December 18th, 2010

S.C. Hickman

Thomas Ligotti: The Nemocentric Vision - the self as no-one and no-where

"Technology is now an invasive component of agency."
     - Ray Brassier, Genre is Obsolete

"We now arrive at a maximally simple metaphysical position with regard to selves: No such things as selves exist in the world. At least their existence does not have to be presupposed in any rational and truly explanatory theory."
      - Thomas Metzinger, Being No One

Thomas Metzinger in his now classic, Being No One, tells us that selves do not exist and that the "phenomenal selfhood originates in a lack of attentional, subsymbolic self-knowledge. Phenomenal transparency is a special kind of darkness."[1] He goes on, saying,

"Perhaps unfortunately, the responsibility of academic philosophy also consists in telling people what they don’t want to hear. Biological evolution is not something to be glorified. It is blind, driven by chance, and it has no mercy. In particular, it is a process that exploits and sacrifices individuals. As soon as individual organisms start to consciously represent themselves as individuals, this fact will inevitably be reflected in countless facets on the level of phenomenal experience itself. Therefore, defining our own goals involves emancipating ourselves from this evolutionary process, which, over millions of years, has shaped the microfunctional landscape of our brains and the representational architecture of our conscious minds."[2]

He goes on to tell us that it is time to take on the conscious responsibility for the evolution of our minds as a continuation of the Enlightenment project (ibid. p. 633). As soon as we realize that the "phenomenal characteristics of selfhood" result from the "transparency of the systems model - a new dimension opens up" (ibid. p. 634). If we do this we can, at least in principle, wake up from our biological history. "One can grow up, define one’s own goals, and become autonomous. And one can start talking back to Mother Nature, elevating her self-conversation to a new level" (ibid. p. 634). 

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S.C. Hickman

Ray Brassier: On Transcendental Realism

" 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."
      - Ray Brassier, Interview With Ray Brassier – Against an Aesthetics of Noise 

That Ray Brassier moves us beyond any naturalist reduction of scientific objectivity to a humanist perspective is the starting point of his unique blend of anti-humanism and speculative realism, which is centered on a 'transcendental realism', a perspective that asks us "how does human experience fit into the world described by science?"[1] He tells us that his view of science is shaped by the idea that "we can attain an objective perspective on our own subjectivity" (ibid.)" If we accept this dictum he tells us then "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" (ibid.).

He tells us that the Speculative Realism conference (London 2007), which brought together himself, Graham Harman, Iain Hamilton Grant, and Quentin Meillassoux created more problems than it solved. Speculative realism "was only ever a useful umbrella term," one that "is beginning to generate more confusion than clarity" (ibid.).  As he tells us the only thing that united these philosophers was the "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" (ibid.). He tells us that each of the four original philosophers hold divergent views regarding their respective alternatives to correlationism: "

Of the first term in the Speculative Realist perspective, speaking of "speculative", he says,

"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" (ibid.).

Of realism he tells us that 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" (ibid.).

So ultimately the idea of a speculative realism, at least for Brassier, "has become singularly unhelpful"(ibid.).Would he replace the label? He tells us 'no'. Instead he would characterize his new philosophical stance as "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" (ibid.).  

Yet, for better or worse, the label of Speculative Realism is here to stay, and these philosophers, along with Ray Brassier, will all go into that historical register as members of a brotherhood of that seeks to regain the momentum of the original Enlightenment project, but with a twist: - it seeks, rather than humanist soverignty of the self, an anti-humanist stance that displaces the human self as the center of the universe, and also aligns itself against all anti-realist traditions of post-Kantian philosophy.

1. Interview With Ray Brassier – Against an Aesthetics of Noise nY # 2 (2009)