December 19th, 2010

S.C. Hickman

The Storm: Hyperobjects and Speculative Posthumanism

"In my language, particular instances of technology such as the computer upon which I’m now writing, are local manifestations of the technical object. By contrast, the technical object is the technical ensemble or hyperobject that coordinates these local manifestations. "
                   - Levi R. Bryant

On his blog Larval Subjects Levi R. Bryant has a new essay on Stiegler, Simondon, and Hyperobjects: Non-Anthropocentric Technics, in which he gives a minimal definition of a hyperobject: "for now, we can say that in order for something to be characterized as a hyperobject it must be structured according to its own internal processes and development, independent of the intentions of other entities such as humans."[1]

In such a concept we see the beginnings of a turn toward a weird realism. He quotes Stiegler's Technics and Time in which he outlines Simondon's ideas: "Technical evolution stems completely from its own technical object. The human is no longer the intentional actor in this dynamic. It is its operator." It's as if the role of the human/machine has in some sense been reversed in this scenario. Instead of technical evolution arising out of a human and machine co-evolutionary scenario we begin to see that these technical objects or hyperobjects are in some ways totally beyond the human, that they have their own intentions and goals and use the human only as they see the need to do so. There seems to be a dialectical interplay between what Stiegler defines as the interior and exterior milieu: the interior mileu is social memory, the shared past, that which is called “culture.” It is a nongenetic memory, which is exterior to the living organism...; and, the exterior milieu is natural, inert milieu, but also the one carrying “the objects and the ideas of different groups.”(ibid.)

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S.C. Hickman

H.P. Lovecraft: The Whispers of Nature

“Philosophy begins in wonder. And, at the end, when philosophic thought has done its
best, the wonder remains.”
        - Alfred North Whitehead, Modes of Thought

Donald Tyson in his new book, The Dreamworld of H.P. Lovecraft, tells us that "Lovecraft was a mystic and a dreamer, not a scientist, but as yet he had not arrived at this realization, and to a large degree, he never would." One wonders if the Lovecraft that Donald Tyson portrays in his new book is more a portrait of Tyson himself than of the historical personage, Lovecraft, who signed his name to so many tales of the Weird. One of those often quoted passages by Lovecraft on science that have come down to us has the narrator in the opening of his 1926 tale "The Call of Cthulhu" say that the "...sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age."

Of Science and scientists one must agree with Ben Woodard when he remarks that a "...thinking nature requires a deeply rooted weirdness in the thinker, it forces an impossible escape attempt from itself which, in actuality, is a scanning and probing of nature, across the blindingly infinite stratifications of existence. Thinking is nature’s failed attempt at diagnosis, a failure which for a time appears as finitude or individuation, but such appearances soon fold back into the torrid roar of process, of onto-epistemological indistinction."[1]

Alfred North Whitehead once told us that "in a sense nature is independent of thought."[2] He also affirmed the idea that nature was "closed to the mind" (ibid.). He described his form of speculative philosophy as "...the endeavour to frame a coherent, logical, necessary system of general ideas in terms of which every element of our experience can be interpreted. By this notion of ‘interpretation’ I mean that everything of which we are conscious, as enjoyed, perceived, willed, or thought, shall have the character of a particular instance of the general scheme. Thus the philosophical scheme should be coherent, logical, and, in respect to its interpretation, applicable and adequate.”[3] James Bradley expanding on this Whiteheadian definition tells us that speculative "as opposed to analytical philosophy is centrally concerned with the concept of activity, understood as the activity of actualization which makes things what they are. Moreover, speculative philosophy has characteristically maintained that the activity of actualization is self-explanatory in the sense that it is defined in terms of a distinct kind of entity which has necessary existence or whose existence is not derived from anything except itself."[4]

One wonders if the philosophical musings of Lovecraft fit into such a schematic framework? From a perusal of Lovecraft's essays in Volume 3: Collected Essays one can gain a fair idea of his ideas concerning science and scientists. An avid amateur astronomer he wrote several articles on it as well as debunking astrologers who infested many of the periodicals. He wrote an extensive monthly astronomy column for the Providence Evening News (1914–18), in which the dry recitation of astronomical phenomena for the month was enlivened by elucidations of the Greek myths behind the names of the constellations, discussions of important astronomical discoveries over the centuries, and snippets of Lovecraft’s poetry.[5] In a letter to Clark Ashton Smith he once said that astronomy "...has always been my favourite science, followed assiduously since I was twelve years old."[6]


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