Game (Theory) of Life

Mircea Suciu

“For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I.”
Romans 7:15

“I wish it were possible… to invent a method of embalming drowned persons, in such a manner that they might be recalled to life at any period, however distant; for having a very ardent desire to see and observe the state of America a hundred years hence.”
Benjamin Franklin (Letter to M. Dubourg, 1792)

“Kissing the picture of one’s beloved. That is obviously not based on the belief that it will have some specific effect on the object which the picture represents. It aims at satisfaction and achieves it. Or rather: it aims at nothing at all; we just behave this way and then we feel satisfied.”
Ludwig Wittgenstein (Philosophical Occasions)

“Social atomism strikes us as scientific.”
Mary Midgley (The Myths We Live By)

“Men are reduced to walk-on parts in a monster documentary film which has no spectators, since the least of them has his bit to do on the screen.”
Theodor Adorno (Minima Moralia)

I remember sometime in my senior year of high school getting invited to a party at Cal Tech. I was going out with an Asian girl (Chinese/Korean) and she had been accepted there. She was a math genius of sorts. Anyway the party was as strange as anything I have been to before or since. These were Cal Tech science guys, the great minds who decided not to go to MIT. And what I found was a group of mostly white guys (quite a few Asians) who were totally de socialized and awkward. And all of them, as I recall, were politically conservative. Not just conservative but fringe super reactionary Birchers and what not. This is 1969 mind you and most people I knew were anti-war. Not in this party. Now I relate this tale because of the reverence America has for science. And I think how these geeks became renowned researchers, physicists, and doctors of various disciplines and specialties. I did not think of them then, or now, as great minds.

But think Nazi experiments on children, and others, by *doctors*, think Harold Shipman, think Farid Fata, think Walter Jackson Freeman, or just all the doctors and nurses who carried out, and advocated for, forced sterilization during the first half of the 20th century. Dr Mengele and Dr Aspberger. Or William Shockley and James Watson. Hell, Shockley went to MIT *and* Cal Tech. You get the idea. Or the doctors who worked for colonial authorities in Africa and India. Or Thalidimide. Or Dr. Graeme Reeves, or James Burt of Ohio. I mean one could go on and on. The point is that scientists in any field can be great tools for science while often, perhaps very often, being regressive socially and politically. Or just psychotic.

The term transhumanism keeps cropping up in media. It started as a fringe term, one found in academic journals both of a philosophical variety, and also a tech variety — it was a part of the new vocabulary for geek futurists. Now it seems to have migrated to social media, to critics and supporters of green capitalism and the great *reset*, and is often accompanied by terms like *Fourth Industrial Revolution*. The actual term was coined by Julian Huxley (founder of the World Wildlife Fund).

The problem, as with Game Theory (which actually at the least has a mathematics grounding) is the vague definition accorded Transhumanism, one riddled with contradiction, but also with a troubling fascist core. The most obvious link is with eugenics. But it intersects with eugenics in a sideways manner. The early 20th century saw a number of novels depicting dystopian futures, ones with so-called model societies achieved via technology or drugs or just some vague Nietzschian dream of human hierarchies. Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, Orwell’s 1984, and before that at the end of the 19th century, Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde (more a cautionary tale about medicine and science). And then an entire tsunami of science fiction writing over the last eighty years in particular. And the engine behind all of this was the Enlightenment. A dream that ‘science’ (rather than, really, rationality, and always singular not plural) would both *save* mankind but also provide the means to an infinite continuum of progress. A dream that is always, in the end, ahistorical and that is always tied in with domination.

Julia Fish

“In the early decades of the 20th century, not only racists and right‐wing ideologues but also a number of left‐leaning social progressives became concerned about the effects of medicine and social safety nets on the quality of the human gene pool. They believed that modern society enabled many “unfit” individuals to survive—individuals who would in earlier ages have perished—and they worried that this would lead to a deterioration of the human stock. As a result, many countries (including the USA, Canada, Australia, Sweden, Denmark, Finland, and Switzerland) implemented state‐sponsored eugenics programs, which infringed in various degree on individual rights. In the United States, between 1907 and 1963 some 64,000 individuals were forcibly sterilized under eugenics laws. The principal victims of the American program were the mentally disabled, but the deaf, the blind,the epileptic,the physically deformed, orphans, and the homeless were also sometimes targeted. But even such widespread compulsory sterilization pales in comparison with the German eugenics program, which resulted in the systematic murder of millions of people regarded as “inferior” by the Nazis.”
Nick Bostrom (A History of Transhumanist Thought)

Now one should note that during the height of eugenics the countries most enthusiastically embracing it were the whitest countries. This might suggest a secondary connection between white supremacism (of which eugenics is the rational {sic} expression) and transhumanism. But I will get back to that, because, firstly, I think its dangerous to traffic in such broad terms. The above quote is by Nick Bostrom, himself a leading figure in transhumanism.

Victor Brauner. (Portrait of Hitler, 1934)

The broad history of what is being called Transhumanism includes a fair number of fringe crackpot DIY disciplines (cryonics for one) but also more well funded technologies like in vitro fertilization, nanotechnology, virtual reality; genetic engineering etc. But there needs to be a distinction made, it seems, between nanotech and gene splicing and stuff like cryonics. One is corporate funded and has clear business uses and significant implications for all manner of automation and medicine. The other is science fiction fantasy that includes a lot of rather obvious denial of death projects, and invariably, it seems, white supremacism. Immortality is a big engine for, actually, all of this. But the stuff that is considered serious also shares a lot of peculiar beliefs. At least in the early phases of transhumanism. One branch that was centered in Academia was bio ethics. This revolved around gene splicing, and assisted reproduction. But others have written extensively on this history and that isn’t what interests me anyway. What *does* interest me, now in the shadow of the Covid19 event, is the tacit appeal to the authority of specialist sciences and to wealth. Trust the science is a recurring call generated by State marketing.

But its the reflexive submission to the very rich that is most disturbing and it seems to run throughout the Covid hysteria. Wealth is associated with technological prowess, progress, and with *solutions* (This is also reflective of the rampant infantilism in western society today). Also,one runs into this, of course, in any climate discourse. But the pandemic has temporarily replaced the so called climate emergency with a contagion emergency. Now, there are two strands in this association of wealth and solution; the first is the default trust most westerners have for science (any kind of science). The second is the more hidden, the stealth terrors of survival, for self, family, and society. A terror of death. There is also the seductive quality of the *new* — that transhumanism feels new, like the cutting edge of human potential. The *new* automatically pushes death back a few yards.

I keep coupling transhumanism and game theory because regardless of the comparative value or not of each, they are being employed for the purposes of mystification.

Kon Trubkovich

There is a palpable sense of influence, in both really, that includes Ayn Rand, Hayak, and Nietzsche and the early medieval Alchemists. One sees the obvious branches of thought and culture that sampled some or many parts of a belief in immortality, of man transforming himself materially and spiritually, and of course, domination. This is built around and finds excuses for embracing repression, denial of pleasure and hedonism. The precursors to transhumanism are all puritanical and sex negative.

And while Christianity was always ambivalent about immortal life, or short cuts to finding it, there is a distinct christian quality to the discourse. Today I find two kinds of people writing about transhumanism. One is sort of de-mystifying and warning, usually couched in Marxist analysis (class analysis) and is anti imperialist, and critical of corporate and big media power. And the other is one who also warns of corporate takeover, imperialism, and Capitalism, but who’s warning is not de-mystifying and rarely class based, but instead is fearful of the power of this idea and practice because they grant it a certain legitimacy.

But everything is, additionally, linked to an intoxication with technology, with gadgets, with a Jetson’s vision of the future.

Joseph Albers

“Therapeutic human cloning, stem cell therapies, synthetic organs, molecular nanotechnology, and the digital-cerebral interface may allow us to achieve immortality in this century. But keeping bionic transhumans alive until immortalilty is achieved may prove very expensive. And not everyone will want it.”
Ray Kurzweill (The Transhuman Singularity, 2001)

I’m gonna call bullshit on this one. But its equivalent of the earth is doomed in 12 years. But here is another quote…“Infinitesimally tiny nanotechnological robots (nanobots) may some day circulate throughout our brains, systematically creating a digital record of the position of each molecule, providing a backup copy of our memories.” And yet this guy is a respected speaker and public intellectual. Go figure. But go ahead and check out some Youtube talks by the, I guess, leading transhumanists (Kurzweil, Aubrey de Grey, Vernor Vinge, Max Moore, David Pearce, Bostrom, et al). Its pretty stunning how silly this stuff is. So, why is it being promoted by Bill Gates and Elon Musk and all the other high net worth guys?

Johann-Georg-Gichtel-Theosophia-Practica, 1723

And small props to Noam Chomsky who said its all just fantasy. And indeed it is. And there is a side bar warranted here. The sci fi community attracts a very specific sort of person. Overwhelmingly male, overwhelmingly white. But its something else, too. Its even their appearance. I fear I would descend into totally snarkification if I continued along this track. So back to our regular programming…

“The words ‘science’ and ‘scientific’ have acquired a peculiar cachet in modern times. If someone accuses you of behaving ‘unscientifically’, they are almost certainly criticizing you. Scientific conduct is “sensible, rational, and praiseworthy; unscientific conduct is foolish, irrational, and worthy of contempt. It is difficult to know why the label ‘scientific’ should have acquired these connotations, but it is probably something to do with the high status in which science is held in modern society ( ) In the West at least, scientists are viewed much as religious leaders used to be: possessors of specialized knowledge that is inaccessible to the laity.”
Samir Okasha (Philosophy of Science, A Very Brief Introduction)

Here from the Einstein Institute of Mathematics …without accreditation of authorship….but no matter…are some observations on game theory (from an article titled What is Game Theory).

“Descriptively speaking, then, we can expect our disciplines only sometimes to explain or provide insights into ‘‘real’’ phenomena. We cannot expect them always to do so, because they are admittedly incomplete. We cannot even say beforehand when we expect them to do so, because we do not yet know how to integrate rational sciences like game theory and economics with non-rational sciences like psychology and sociology to yield accurate predictions.”

I will return to game theory below (worth noting that something like ten Nobel Prizes have been awarded to economists for their work on game theory).

Pierette Bloch

But there is a serious issue beneath all the silliness of transhumanists and Elon goes to the Mars, etc. And the issue has to do with how science shapes not just our perception of verification and proof, but how it shapes our cultural consciousness, too. How the idea of proof itself evolved, and the links with optical instruments, with technology, and what was lost in the process.

“As you say, I think we can distinguish three levels of hostility in Wittgenstein’s remarks about science and scientism. There is hostility to the scientism that treats science as the only respectable form of enquiry and ignores the value of other kinds of investigation. There is hostility to the spirit in which contemporary science is conducted, which Wittgenstein thinks is the spirit that informs western civilization as a whole. And, occasionally, there are signs of an attitude that goes further than the anti-scientism expressed in these first two forms of hostility: hostility to science itself. “
Bill Child (Interview on Wittgenstein, Social Science Collective, 2018)

Wittgenstein’s basic criticism of science revolved around the emphasis science placed on causality. And that often the resulting discourse was too general.

“…philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer questions in the way science does. Philosophers constantly see the method of science before their eyes and are irresistibly tempted to ask and answer questions in the way science does. This tendency is the real source of metaphysics, “
Ludwig Wittgenstein (Blue Book)

Vilhelm Hammershoi. 1899.

It is obvious, I think anyway, that there is a lot of junk science out there. And some of this has to do with simply creating attention for some idea, creating clickbait if nothing else. Other parts of it are more institutionalized. That the academy manufactures a fair amount of junk science is pretty clear, too. And probably for the same reasons. Science is used as a tool of propaganda and for most Westerners the authority of science is indisputable. But I think there is more elusive question involved in thinking about science. And this is the historical implications and influence of the ‘scientific revolution’, the influence of Newton and the Enlightenment. And while I have discussed this before, I wanted to approach it from another direction. A direction that tries to suggest what the structure of existence has taken from science. Newton’s laws were to be an antidote or corrective to the Church and to the hierarchical system of Church dogma. Its interesting to look at popular articles on Newton and the scientific revolution because what you find is usually a justification for Capitalism and western democratic (sic) politics. And behind this is an idea that what Newton provided was an example of rationality. This was *reason* and everyone was free to ‘see’ the Newtonian universe themselves. And these sorts of articles (and this is what high school textbooks provide, too) are a form of just profound simplification and are reductive in the extreme. They are also something like collective dreams.

The U.S. is facing an election between Joe Biden and Donald Trump. Obviously the triumph of reason and rationality over superstition.

“On their way toward modern science human beings have discarded meaning. The concept is replaced by the formula, the cause by rules and probability.”
Horkheimer and Adorno (Dialectic of Enlightenment)

Wilhelm Sasnal

Now Horkheimer and Adorno saw bourgeois society ruled by equivalence. The comparing of things was in the service of finding what was alike about them. And essentially, if you could not measure it, could not calculate its properties, it was illusion (or worse, poetry). But as Horkheimer and Adorno noted; “…the myths which fell victim to the Enlightenment were themselves its products.” Myth was the product of observation, too, and to narrate and report, and eventually to collect these observations as ritual. And it was Wittgenstein who said (I paraphrase…) that man is perhaps a ceremonial animal. In the desire to control or master nature, the myth and the Newtonian mind are alike.

“We are accustomed to think of myths as the opposite of science. But in fact they are a central part of it: the part that decides its significance in our lives.”
Mary Midgley (The Myths We Live By)

Midgley notes the persistent imagery of the machine (genetic engineering, etc). And she makes a perceptive point about the importance of the microscope. I have written of this before, of course. Its invention coincided with psychoanalysis and detective fiction. The unseen world offered clues to understanding. Now the microscope was invented earlier, in fact, but it became much more sophisticated at the end of the 19th century. And again, this reflects the belief in breaking down large things into their smallest parts. And at the end of that search is what is on the microscopic slide.

Today physicists continue to postulate ever tinier particles. And in the digital universe the idea of size itself has become passe. On the level of parable the writing of code is the ultimate practice of erasing size, and the finding of clues is only decoding. Today’s detective, in a futurists universe, would only scan code as it scrolls past his or her gaze. Most of the planet is increasingly proletarianized. And while automation has replaced tens of millions of jobs, the idea of robots overrunning the palace gates (figuratively speaking) is absurd. The ruling class finds this fantasy useful, however. Together we must ensure rational robots. We must create a more securitized environment, lest the marauding android hordes come and destroy us.

Emma Kunz

“However, throughout the twentieth century, scientistic prophets repeatedly told a bewildered public that policies that in fact had little to do with science must be accepted because experts had shown that they were scientific and objective. A central case of this is the behaviourist doctrine that psychology, in order to be scientific, must deal only with people’s outward behaviour, ignoring motives and emotions and regarding them, not just as unknowable but as trivial and causally ineffective. This led to many bizarre practical policies, such as the advice that J. B. Watson and B. F. Skinner gave to parents that they should not hug or kiss their children but should treat them in a detached and distant manner ‘like young adults’. This treatment (they said) was necessary because it was scientific and objective.”
Mary Midgley (ibid)

And Wittgenstein is perhaps the most cogent critic of science, of how it has changed language and the ideas of analyzing and reflecting on our life. Science is at its core a practice of distance. The scientific method is a profound tool, and the achievements of science are obvious. And yet, I personally cannot shake this unsettling but elusive feeling I have regards science; that everything has been deformed by the irrational aspects therein and that the shaping of dreams and satisifaction have been derailed in a sense.

Kassian Cephas (Java, 1880)

“Mathematical theorems are tautologies. They cannot be false because they do not say anything substantive. They merely spell out the implications of how things have been defined. The basic propositions of game theory have precisely the same character.”
Kenneth Binmore (Game Theory and the Social Contract)

“Game theory is an axiomatic-mathematical theory that presents a set of axioms that people have to ‘satisfy’ by definition to count as ‘rational.’ This makes for ‘rigorous’ and ‘precise’ conclusions – but never about the real world. ( ) Game theory is, like mainstream economics, model-oriented. There are many reasons for this – the history of the discipline, having ideals coming from the natural sciences (especially physics), the search for universality (explaining as much as possible with as little as possible),
rigour, precision, etc. “

Lars Pålsson Syll (Real-World Economics Review, issue no. 83)

Game theory posits rational actors. A specifically instrumental rationality.

“The weaknesses of social-scientific normativism are obvious. The basic assumptions refer to idealized action under pure maxims; no empirically substantive law-like hypotheses can be derived from them. Either it is a question of analytic statements recast in deductive form or the conditions under which the hypotheses derived could be definitively falsified are excluded under ceteris paribus stipulations. Despite their reference to reality, the laws stated by pure economics have little, if any, information content. To the extent that theories of rational choice lay claim to empirical-analytic knowledge, they are open to the charge of Platonism (Modellplatonismus). Hans Albert has summarized these arguments: The central point is the confusion of logical presuppositions with empirical conditions. The maxims of action introduced are treated not as verifiable hypotheses but as assumptions about actions by economic subjects that are in principle possible. The theorist limits himself to formal deductions of implications in the unfounded expectation that he will nevertheless arrive at propositions with empirical content.”
Jurgen Habermas (On the Logic of the Social Sciences)

James Rodriguez, photography.

“So – again – why assume individuals are ‘rational’? Mostly because game theorists want to be able to make behaviour predictable.”
Lars Pålsson Syll (ibid)

It should be noted that game theory and nearly all climate predictions employ models. And that leads to an enormous discussion that exceeds the goals of this posting. (assuming I have *goals*). But in one sense this should be obvious. Game Theory isn’t about anything except itself. It is, itself, a game. But then bourgeois economics itself is already a total mystification. The real question is why it has exhibited such a strong pull on the western mind. Now, let me go back to Wittgenstein for a moment. Annalisa Coliva, in an essay on Wittgenstein’s ‘remarks on Fraziers Golden Bough’ writes in her introduction…

“At bottom, these themes are unified by a deep form of anti-scientism and by an underlying yet sustained criticism of key elements of Western culture. These elements are, first, the idea that science provides the uniquely correct method of explanation of all kinds of phenomena – physical as well as cultural. Second, the idea that just like science aims at identifying the causes of physical phenomena by subsuming them under theories, also philosophy and, relatedly, social ‘sciences’ like anthropology should follow suit and build theories that, when correct, would explain the causes of the phenomena they scrutinise. Third, that there is cultural progress to be measured by the degree of similarity between a given society and Western cultures, where science plays such a fundamental role.”
Annalisa Coliva (Rituals, Philosophy, Science and Progress: Wittgenstein on Frazer)

Andrzej Wróblewski

“The nonsense here is that Frazer represents these people as if they had a completely false (even insane) idea of nature, whereas they only possess a peculiar interpretation of the phenomena. That is, if they were to write it down, their knowledge of nature would not differ fundamentally from ours. Only their magic is different.”
Wittgenstein (On Frazer’s Golden Bough)

A book everyone should read is Guy Robinson’s Philosophy and Mystification. It addresses much of what is being trotted out today as reliable science. But more, Robinson is a Marxist and he asks the questions that should be asked, are clearly in need of being asked, but which are increasingly rarely asked today. What Wittgenstein concludes in his remarks on Frazer is, essentially, we should not think of all descriptions and all explanations (if explanations are indeed mandatory) on the model of scientific description and explanation. One sees this in climate discourse, in game theory, and in the laughable realm of transhumanism.

“The suspicion is not long dawning that it is because the problems of machine intelligence and artificial intelligence have not only conceptual roots, but ideological ones as well. That is, they are grounded in and express not a scientific view or theory, but a view that stands outside and looks over the sciences as a whole, taking them to be the only comprehensive and legitimate form of understanding and explanation.”
Guy Robinson (Philosophy and Mystification)

Now the whole idea of Artificial Intelligence has become something more than its declared goal. It is now a psychological expression, even an allegory, of western capitalism. There is a both a projection going on, something in how men want to be robotic (See Terminator 2), want those hot sex androids so popular in sci fi novels, and want the triumph of machine over man, and this is, partly I believe, because they feel helpless in face of a decaying bourgeois class that has no purpose, no job, and no meaning.

Intelligence is very hard to define. I used to own a Czèch german shepherd. She was bred to work as a police or military dog. And so one had to work her, to train her often, or she would get, lets say, restless. She was never happier than when out doing tracking exercises. During the long ago writers strike in LA, I had a temp job as a dog trainer. What was interesting was that all of us on the staff knew which breeds to avoid. Some just seemed dense (Irish Setters, due to overbreeding) while others, like Golden Retrievers were very easy to train. But Chows presented the biggest problem. Chows, everyone agreed, were very smart. VERY smart. But they literally could not be trained. They were more like cats in that respect. But they simply saw no point in the undignified activity of heeling or sitting or whatever. The punch line, though, was Chows didn’t really need to be trained. They didn’t run into traffic, didn’t jump up on guests, or chew up your new couch. They were mostly indifferent to anyone but their owner. And that was that. I bring this up because, as I say, Chows were regarded as very smart. One might ask how that was determined. The answer is both subtle and complex at once.

Toba Khedoori

They gave off an aura of intelligence. They also didn’t do dumb shit. It was clear they understood commands, but also clear they were not going to follow those commands. Was that smart of them? This is where one can leap off into a discussion of AI. It is often stated that adaptation is a sign of intelligence. I don’t quite buy that, though it *is* in certain situation. But refusal to go along is a sign of intelligence too. Chows as the Che Guevara of dog breeds. The field of AI, the people making it, and studying it, are overwhelmingly white and male. Its interesting I think that doctoral degrees in Philosophy are also overwhelmingly male and white (Hispanic students did however double in size over the last twenty years). I mean not many people period actually study philosophy. A great many study computer science and robotics and AI.

“…we need to identify and characterize a visionary use of the sciences that has been with us almost as long as the sciences themselves. “Scientism” is a convenient label for this programmatic and visionary science-based religion. It is a complex syndrome of ideas and attitudes whose chief marks are reductionism, determinism, a kind of “theologizing” of science and a tendency, even a necessity, to talk about “science” rather than “the sciences,” by the introduction of absolute notions, and the deification of Nature (capital”N,” please, to signal its transcendent nature), as well as a general “mechanization of the world-picture.””
Guy Robinson (ibid)

Malcolm Liepke

The entire AI project, from its inception, has felt very much a reflection of the neurotic solipsistic obsessional character of like under Capital. So what is the appeal? One can tick off a dozen films with AI themes (most of the borrowing from Kubrick and HAL). Make that several dozen. And TV too. I see growing numbers of AI themed TV series from Europe, from Russia, from Asia. The reactionary and confused adaptation of a Philip K. Dick novel, Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep, into Blade Runner and into a cult classic and a wildly popular film, and a template (as much as the Kubrick) for the popular conception of AI. But let us allow for this being the kitsch end of AI, the pop version of a *serious* discipline. AI has entered the cultural landscape, it is part of the vocabulary of western society. Hence, I think, there is something beyond just economic reward that is driving this fascination, for the lay person and for the scientists involved.

First of all, I find a lot of surveillance stuff just doesn’t work.

Most people I know will argue this with me. Even far left thinkers who may despise the growing police state of west, but they fear the technology. I fear the police. The technology doesn’t have to work for the same results to be achieved. But I digress. AI and its wide appeal is often explained by the practitioners having a *god complex*. I think the opposite is more likely. I feel the pull is the desire FOR having robot overlords. I think there is a great self loathing in all this, and while it is mixed in with some narcissistic qualities, the real allure is masochistic almost. It is a submission to an ultimate authority. It is some weird version of Stockholm Syndrome. As people have become less and less in touch with their inner lives, with their feelings, the more they come to admire the android idea, to admire machines. This is also reification of a sort. As Paul Krasner once said…reification is where you treat your appliances like friends and your friends like appliances.

Shi Guorui, photography (Hong Kong seen from Kowloon).

Do androids have an unconscious?

“There is a vast difference, for instance, between thinking of an ego, on one hand, and of accepting “I” as the consummate, complex, nonlinear, multidimensional subject, on the other-or between using the construct of the id as opposed to Lacan’s (1966) “Other,” which I sometimes render as the “second self” or “alter ego” or the “ineffable subject of the unconscious.” When the ineffable subject of the unconscious finds an external other who happens to be a psychoanalyst, then the two together constitute what the Greeks called the psychopomp, the conductor to the realm of lost souls.”
James S. Grotstein (Who is the Dreamer Dreaming the Dream)

Well, if they dream of electric sheep, then presumably they do. This is the beginning of why AI is such a fantasy. And yes, robotics have become stunningly good at a variety of service jobs, they are everywhere in production and packaging and processing. The issue is this idea that artificial intelligence is actually possible. That a singularity (sic) is in our future. For consciousness (and the unconscious) are an eternal mystery, are the source of all art and culture, and are the reality of humanness. The mind is not discoverable by nanobots tracing the biological processes in my brain.

Abdulnasser Gharem

Freud saw the unconscious as being made up of instinctual representations, ones that tend toward or try to discharge their cathexes — they are partly wish impulses and partly something ineffable. Grotstein relates a story about an epiphanic dream he experienced and how an old professor in Jerusalem said for ancient Assyrians the dream was the conversation of Gods. That Gods conversed via human dreams. Which is why we forget them. We were not allowed to be privy to the secret communication of deities.

Technology is in the service of the ruling class. From the defense industry and their ever more sophisticated weaponry, to the massive digital platforms on the internet, to social media for that matter, to super-intelligent computers that can process gigantic amounts of data in micro seconds, the role is always to buttress the class hierarchies of the elite billionaires. This so called 1% who even as we speak are accumulating ever more wealth, are in fact essentially taking possession of the planet. Meanwhile people occupy themselves with idiotic science fiction novelties like AI. Computers cannot and will not ever *think*. They will not decide important geo political policy. The ruling class will use the data they digest and analyse, but that is far from a machine thinking.

“Scientistic imperialism has been closely connected with the attempt to reduce all the various sciences to a single model, as is clear from the way in which the Unity of Science Movement in the United States has devoted itself to asserting omnicompetence. Both errors,in fact, spring equally from an unduly narrow,monopolistic concept of rationality, a concept which we still draw essentially from seventeenth-century philosophers such as Descartes. (This is just one more case where people who refuse to have anything to do with philosophy have become enslaved to outdated forms of it.)”
Mary Midgley (ibid)

The Great Historical Clock of America. 1870s.

The desire for solution, for completion, for explanation, is the outline for instrumental thinking. It is a hallmark of western thinking the last hundred (or two) years. There is nothing wrong with any of those things. But they tend toward obsessional. They take on an almost sexual and religious mania, and not everything has an solution. Not everything is complete. But in a society in which incompletion is also normalized via popular media, and with a cheapened idea of solution, the tendency for junk science is likely to grow. Junk science is one register of the new magical thinking. But it is a denuded magic, a pseudo science akin to astrology. An alienated bodiless abstraction. Disciplines that are only onanistic games.

“Magic like science is concerned with ends, but it pursues them through mimesis, not through an increasing distance from the object. It certainly is not founded on the “omnipotence of thought,” which the primitive is supposed to impute to himself like the neurotic;” there can be no “over-valuation of psychical acts” in relation to reality where thought and reality are not radically distinguished. The “unshakable confidence in the possibility of controlling the world'”? which Freud anachronistically attributes to magic applies only to the more realistic form of world domination achieved by the greater astuteness of science. The autonomy of thought in relation to objects, as manifested in the reality-adequacy of the Ego, was a prerequisite for the replacement of the localized practices of the medicine man by all-embracing industrial technology.”
Horkheimer and Adorno (ibid)

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  1. More impressed than ever that you can write like this John.
    Why we are so devoted to technology are a very significant question.

  2. zztopsyomama says:

    a problem is that you already assume that techno-industrial civilization itself–and its achievements, including the analyses of Marx and Freud and every ounce of art ever crafted since the beginning of the Holocene–isn’t an aspiration to a kind of trans-humanism, the product of a long, exponentially destructive meandering away from what humans really fundamentally are.

    in order to know if it is or isn’t, you’ll have to define in the first place what it means to be a human being.

    you cited becker in your last piece…but if you actually read becker thoroughly, you’ll find that he is essentially saying that civilization ITSELF is a kind of inhuman artifice made to AVOID the fundamental limitations of what a human being is…namely a mortal ape.

    good luck with that defining it. nobody has managed to convincingly.

  3. John Steppling says:

    I figured the transhuman fanboys would be out to argue this. Lets say, you’re right, I don’t think all of human life since its beginning is moving to whatever it is you think of as transhumanism. And Becker is not really saying that.

  4. “Define what you mean” is a rhetorical device of cretins. See the above comment for a perfect example of this. John clearly defined what he was talking about. To ask him to “define” anything is absurd. But that’s the point, isn’t it? To imbue the conversation with absurdity. Nice try. Try again.

  5. M pendleton says:

    / science / fiction / should recognise the sort of doubling oxymoron in the genre named as such / and allow things to get wonky, embrace the irrational the unworkable (among the “irreparable”)

    – it is sort of fun (when at word processor) tracking down the cause of errors, & hopelessly sort of piece together (backtrack) something fairly incomprehensible but the beginning foundation or intention of it is still apparent. That’s why I prefer SFnal as term for the genre / if it is simply reducible as genre /

    The famous-ish authors you mention (in said genre) have very little grace in their writing, I think they recognise this (un/sub/consciously) & muddle/muscle through / they don’t do a good job of it (they don’t seem to read that much either / except perhaps in their “lean years” when paid to review &c.
    — sorry for above, I don’t usually comment (online pointless shyness)
    — or, no, I’ll retract my sorrow ( as = pointless)

  6. “AI” makes me think of Hoverboards. I made a joke about “Hoverboards” a few years ago and somebody responded with “They have those now!” and I responded with, “Not possible. Unless you mean somebody was balancing on a magnet over a supercooled metal plate of some kind.” And this person said, “No, they really have Hoverboards now, they’re commercially available and everything!” And we made a bet. Well, obviously, from my perspective (based on what a “Hoverboard” would actually have to be and do, to justify the name, which derives from a doohicky in a Sci Fi flick), I won that bet but my friend thinks *he* won the bet because there’s a (pathetic) commercially-available product, of that name, on the market. What people “consume” these days, more than ever, is the Sizzle… fuck the steak. People refer to almost any GIGO-calculation a micro-chip can execute, these days, as “AI”. I no longer argue the point. As you say: it’s the cops (meat robots) I fear. Oh, and, uh… a considerable chunk of the Sizzle-consuming masses.

    Re: tech and dystopia, in May (during the first peak of my Plague Spring exasperation) I wrote:

    “Our inter-related (interbred) families of ruling psychopaths, minus the Tech, would be of little concern beyond the strictly local, and they would, undoubtedly (minus the tech) be well under control by us vastly greater, in numbers, Serfs; in fact, without the tech, our Overlords wouldn’t be Overlords at all and neither would we be Serfs. Our Overlords wouldn’t even be wealthy, without the Tech: they’d be inmates in asylums for delusionally grandiose human-haters with cataclysmic sexual dysfunction. The Tech makes all the difference and for every light, or bridge, or cure the Tech has given us, sadly, there are a thousand massive links in the electrified chain of horrors we are each, in turn, chained to.

    No powerful technology develops only as far as it should and then stops (self-limits) before the harm starts. Power not only corrupts, as the truism goes, but Power itself degenerates metastically; becomes grotesque in its baroque and tentacular extremes. Isn’t a nuclear bomber a metastically-degenerate form of the original apparently-benign invention of heavier-than-air flight? Isn’t a subcutaneous tracking chip… or a pharmaceutical implant, autonomously doping an ignorant human guinea pig with X-drugs on a timetable, or via a radio-networked trigger…. the metastically-degenerate forms of the miraculous apparently-benign invention of the syringe, and the personal computer, both? And isn’t the interval between original invention and metastically-degenerate iteration, in both of the above-cited technologies, terrifying brief? Try to imagine how grotesque these technologies will be just ten generations from now. How they will blacken and sizzle and ramify, snarling, then ramify further still.”

  7. John Steppling says:

    thanks for that.

  8. (Sorry, JS, to post such a gloomy-Gus thing! On top of which, there was an error in it: “the metastically-degenerate form,” without the plural “s,” is the proper version of that fragment)

  9. John Steppling says:

    i think gloomy is where we are.

  10. Denise Freedman says:

    In the spring of 1968, my family and I lived in San Francisco–a posting from the Canadian Government, not quite diplomatic. That spring, I went to LA to see my cousin, whose father had moved to Pasadena to do appendectomies. She told me, either you had a swimming pool, or in-house air conditioning. they had both. They were rich.

    That spring, I went to LA, and stayed with her.

    She, and a friend, took me to my very first Rock Concert (No, I didn’t go the Fillmore in SF), strobes, silent movies, light shows. I didn’t take the other stuff, nor did my companions.

    My cousin’s parents drove a BIG CAR. The mother was in the back, knitting. The father driving. I learned he worked at the Jet Propulsion Labs. As a Canadian, I’d had some prep, so I recognized Bircher agitprop coming from the parents. I was so stunned, I was silent.

    Especially when they spoke of the communist danger of Martin Luther King!!!!

    After Bobby had been assassinated, my cousin visited–with her jaw wired. It seemed that, on a break from exams, they went to the same exclusive girl’s school, her friend said, we have a gun, too,. Unlike the one that killed Bobby, ‘a lady’s gun,’ this was designed to kill.

    Her friend pulled it out, not to shoot her, of course, but, of course, the gun, cocked and loaded–ready for intruders–discharged, smashed my cousin’s jaw, when through internal and external walls, and embedded in a tree.

    Later, we learned that my cousin’s friends’ parents disowned my cousin’s friend.

    My cousin went on to become the first female writer for WIRED. She coined the term “psyber-selfish” which certainly seems to capture much of what was happening then.

    I have been reading your work for years–it has helped me understand concerns that have arisen. I know you have been worn down somewhat-haven’t we all–by what is happening. Please continue.

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