESpublic. A sort of meta republic of digital data and meta data (think of the principles of donation; Marcel Mauss) incorporating trackability and network effects. Stiegler identifies the emergence of the third age of the web. The first was based on hyperlinks, the second on search engines, the third is characterized by collaborative works in knowledge based communities. We can now be described as an artificial anthill – we move in a field of digital pheromons.
It will be important to find and use new contributive systems of annotation and creating communities that are structured by a new digital, new technologies of indexing and tools of controversy. In the semantic web which rises at the decline of the so called social web, with the help of markups we should be able to create graphical languages which will better represent the bottom up than the top down directioning of forces, because those graphical languages are spacily implied closer to the ongoing deruptment of audiovisual temporal objects. Yet we have to consider the ongoing synthesises that are happening, especially the synthesis between human and technology. Power needs counterpower, if not it gets entropic and destroys itself. We are waiting for the end of consumerism – google is a mix of consuming and contributioning and therefore friend or foe? In the end, Stiegler emphasizes that we must create languages that work as political tools in order to bring to life a new force for the first time in history: the contributive force. Maybe then we can finally start living democratively.
The whole speech as a video: