06 November 2022

Algorithmic Control of Movement in Time

Paper presented to the international symposium Children and Adolescents in Crisis:Today's challenges and the need to redraw boundaries held in the New Senate Hall of the University of Cologne from 5 to 7 October 2022.

Algorithmic Control of Movement in Time: Abolishing even our selves ourselves 

To be published in the symposium's proceedings.

Further reading: Michael Eldred on the Digital Age: Challenges for Today's Thinking Interview with M.G. Michael & Katina Michael M&K Press, Wollongong 2021.  

On Human Temporality: Recasting Whoness Da Capo De Gruyter, Berlin (forthcoming 2023).

31 October 2022

Neurophilosophy begs the questions

Science.org spoke at the 2nd International Conference on Neuroscience and Free Will, a project funded by the Fetzer Franklin Fund in 2019, "with project leader Uri Maoz, a psychologist and computational neuroscientist at Chapman, about how the new effort aims to change the future of free will research".

In this post I only want to question a couple of the many ways in which this attempt at neurophilosophical research prejudices and vitiates its endeavours from the very start by begging the question(s), aka petitio principii.  Here a sample from the interview:

"Q: What would a collaboration between philosophers and neuroscientists look like?

A: It is part and parcel of this grant that every project has at least two neuroscientists and at least one philosopher involved. It's written in the contract. What I expect philosophers to do is not sit there and analyze data. What I would hope to get from them is to first help in deciding what are the right questions to ask. What to investigate is not a scientific question. It's a theoretical or philosophical question. Then, if we agree on the question, how do we design the experiment that would answer exactly that question? Then, once the experiment is done, they help interpret what the results mean and produce joint publications.

Ultimately, we'd like to get at two questions. One is, what is required for people to have free will? That is a philosophical question that our philosopher colleagues should come to an agreement on. As a scientist, I don't know what it entails to have free will. Then there's the second question, which is, whatever that thing is that is required for free will, do we have that? Do humans possess that? This is an empirical question. It may be that I don't have the technology to measure it, but that is at least an empirical question that I could get at.

Q: What questions are you asking?

A: The important thing is that right now we are trying to go beyond Libet-type experiments. Rather than asking do we have free will, we are trying to get at more nuanced and better-defined questions. How does the brain enable conscious causal control of our actions and decisions? How do our conscious intentions lead to actions? A third question is about purposeful actions...."

Let's start with the "second question" posted: "whatever that thing is that is required for free will, do we have that? Do humans possess that? This is an empirical question."

This question forecloses any serious interrogation by presupposing that there could be a "thing [...] that is required for free will". This thing is supposed to be also a material thing that could be measured by a suitable technology. Neuroscience requires from the start that it can measure something or other to empirically gather material data that can be checked against some hypothesis or other. But what if no thing at all is "required for free will", and certainly no measurable material thing?

This begging of the question is then followed up by a second, that is even more prejudicial: "How does the brain enable conscious causal control of our actions and decisions?"

The "thing" that is presupposed in the first act of question-begging is now identified as the material brain that, of course, can be measured by various technologies to your heart's content. The begging of the question goes even further here by asserting that this brain-thing enables "conscious causal control of our actions and decisions". Why is the material brain the enabling instance, and not vice versa? Why is not consciousness itself (or rather, the more encompassing psyche), with its free will to psychic self-movement, the enabling instance whose intentions and decisions direct its organ, the brain, to initiate bodily actions? Such voluntary intentions, such straining and directing of the mind toward... with practical intent, of course, are directed temporally toward the future to which consciousness (or rather, the more encompassing psyche) must be open. Such temporal openness must not be taken for granted as self-evident.

But what is consciousness? And what does it mean for consciousness to look into the future and envisage it in some way? Here we draw a blank, because this neurophilosophy tacitly presupposes that consciousness is 'emergent' from a material basis that can be empirically investigated by suitable, technologically enabled, measuring procedures. A material causal basis presumably does not look into a future at all, but merely blindly unfolds a material necessity of movement along a cause-effect chain in linear time.

Consciousness itself is a relatively recent invention that was first cast philosophically in the 17th century, most famously by Descartes. This conception stepped into the place held by the psyche since philosophy's Greek beginnings. One of the prime motivations for this substitution was that the psyche or soul had been conceived from the start as non-material (gratefully accepted by Christianity). This non-materiality was a hindrance to the nascent sciences of the 17th century, and even more so thereafter. It should be noted, however, that Descartes was comfortable with both notions: soul (âme) and consciousness (conscience). By contrast, modern science is committed to material, efficient causality. Then it can apply its empiricist scientific methodology of experimentally testing hypotheses without batting an eyelid. Even with those phenomena where linear causality breaks down experimentally, such as phenomena of quantum indeterminacy, the science (quantum physics, in this case) remains absolutely committed to predicting movement. That is its raison d'être.

Does it make any sense at all to try to formulate the question concerning the existence of the psyche (or consciousness or free will, for that matter) as an empirical one? In what sense can it be said that the psyche exists? What is its mode of existence? What does it mean for any entity at all to exist? Could it turn out that, in a certain way, it is the psyche itself — as a non-entity or pre-entity — that enables the existence of entities of all kinds, and in various modes of existence, to boot? In any case, such questions demand that today's science and philosophy drop their grossly naïve, prejudicial preconceptions to step back and seriously ask themselves whether there is any merit in such a discipline called neurophilosophy. 


24 September 2022

Freedom in liberal democracies

The freedom in liberal democratic societies consists in the freedom of the individualized, dissociated subjects to pursue income of all kinds and to consume it as they will. The democratic freedom in such liberal societies amounts to the subjects' being able to vote in free and fair elections for the representatives who are to govern them. Whether this is empirically the case in a given society is another question.

Confronted in the present time with the grave problems of climate change and the so-called 'limits to growth', the politico-economic task is now viewed as how, through democratic government on national and international levels, to make the transition to a sustainable economy sufficient to limit global warming, with its catastrophic consequences. Political action of activists aims at collecting the individualized subjects in public opinion to exert pressure on the elected government in the right direction.

The hidden movement underlying the gainful game in which the subjects pursue their happiness as players, however, is the limitless accumulation of thingified value through never-ending circuits. Neither the democratic subjects (who are, in truth, not subjects but players in an endlessly competitive game) nor their government know anything of this underlying circular movement of valorizing thingified value. All the players conform to the movement of limitless accumulation by seeking their thingified happiness, driven by the boundless will to have more and more.  Nevertheless they all (including the entrepreneurial subject-players through to huge capitalist corporations) and the democratic societies of which they are members, are unknowingly constrained by thingified value's success or otherwise in valorizing. All suffer when the circular accumulative movement of global thingified value stutters, but no one can name the culprit as such. Therefore it is continually misnamed by innocuous terminology that economists are versed in.

The voting citizens are never able to vote for or against 'valorization of thingified value' because this party is not on the ballot paper. Nevertheless, the right wing of the political spectrum unknowingly and invariably votes in favour of further endless accumulation. Without their knowing it, their highest value is thingified value and its valorization, coupled with the freedom to transform thingified value acquired as the highest freedom. 

The complex, competitive interplay in the gainful game is forcefully reduced — that is, led back — to the freedom of movement of thingified value transforming itself through its value-forms as the ultimate boundary condition of social movement itself, of which, as I say, the players and their democratic governments are unaware. The democratic subjects are not the underlying subjects of society's movement, but rather players caught up in a game, fulfilling their roles as income-earners and consumers in the endless valorization that, as a purely formal sequence of transformations, is indifferent to how the players fare and whether the Earth can bear this endless accumulation.

The circular movement of valorizing thingified value is itself a linear movement around a circle that is counted off by the linear time of turnover of capital and its accounting periods. The accumulative movement of total global valorizing value is the movement from which global time is counted. The interplay in the gainful game on the surface of society, however, is played out as a complex movement in three-dimensional time beset with contingency whose outcomes are unpredictable. At best, the movement's indeterminacy can be roughly modelled for various scenarios, but remains outside the reach of the subjects' collective will to control it. The player-subjects themselves know nothing of three-dimensional time as the time enabling genuine freedom of movement. Instead they all, from the lowliest to the most powerful, remain on the treadmill of endlessly valorization thingified value.

And yet liberal democracy, that is said to be rooted in the collective free will of subjects, implicitly asserts itself as up to the task of taming the beast of valorizing thingified value and guiding the globe to a sustainable future. This is one of the most comforting self-delusions born of the metaphysics of subjectivity. 

Further reading: Social Ontology of Whoness,
Movement and Time in the Cyberworld,
Da Capo (forthcoming, perhaps posthumously).

29 August 2022

Limits to Growth? Limitless Growth?

This year sadly celebrates the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of the Club of Rome's The Limits to Growth. It's taken fifty years for the ruthless exploitation of the Earth to come to the top of the political agenda of urgent issues. Climate change is staring us in the face, yet the inertia, the prevarication, the dragging of feet continue. Given the enormity of the threat to human living on the planet, the inevitable geopolitical upheaval, whence the resistance? The culprits are soon found: the large corporations that generate profits at the expense of environmental degradation down through multiple levels to the normal greed of individuals making money in any way possible without regard to the environment. The source of the problem seems to be human beings themselves and their shortcomings, and the solution seems to lie in the collective political actions of responsible, enlightened democratic subjects to agitate for and force through environmentally friendly measures of all kinds to achieve sustainability for the human species to survive.

But what of the limits to growth and the disregard thereof? The limits reside in the 'obvious' finiteness of the planet and all it provides by way of resources to exploit and consume. Hence, for instance, the concern with explosive population growth, the loss of habitat for animal species, the population pressure on the Earth to produce enough food, and so on. And the limitlessness? At first glance, and so we are often told, it lies in an incessant drive of human beings to want to improve their standard of living by consuming more and more, in lock-step with the drive of corporations to generate even larger profits ad infinitum. Hence the usual left critique of capitalism, its insatiable thirst for profit whilst keeping wage-growth to an acceptable level, whose acceptability amounts to not eating into capital's profitability. Insofar, both capitalists and workers, employers as well as employees have a vested interest in endless economic growth to raise the general material standard of living. It's called 'lifting millions out of poverty'.

Capitalism itself, however, is an 'it', not a human being, albeit borne and practised by human beings as a very simple principle of social, sociating movement. As a first approximation this can be formulated as the principle of movement from money to more money: money capital is advanced with the aim of making more money. The human being who undertakes this enterprise is called the capitalist, who is simply the character-mask of capital as this principle of social movement. The capitalist need not be a single human being; it may be a collective, called a firm, company or corporation.

The formula, 'movement from money to more money', is inadequate as long as it remains unknown what money itself is, paradoxically, even when everyone well understands what money is. To ask what something is, is to ask for its essence, its whatness. What is money? Its whatness lies in its being a form of value and, more particularly, a form of thingified value, for, after all, it is some kind of thing, whether it be a bit of precious metal, a piece of state-issued paper, an electronic bit-string in a computer or the electronic bit-string entry in a block-chain ledger. As a form of thingified value money shows itself in a certain 'look' as valuable, and hence as desirable. It seems to embody within itself the power of exchange-value, the power to exchange for other valuable things. The value-form is highly Protean, highly mutable, assuming many guises from commodities via means of production, wages and interest through to parcels of land. Capital itself is nothing other than this movement of thingified value through its forms to generate more thingified value, a surplus that is usually measured as an amount of money appearing on a balance sheet. Only if the bottom line is positive has the circuit of capital succeeded in generating a profit and the principle of movement been fulfilled. The advanced thingified value must accumulate, must valorize to be successful. This is an absolute condition of survival of individual circuits of thingified value in its endless simple circular movement. The accumulation of thingified value on a social or global scale has no inherent limit: its principle of accumulative movement is limitless.

Thingified value shows its face only through its various looks, its various forms, but these looks do not show themselves as such, not as forms of thingified value. It is only by asking what thingified value itself is and what its principle of movement is that the secret of the circular movement of thingified value in limitless accumulation is revealed. Otherwise we remain clueless; the very medium of thingified value in which economic and social activity takes place everywhere remains invisible, disguised in various guises, and hence the source of the heedless infringement of the limits to growth imposed by the finite Earth itself is misidentified.

In particular, the culprits who do not heed the limits to growth are misidentified. They are, indeed, we ourselves, we human beings, but we human beings as the wearers of character-masks, as the bearers of roles in a gainful game that is only the surface appearance of the deeper lying accumulative movement of thingified value as a whole. Through this misidentification, multiple deluding inversions in thinking are generated. One of these is the character-mask of the consumer in the gainful game. The consumer is generally conceived as the human being who needs to consume certain goods and services to support a material standard of living ranging from luxurious down to below the poverty line. The needs themselves are relative to the customary usages of a way of life. 

But there is also the inverted view of the consumer as the player in the gainful game whose role it is to enable thingified value to turn over and accumulate. Hence total social capital can accumulate only if the consumers play their part in 'supporting the economy' by consuming to the hilt of their disposable income. This is an entirely formal role played in the formal, augmentative movement of thingified value through its various forms back to money-form. As a formal social movement, the limitless accumulation of capital is wholly indifferent to its content. As a simple, formal principle, it is also senseless. Consumers fulfil their role in the valorization of thingified value simply by consuming what seems desirable or needful to support their standard of living. For the formal principle of valorizing value, it is entirely indifferent whether the consumption is beneficial or harmful, e.g. whether consumers ruin or enhance their health through consumption.

Ditto for the Earth: it is entirely indifferent to the formal principle of movement of valorizing value whether the environment is degraded or not. Hence the formal principle is indifferent, in particular, to climate change. Yet, even today after having insinuated itself over centuries, the sociating medium of thingified value itself remains invisible in its various guises, and also our roles in this alienating gainful game in which we unknowingly thingify ourselves as well as allowing the Earth itself to be subsumed under a form of thingified value called ground-rent. Insofar as we remain blind to thingified value, captive to its fetishized power, and its principle of limitless accumulative movement, we are fighting windmills.

Challenging the principle of limitless accumulation of thingified value as the underlying principle of sociating movement in globalized society ultimately demands of us that we challenge the deludedness of the human subject, that is, that we challenge the illusoriness of the metaphysics of subjectivity. A pivot to an alternative way of thinking is required.

If, instead of being individualized subjects, we are all life-long players in interplays of mutual estimation and esteem, then there are no limits to growth in how we can benefit and care for each other, preferably — but not necessarily — without the mediation of thingified value. Mutual esteem and care are able to turn the inverted world generated by the cold and indifferent principle of limitless accumulation of thingified value right side up.

Further reading: Social Ontology of Whoness

25 August 2022

Challenges for Today’s Thinking digital edition

Michael Eldred on the Digital Age: Challenges for Today’s Thinking 

Interview with M.G. Michael & Katina Michael

is now available in a digital edition.

27 July 2022

The greatest misfortune

According to Socrates in Plato's Philebos, the greatest misfortune to befall humankind is to be wilfully blind and ignorant, and to cover this up with the "false conceit of wisdom" (δοξοσοφίας ψεθδοῦς 49a).

It is the way in which humankind falls most short of the Delphic dictum, "Know thyself!" (γνῶθι σαυτόν 48c).

Welcome to the present day.


Turing test inverted

Alan Turing was dead wrong when he proposed his famous Turing test for computer intelligence in 1950. It needs to be turned upside down to speak the truth.

Humankind will have passed the inverted Turing test when the human mind has dumbed itself down to be no smarter than a supercomputer.

It's already well on the way to success.