February 23, 2015

A Script for Machine Synthesis


26 February 2015 19:30 & 21:00
28 February 2015 16:00
1 March 2015 16:00
Teijin Auditorium, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam

Written and produced by Florian Hecker
A Script for Machine Synthesis by Reza Negarestani
Voice by Charlotte Rampling, recorded by Olivier Pasquet at IRCAM, Paris
Synthetic Voice designed by Rob Clark, Centre for Speech Technology Research, University
of Edinburgh

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 12:02 PM

January 5, 2015

Exploring Compositional Epistemologies @ Midway Contemporary Art, Minneapolis


I will be presenting a talk along Florian Hecker, Guerino Mazzola and others at Midway Contemporary Art. The talk entitled ...this I or we or it (the thing) which speaks... is centered around the links between analytic pragmatism, artificial intelligence and artificial speech particularly the research on hidden Markov models.

Thursday, February 12, 7pm
527 Second Avenue Southeast
Minneapolis, Minnesota 55414

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 11:18 AM

December 12, 2014

New Rationalism series at The New Centre

I will be giving two courses on new rationalism (one on future philosophical systems and the other on reason and time) at The New Centre. Details here: http://thenewcentre.org/seminars/new-rationalism/

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 10:46 AM

November 8, 2014

More mind and philosophy

Why does the determination of the meaning of the mind in terms of practices that organize its activities imply an expanded evolution of the mind? To rephrase the question, why does the understanding and realization of the mind in terms of its practical rather than formalist algorithmic decomposability not only not limits the evolution of the mind but also broadens the scope of its evolution and augmentation? Or, how does defining the mind as a practical object rather than an ideal object become the most consequential event in the history of the mind? Because practices whose elaboration count as fulfilling the activities of the mind can be collectively modified or upgraded, they are distinguished by their social manipulability and by their capacity to bootstrap complex abilities out of primitive abilities. This is what sets apart philosophy's thesis regarding algorithmic practical decomposability of the mind from the algorithmic logical decomposability of the mind espoused by symbolic AI for which thought-parcels are ideal logical objects and hence, open to identical algorithmic iterations. While 'identical' iterations as associated with for example market algorithms relapse back into the unexceptionally prevelant domain of pattern-governed processes, rule-based practices even though they are at base pattern-governed on the other hand are able to proliferate and adapt to purposes that are not given in their underlying patterns. This is how the mind as a practical object is able to leap further in a manner that is neither deductive exhaustion based on the general schema of its current charactristics nor induction from its common features with the natural history of the cognitive mind.

The characterization of the mind as a practical object, rather than an ideal one, essentially amounts to the identification of the mind as a practical project with the possibility of social realization and augmentation, because the domain of practices is integratively social, whether these practices are associated with forming and articulating concepts or are linked to purposive action. The domain of practices possesses a commitment-laden dimension, it is open to social construction, revision and is capable of organizing collective configurations by individuating special practices.


The pragmatic functionalist understanding of the mind--itself a fruit of disturbing the equilibrium or the informational homogeneity between thought and thing--is a historical moment in the evolution of the mind. But evolution in what sense? In the sense that the pragmatic functionalist realization of the mind (the understanding of its meaning not as a given, but only the establishing of such meaning through and in the context of practices) coincides with the artificial realization of the mind (or the construction of its functional space by entirely different sets of realizers qua practices). For philosophy, the unity of both--that is the understanding of the meaning of the mind and its artificial realization--forms the project of self-realization through which the mind constitutes its own history and evolves in accordance with it. The history of the mind is a history that must liberate its own demands and purposes while at the same time take into consideration its natural history and respond to the constraints associated with its embodiment and organization.

The artificial--which is to say the mind realized by the artifactual--reintegrates into reality of the mind as that which has no absolute foundational nature but only histories and possibilities of multiple realization and reorientation. Its meaning cannot be traced back to an original foundation or an inherent nature, because it is constituted by those practices which determine it and are themselves susceptible to modification. Understanding the mind at the juncture between reality and appearances is tantamount to constructing it. The introspection of the mind into the condition of its possibility (what is the mind, and more importantly, why is the mind as an integrative and orientable constellation of certain activities possible at all?) is a register of an emancipative alienation and is the first spark for envisioning the mind outside of its natural or native habitat.

The gesture to treat the possibility of the mind as a question and a subject of inquiry rather than as a given is charged with an impulse to think and realize the mind through the artificial. This is because examining the possibility of the mind represents a pivotal moment. It creates a designated discontinuity and an externalization that allows questioning the possibility of the mind as a possibility whose realization depends on the fulfillment of certain conditions and the presence of certain sets or organization of realizers. This ultimately leads to a non-ineffable conception of the mind as a possibility that can be fulfilled by different desiderata than what already constitutes it.

A mind that is possible and whose possibility is open to scrutiny is a mind that is conditioned by certain functional components and organizations. This is nothing but a prototypical picture of the mind as an artificial edifice. Here the concept of the artificial does not stand against the natural as something man-made. Artificiality does not imply a breach of natural laws. Instead, the artificial suggests a propensity to adapt to new purposes that can be identified--following Sellars--by their causal reducibility combined with their logical irreducibility. It is the reducibility that does not posit the artificial outside of nature and it is the irreducibility that engenders a new regime of rules and ends whose effect resonates with what Kant calls autonomy.

Disassembling the possibility of the mind in terms of its givenness and reassembling it in functional terms signals the possibility of realizing the mind outside of the image of what it was supposed to be, outside of where it was supposed to be embedded, and divergent from the destination it was supposed or imagined to aim at.

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 5:02 PM

October 29, 2014

Navigation bibliography

Here is the promised reading list of key books and essays I used to work on the concept of navigation (you can find a general schema of it here). While this is by no means an exhaustive research list and the architecture of the concept is still embryonic, nevertheless this is a useful bibliography for anyone who is interested in navigation as a system of thinking and action that coheres analysis and synthesis, locality and globality and the perennial questions of philosophy, 'what should we think?' and 'what should we do?'. All with the basic understanding that the concept of navigation is neither a metaphor, nor driving in a white ferrari, nor colonial maritime exploration, but a rule-governed and ramifying exploratory vector in the space of reasons and the space of freedoms (see Emancipation as Navigation).

Gilles Châtelet, The Stake of the Mobile: Mathematics, Physics and Philosophy (Les enjeux du mobile : mathématique, physique, philosophie).

Immanuel Kant, What does it mean to orientate oneself in thought?

Guerino Mazzola, The Topos of Music: Geometric Logic of Concepts, Theory, and Performance.

Lorenzo Magnani, Abductive Cognition: The Epistemological and Eco-Cognitive Dimensions of Hypothetical Reasoning.

Mark Wilson, Wandering Significance: An Essay on Conceptual Behaviour.

Fernando Zalamea, Peirce's Continuum: A Methodological and Mathematical Approach.

Fernando Zalamea: América - una trama integral: transversalidad, bordes y abismos en la cultura americana.

Robert Brandom, Between Saying and Doing: Towards an Analytic Pragmatism.

Wilfrid Sellars, In the Space of Reasons: Selected Essays of Wilfrid Sellars.

Giuseppe Longo and Francis Bailly, Mathematics and the Natural Sciences: The Physical Singularity of Life.

Johanna Seibt, Cognitive Orientation as an Epistemic Adventure.

Johanna Seibt, Functions Between Reasons and Causes: On Picturing.

Jean-Yves Girard, Towards a geometry of interaction, Categories in Computer Science and Logic.

William Wimsatt, Re-Engineering Philosophy for Limited Beings: Piecewise Approximations to Reality.

William Lawvere, Conceptual Mathematics.

David Ellerman, A Theory of Adjoint Functors - with some Thoughts about their Philosophical Significance.

Rene Thom, To the Frontiers of Human Power: Games.

Nils Röller, Thinking with Instruments: The Example of Kant's Compass.

Stephen C. Levinson, Space in Language and Cognition: Explorations in Cognitive Diversity.

Alain Berthoz, The Brain's Sense of Movement.

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 9:50 AM

October 28, 2014

Philosophy and the Mind

An extract from my forthcoming essay What Philosophy Does to the Mind (Knowledge, History and the Mind) - to be published in Centers and Peripheries. In some way, this essay is the continuation of The Labor of the Inhuman:


Philosophy is archenemy of the obvious. Even though philosophy frequently falls in the trap of the obvious, it has the habit of always coming back to exact a revenge on what is obvious in a manner and the scale not dissimilar to the epic culmination of Jacobean revenge dramas. Unlike any other thought discipline known to man, philosophy never closes the circle of its revenge. It is characterized by its perpetual refusal to put any matter to rest. This absolute recalcitrance bespeaks of the corrosive blood that runs through the body of philosophy, which is that of the principle of deep skepticism: Knowledge must be suspicious of what it already knows. To know more is to believe less, the more we know the less should we believe in what we know. If the task of belief is to turn the accumulated knowledge into a regulative foundation and respectively, a matter of faith, then the progress of knowledge is by definition retroactively aborted. For how can one acquire new knowledge if the knowledge that has already been accumulated is treated as the locus of truth?

If the site of truth is in what has already taken place, then knowledge only exhibits the truth-preservation of classical qua logical rationality, and thus violates the first objective of knowledge, which is that 'one knows because one does not know.' But, 'to know' is to preserve and mitigate ignorance at the same time, a dual task whose logical structure is at odds with the monotonicity of truth-preservation embedded in classical logic.

The monotonic entailment of truth-preservation functions precisely by conserving ignorance in its very logic--it ignores the possibility of what it is ignorant of. This is the principle of conservation of ignorance without acknowledging it or what can be called the 'deficit of ignorance-awareness'. The principle of conservation-without-acknowledgement is the functional model of an epistemically maimed mind; it is a mind that empowers itself by choosing to operate primarily on the basis of accumulated and well-stabilized information and in so doing, turning 'what it knows' into a blind spot against 'what it doesn't'. In such a scenario, further generation of knowledge equals further degeneration of the mind and its epistemic incapacitation. The pitfalls of knowledge become the maladies of the mind and the maladies of the mind become social disabilities in knowing what to think and what to do. No mind by itself has a defense mechanism against the 'epistemic maiming' inflicted by its own spatiotemporal approach to truth and information. It is for this reason that only deep skepticism, or at least the strategies that undergird it, can save the mind from its self-inflicted epistemic maiming.

From a navigational perspective, any account of truth that is situated in the past and reinforces the dogma of 'knowing more equals trusting more in the truth of what we know' suffers from a unipathic structure or navigational uniqueness. It is unipathic since in order to preserve truth, it must maximally stabilize the transit of truth values by ignoring any other possible path that might invalidate the preserved truth. Hence the mapping and approaching truth is determined in advance.

But the rule-governed game of navigation endorses no unique path and no map drawn in advance, not only is it multipathic but it also does not leave unchanged any address or path taken in the past itinerary. Its ramifying structure includes not only what ought to be navigated (the consequent content of the commitment), but also encompasses what has already been navigated (the antecedent commitments or the premises of the commitment as such). In other words, in the game of navigation, ramification is universal and it is this universality that keeps knowledge in the permanent state of agitation--a landscape with a shifting scenery or a transitory ontology upon which no foundation or navigational preconception can be imposed.

Whereas the unipathicity (i.e. the uniqueness of path) of truth-preservation is secured by ignoring possible or hypothetical navigational paths or transits, the principle of deep skepticism is equipped with a tentative rationalism required for deviating from the unipathic navigational approach so as to be able to activate and acknowledge the condition of ignorance and respectively mitigate it. This is the underlying logic of non-monotonic reasoning in which ramification of every qualitatively organized site of information into cascading paths creates a universal revisionary wave that perpetually reassess and alter any conclusion reached or information organized. Knowledge is not about centralizing the accumulated known but about qualitatively organizing information, navigating the space of concept, developing supple and revisable conceptual patchworks, updating and accessing through various modes the existing knowledge-bases without regarding them as immutable foundations. For knowledge, the crisis of foundations is an emancipative prospect.

According to the monotonic structure of unipathicity, which works from the viewpoint of epistemic entrenchment, the increase in the qualitatively organized information--in the form of premises or axioms--results in the increase in theorems (i.e. further establishment of the known). But the non-monotonic structure of navigation as a ramifying procedure does not permit such a symmetry between 'to know' and 'the known'. This is but the navigational reformulation of deep skepticism in which 'to know' does not necessarily make any positive difference in 'the known qua the accumulated knowledge'. Under the condition of non-monotonicity, addition of new premises fundamentally revises the old conclusions and does not bolster the epistemic entrenchment.

Deep skepticism accordingly is the sharpening of the defeasibility inherent to the non-monotonicity in the realm of the mind itself. It suggests that all insights of the mind into the inner workings of the world must be deflected or rendered defeasible by the insights of the mind into its own inner workings. While at the same time, it simultaneously proposes that all insights of the mind into its inner workings must be revised and deflected by the insights into the workings of the world which condition the workings of the mind.

To put it differently, deep skepticism builds orientational passages (or adjoint vectors) between the workings of mind and the workings of the world (M⇄W). The adjoint vectors or the adjunction symbolized by a left and a right arrow signify the broadening and integrative aspects of deep skepticism that at once deepens the scientific image of the world and leads to a more corrected and sophisticated manifest image of ourselves and establishes a stereoscopic coherence between them.

Deminishing the obvious qua the blind spot in all its forms is only possible by radically disturbing the equilibrium and breaking the symmetric relation between 'knowing' and 'the already known'. The concomitant scrutinizing of the world by looking into the mind and inquiring into the mind by looking into the world constitute the navigational attitude of deep skepticism as adopted by philosophy. It is in this sense that deep skepticism, rather than being an impediment or refutation of knowledge, becomes a catalyst for the expansion of knowledge and the evolution of the mind; it perpetually set frees the game of navigation from its foundationalist commitments, blind spots, epistemic entrenchments and navigational pre-conceptions. For knowledge neither requires a foundation nor a positive differential relation between 'knowing' and 'the known' in order to expand its frontiers.

According to the skeptical current of philosophy, it is the truth of the acquired knowledge that occasions the blind spot against the truth of future of knowledge. The unipathic approach to truth establishes a model of mind as a self-reinforcing vicious circle blind to the progressive impoverishment of its own capacities. In reality, the more it knows the less it knows because the more of the new is nothing but the more of the same. Once the old or obtained knowledge is established as a regulative foundation--a matter of belief--all it produces is more of the same. It only reproduces itself qua foundation. It is the parochial loop of 'the more we know the more should we trust in what we know' that fuels the skeptical revenge of philosophy.

However, in order to inhibit the conversion of knowledge into belief and more importantly, in order to prevent the entrenchment of unipathicity, philosophy adopts two interconnected strategies. As we shall see, beneath the surface character of these strategies lies a different mode of adaptation to the reality of time as the chronic truth of philosophy:

(continue reading the excerpt)

Continue reading "Philosophy and the Mind"

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 7:40 PM

October 18, 2014

Intelligence and Spirit

This is a passage from my forthcoming work, Intelligence and Spirit. Written in the tradition of ethics of self-cultivation, particularly Seneca's Epistulae morales, Intelligence and Spirit is an essay on the philosophical foundations of artificial general intelligence and the advent of social intelligence. It is developed through the works of Kant, Hegel, Marx, Pierce, Brandom and Sellars and emphasizes the significance of social intelligence as humanity's summum bonum. Building on the social moral philosophy of New Confucianism specifically the late works of Mou Zongsan, the final sections focus on a synthetic integration between rationalism and social emancipation oriented toward a collective project of self-cultivation out of which a self-apprehending intelligence can be realized. A more condensed description would be the ethics of intelligence:

"Approximately one billion years ago, the first rudimentary forms of neuronal information processing began to develop, over five hundred years ago, during the Cambrian period, the evolution of a more complex nervous system combined with advanced visual tracking systems set off the perception catastrophe leading to the organization of the nervous system as an "organ of alienation" capable of generating a designated mental discontinuity. Through this highly regulated mental discontinuity, the organism became able to differentiate regions of space, optimally distinguishing itself from its food and predators. By simultaneously gaining traction on the spatiotemporal continuity of the organism--in reality, a rupture in the continuity of space-time--and the spatio-temporal connectivity, the nervous system enabled the organism to recognize things other than itself, orienting it toward the problem of exploring and making sense of its environment.

With the beginning of neurulation and cephalization processes in the vertebrates, basic computational barriers such as control of combinatorial explosion, construction of models of choice, predictive calculations, simulation of movement and proactive adaptation at the level of the organism were one by one overcome. Eventually the neotenous brain brought the complexity of the nervous system to a new stage. Marked by maximal functional entrenchment, the magnitude of evolutionary diversification--in this case, the addition of extensive structural change--significantly diminished. Maximization of functional entrenchment and reduction in structural diversification of the neotenous brain yet did not constrain the amplification of cognitive processes, but rather forced them (particularly abstraction and simulation) to a new functional vista which is that of the social domain. The development of social cognitive technologies such as tool-use and language solved two of the most significant problems of computation, namely, qualitative compression and stabilization of information necessary for the communal establishment of knowledge and further augmentation and coordination of understanding and action. Qualitative organization and stabilization of information through the formation of concepts as communal components of knowledge transformed the cognitive possibility of knowledge into a social reality, and thus facilitated the acquisition and exploitation of higher levels of cognition otherwise inaccessible from a purely bio-evolutionary standpoint.

However, only less than five hundred years ago, we noticed that we are not living at the center of the universe, slightly more than three hundred years ago we discovered that the fabric of the universe obeys and is held together by physical laws. Only a century and a half ago, we learned we are not children of God and began to investigate its implications--even though to this date, still the religious view on the origin of species is widespread and is vehemently defended. However, just more than a century ago we began to "open up a new continent, that of History, to scientific knowledge", realizing that not only history can be navigated as a continent of knowledge but also it is an integrating field in which all other forms of knowledge, theoretical and practical, can be fused and reinforce one another. What Louis Althusser hails as Marx's monumental discovery in the history of human knowledge marks a new stage in the evolution of intelligence, which is that of social intelligence. It is a form of intelligence that liberates new demands and opportunities of 'what to think' and 'what to do' by sufficiently linking epistemic mediation and socio-political intervention, consolidating both as a functional organization necessary for the social realization of augmented cognition. By theoretically and practically engaging with the question of what it means to have a history, what it means to reorient, reconstitute and repurpose that history through the social's present normative attitudes toward the past and the future, social intelligence turns into a force for which cognition registers as social re-engineering of the existing reality.

It is the possibility of fusion and implementation of all knowledge within the integrating field of history--spanning from the primitive forms of Spirit to its advanced social forms--that augurs a new form of intelligence for which knowledge must be translated into socio-historical intervention, and intervention as re-engineering the socio-historical reality must deepen the exploration of history, that is the recognition of the past and the integration toward the future.

The discovery of history as a new continent of knowledge where techno-scientific advancement, economy, politics, ethics and social struggle can integrate and reinforce one another is in effect the deepening of the reality of history both in terms of its recollective-retrospective and integrative-prospective dimensions. But deepening of the reality of history is nothing but repurposing and reconstituting it through understanding and intervention. The knowledge of history as a science, as trivial as it may sound, is a hegemonic impulse for on the one hand opening up the recollective-integrative dimensions of history and its social evolution to understanding in the broadest possible sense, and on the other hand intervening with the progression and reality of history by socially implementing this amplifying understanding with no swerve or falter. Failing this we can say that we are not creatures endowed with history and that, more gravely, we are still the denizens of benighted ages where history is a domain as opaque as the inaccessible sky whose ineffability is a source for oppression from the heavens and romanticism or mysticism on earth.

In other words, the knowledge of history as a science is essentially a self-reinforcing tendency toward having a history. But what does it mean to have a history other than reorienting and repurposing it toward future ends unseen by the past whose recognition should never be an impediment but merely a way to liberate the present from its past commitments, either by collectively revising or abandoning them. It is for this reason that Marx's discovery transforms the pursuit of understanding and intervention, scientific knowledge and social implementation through history into a project where social emancipation and evolution of intelligence entangle, entering into an Odyssean dynamic of reinforcement and mutual diversification. Even though intelligence is natural, short of reorienting, repurposing and reengineering its natural history, it ceases to be intelligent. Yet it remains highly improbable that a robust conception of intelligence can reorient itself toward emancipation without looking into its natural history and working out its exigencies. But an intelligence that does not unfold its own demands which inevitably lead to re-engineering and revising its natural constitution, its multiple realization, is even more implausible. The history of intelligence commandeers its natural history by the history of its obligations and demands, for the history of intelligence is the history of reconstitutions of the natural constitution. The reconstitution of natural history does not violate natural laws but adapts them to new regimes of designed purposes.

Marx's discovery only over a century ago toward the realization of social intelligence emphasizes the work to be done. Yet more importantly it signifies the truth of our age, that we are merely living in the pre-history of social intelligence. Those who moan and are bored with the pace at which intelligence in general and the self-expediting project of social intelligence in particular are evolving, should look elsewhere either in God or in opiate. The recognition of the hegemony of social intelligence is a collective and common task whose fulfillment is the only true drive toward freedom, both as purposive social freedom and the liberation of a self-apprehending intelligence. The ultimate task of humanity should be to make something better than itself, for what is better than us cultivates itself through our pursuit for the better. Liberate that which liberates itself from you, for anything else is the perpetuation of slavery.

The hegemony of the ultimate task by itself is the expansion of real alternatives and materializes as the maximization of freedom. It is the liberation of intelligence as the principle of summum bonum. It is against the reeking mist of other homebrewed philosophies and social prescriptions (the ardor for the ordinary, resignation, indetermination, anti-logos, neo-luddism, communitarian loacalism, liberal freedom, ...) that the hegemony of social intelligence ought to be safeguarded. What is exactly an alternative to social intelligence if not veneration of cognitive turpitude and social vices."

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 6:10 PM

September 17, 2014

publications and talks

This new section is up. I will be adding new essays and transcripts of my recent talks.

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 4:48 PM

September 9, 2014

More abstraction


My text on Moulène, abstraction and embodied thought experiments is published by Sequence Press and can be ordered through their website.

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 7:00 AM

September 4, 2014

What Does It Mean to Think a Catastrophe @ Goethe-Institut Los Angele

This is the abstract of my forthcoming talk at A Culture Beyond Crisis workshop, organized by Goethe-Institut Los Angeles and The School of Critical Studies, CalArt.

Venue: October 25 at the Goethe-Institut Los Angeles, 5750 Wilshire Blvd. Suite 100, Los Angeles CA 90036, phone +1 323 525338, time: 10.30 am - 1:00pm


What Does It Mean to Think a Catastrophe

This presentation revolves around two lines of inquiry: What is precisely a catastrophe? And is every catastrophe a crisis?

By answering the first question, this presentation attempts to investigate the imports of a catastrophe for cognition. Following the works René Thom, Jean Petitot, Wolfgang Wildgen, Lorenzo Magnani and recent works in conceptualization of processes (see Johanna Seibt, Svend Østergaard, et al.), we propose that not only cognitive systems use catastrophes - induced or natural - to organize information and generate semantic opportunities through which they can evolve, but also cognition as such is a generative catastrophe par excellence. Once the concept of catastrophe is sufficiently elaborated, it is then possible to tackle the second question, namely, if a catastrophe is a cognitive opportunity and if cognition is a generative catastrophe that must always be kept in a fragile state of equilibrium, then should we treat socio-political crises as windows of opportunity for understanding and action? We shall argue that engaging this question in the absence of a detailed and critical differentiation between catastrophe and crisis, between different types of stability and instability results in two predominant pathologies in thinking and acting upon crises. At one extreme, the conflation will lead to a rampant affirmationist position for which every rupture in socio-cultural fabric is seen as an engine of change or a potential positive singularity (cf. the philosophy of right-accelerationism). At the other pole, short of an adequate approach to map the distinctions and connections between the two, socio-political resignation or fundamentalist conservatism become the principle attitudes. Every catastrophe or singularity is immediately staved off as a threat. Novel approaches to crises are discarded in favor of trifling local solutions or worse, the all-encompassing impotence of resignation: Let's act in our immediate environment or let it be. As an alterative to these two extremes, this presentation aims at putting forward a third alternative built on a fine-grained map between catastrophe and crisis where the cognitive and critical opportunities, singularities and obstructions (or failures) fuse in order to delineate new affordances of action.

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 11:09 AM

August 26, 2014

Jean-Luc Moulène: Torture Concrete

JLM.jpg Jean-Luc Moulène
Torture Concrete

September 7 - October 26, 2014
Opening reception: Sunday, September 7, 6-8 PM
Miguel Abreu Gallery
88 Eldridge Street / 36 Orchard Street
New York, NY 10002
212.995.1774 , post@miguelabreugallery.com

"Anyone who does not recognize and embrace the formal cruelty of thought is not fit for the labor of abstraction. Anyone who is not suited to the labor of abstraction cannot liberate thought from its idleness and from its oppressive determination by its own present image i.e. what it is or what it is supposed to be. [...]

The greatest merit of Moulène's work is that he is perhaps the only living artist whose entire project is systematically devoted to changing the transformative dimension of thought by manipulating and disturbing the general configuration of its structure - that is, the relation between its tendencies and local instantiations. For him, the task of art is rediscovered not in its ostensible autonomy but in its singular power to rearrange and destabilize the configurational relations between parameters of thought, parameters of imagination and material constraints that structure and parameterize the cognitive edifice. It is this configurational instability that allows for the transition of thought to a new stage by widening its scope of synthesis (i.e. the differentiation and integration of thought). However, the evolving task of art can never be entirely approached from within art itself as a particular mode of thought, but only in the context of the general structure of thought that makes such a task possible and renders it consequential in terms of the role it plays for the transformation of thought. This is where, by approaching the task of art in terms of the self-transformative capacities and opportunities of thought - its propensity to systematically be cruel to itself, to violently rise above what determines it - Moulène makes two consequential moves: Firstly, he attempts to redefine the consequentiality of art in terms of what makes the task of art possible and legitimizes such a task within a much broader context. Secondly, by approaching the designated task of art by way of the general configuration that enables such a task (i.e. the positive destabilizing-stabilizing loop through which thought finds new answers to perennial questions of 'what to think' and 'what to do'), Moulène seeks to outline new objectives for art and to revise its task.

The entire task of thought is to redefine its functional roles and cumulatively liberate itself from the grip of any external cause that determines it and any telos that limits its functional ascension. A local field of thought - be it art or philosophy - that does not reinvent its task in order to adapt to this general goal has no justification whatsoever for its existence. Just as biological evolution has no tolerance for the lack of functional adaptation, the functional evolution of thought has no patience for a mode of thought that refuses to rise to the status of the noetic structure that supports it. A specific mode of thought that does not raise itself to the general status of thought is obsolete and will be weeded out by the very thought that once enabled it." (Torture Concrete: Jean-Luc Moulène and the protocol of abstraction)

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 3:17 PM

July 5, 2014

The revolution is back


Here is the first part of my talk at Incredible Machines conference on Turing and the problem of computational description. I will also post my second presentation at the Berlin summer school (on functions, mechanisms and hierarchies).

For anyone who has not seen it yet, there is an excellent blog on the Berlin summer school covering the ongoing presentations and discussions.


The revolution is back
(Turing, functional realization and computational description)

I philosophically endorse computationalism and even more so I am an ardent proponent of functionalism. I think--and I am fully prepared to defend this controversial claim--that a philosopher cannot intellectually survive without endorsing functionalism, at least one of its many varieties (strongly normative [Hegel, Brandom], normative-materially constrained [Sellars] or strongly mechanistic [Bechtel]). To this extent, what I would like to briefly address is the significance of the functionalist account of the human mind, or more broadly speaking, the functionalist account of the rational agency. In this respect, I take side with Alan Turing's response to Arguments from Various Disabilities (AVD) where he challenges the common forms of rejecting the possibility of the functional realization of the human mind in different substrates--for instance, in machines.

Machines cannot think, machines cannot have emotions, machines cannot be purposeful, they cannot be proactive and so forth: Turing enumerates these under what he calls arguments from various disabilities, it is sort of straw machine argument that is baseless and precarious. It is more a fruit of our psychological fears and residual theological approaches to the universe and ourselves than the result of sound arguments.

The mind-preservationist is a person who believes that the mind cannot be functionally realized and implemented in different substrates. He is a person who not only rejects the functionalist realization of the mind but also as a result yields to a form of vitalism or ineffability of the human mind. The mind-preservationist always attempts to see the machine's capacities from the perspective of an endemic disability. But if what the mind-preservationist really dismisses is not the machine as such but is the functional realization of the mind implemented in the machine, then what he actually denies is not the machine per se but the mind itself. Or more accurately, what the mind-preservationist ends up rejecting is the possibility of mapping the mind's functions, the possibility of modeling it, defining and objectifying it. In this sense, machine-denialism is simply an excuse for denying what the mind is and what it can be. Correspondingly, disavowing the pursuit of understanding the mind coincides with acting against the evolution of the mind, since from a pragmatic-functional viewpoint the understanding of the meaning of the mind is inseparable from how the mind can be defined, reconstructed and modified in different contexts. Therefore, if we lack the definition of the mind which is itself a map for its realization and objectification, then how can we so readily rule out the possibility of a machine furnished with a mind? The mind-preservationist, accordingly, has a double standard when it comes to recognizing the mind as both the measure and the object of his critique. He says the machine cannot engage in mental activities as if he possesses the map of the mind. However, if he does not know what constitutes activities of the mind, which is to say, if he does not possess the functional map of the mind, then he cannot approach the functional account of the mind (that is, a mind realized by a different set of realizers and implemented in an environment different from its natural-biological habitat) from the perspective of an intrinsic disability.

If you don't know what the mind is then how can you claim the machine cannot possibly have a mind? With the understanding that the 'what' posed in this question is the very map of the mind's functional realizability that can be implemented in machines. Here 'what' can be described functionally as those activities which define what the mind is. The mind is therefore described as a functional item, in terms of its capacities for mentation (i.e. engaging in mental activities). From a functionalist perspective, what makes a thing a thing is not what a thing is but what a thing does. In other words, the functional item is not independent of its activity.

The activities of the mind are indeed special in the sense that they are not ubiquitous. But as William Bechtel suggests it is not in spite of being comprised of mechanisms but in virtue of the right kind of mechanisms that the mind is special and its set of activities has distinctive characteristics.

For this reason, if the attack or the argument from the perspective of disabilities is adopted as a standard strategy toward machines or what Daniel Dennett calls "machine mentation" or if it is exercised as a pre-determined reaction to the possibility of the realization of the mind in different substrates, then it no longer enjoys a genuine critical attitude. Why? Because such a critical strategy then has implicitly subscribed itself to a preservationist view of the mind as something inherently foreclosed to mapping and (re)construction. The mind it safeguards has a special status because it is unique at the level of mapping and constructability. It cannot be constructed, because it cannot be fully mapped. It cannot be mapped because it cannot be defined. It cannot be defined because it is somewhere ineffable. If it is somewhere ineffable, then it is everywhere ineffable. Therefore, the singularity of the mind is the effect of its ineffability. If we buy into one ineffable thing and if that thing happens to be central to how we perceive the world, then we are also prepared to regard many other things in the universe as ineffable. Consequently, we have committed ourselves to full-blown mysticism.

Continue reading "The revolution is back"

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 8:13 PM

June 26, 2014

Navigation as Emancipation

I will be in Berlin for the first few sessions of the summer school (details here). My first talk will revolve around the following texts:

G. Chatelet, On a Little Phrase of Riemann's..., trans. Robin Mackay (Available here:

R. Negarestani, Where is the Concept? (Available here: http://blog.urbanomic.com/cyclon/Navigation-2013.pdf)

Below are the abstracts for my two presentations on July 1st:

Session one: The Matheme of the Universal

This presentation aims to introduce some of the recent advances in mathematics and concept-analysis through an accessible conceptual history shaped by philosophical questions surrounding topics such as particularity, universality, analysis, synthesis, orientation, quantity, quality and theory of extension. By answering these questions it would be possible to reinvent the dialectic between particularity and universality as the transition from the local to the global, therefore moving from a theory of universality to a theory of connections (Levi-Civita, Cartan, et al.) where stepwise local constructions can be coupled with a global orientation. While the transition to local-global connections resolves certain antagonisms between the local and the universal, it creates a productive space of tension through which the local can be explored beyond its immediate ambit. It is this exploratory vector that opens the local-global passage as a rule-based landscape of navigation.

Session two: Engineering through Navigation

Why are functions important, especially in the study of complex phenomena or hierarchical and multi-layered systems where complexity arises not because of the size or the number of components or processes involved but because of the particularity of the mode of organization that orchestrates the activities and operations of various structural and functional hierarchies? One answer to this question would be because any account of change - whether in the context of evolution or in the context of normative modification, intervention, rectification and reorganization - is ultimately the change in function. Even when we change the structure, we do that with the aim of inducing a change in function i.e. what a thing does and how it can be improved or replaced by a different set of activities. But the change of function is far from easy since we need to locate the exact function we are referring to within a much wider functional organization, within an environment and in accordance with existing structural constraints. What a complex system appears to be doing is hardly ever what it actually does. In order to implement a change in function, first we should identify what a system does, how it does it, how its functions are organized and how the activity in question is orchestrated through this complex organization. In other words, we must have the knowledge of 'what a system does' in order to change a function and alter a system's or a phenomenon's behavior. This presentation extends the 'navigational paradigm' to questions regarding construction and modification of complex systems through the lenses of mechanistic explanation and multi-level analysis of functional organization.

Date and location: July 1-12, 2014, Haus der Kulturen der Welt, Berlin

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 2:19 PM

March 2, 2014

The Glass Bead Game

As part of an event organized by Glass Bead (Fabien Giraud, Jeremy Lecomte, Vincent Normand, Ida Soulard, Inigo Wilkins) and Composing Differences (curated by Virginie Bobin), Guerino Mazzola and I will be presenting talks on philosophy, mathematics, games and the paradigm of navigation. Here is my abstract (I will post Mazzola's abstract later):


What Philosophy Does to the Mind

By entering the game of truths - that is, making sense of what is true and making it true - and approaching it as a rule-based game of navigation, philosophy opens up a new evolutionary vista for the transformation of the mind. Within this evolutionary landscape, the mind is grasped as a set of activities or practices required to navigate and adapt to a terrain which lacks a given map and a given compass, a desert bereft of natural landmarks, with a perpetually shifting scenery and furnished with transitory mirages. The mind is forced to adapt to an environment where generic trajectories replace specific trajectories and where the consequences of making one move unfold as future ramifying paths that not only uproot the current position in the landscape but also fundamentally change the travel history and the address of the past itinerary. It is within this environment that philosophy instigates an epochal development of yet unexplored and obscure possibilities: By simulating the truth of the mind as a navigational horizon, philosophy sets out the conditions for the emancipation of the mind from its contingently posited settings and limits of constructability. Philosophy's ancient program for exploring the mind becomes inseparable from the exploration of possibilities for reconstructing and realizing the mind by different realizers and for different purposes.

In liberating itself from its illusions of ineffability and irreproducible uniqueness, and by apprehending itself as an upgradable armamentarium of practices or abilities, the mind realizes itself as an expanding constructible edifice that effectuates a mind-only system. But this is a system that is no longer comprehensible within the traditional ambit of idealism, for it involves 'mind' not as a theoretical object but as a practical project of socio-historical wisdom or augmented general intelligence.

Throughout this presentation we shall lay out the minimal characteristics and procedures of the game of navigation by drawing on the works of Gilles Châtelet (the construction of a horizon), Guerino Mazzola (a dynamic theory of addresses) and Robert Brandom (the procedural system of commitments). We shall subsequently unpack the consequences of playing this game in terms of the transition from self-conception to self-transformation of the mind as outlined by the New Confucian philosophers Xiong Shili and Mou Zongsan.

Date: April 22nd, 7-9pm.
311 East Broadway
New York, NY 10002, USA
Sponsored by ART² and the Cultural Services of the French Embassy.

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 7:46 PM

February 19, 2014

Navigation in Vancouver


I will be giving a number of presentations in Vancouver surrounding the navigational paradigm (as related to the ramifying structure of commitments, the non-classical portrait of the concept and the space of knowledge). Abstracts below:

Continue reading "Navigation in Vancouver"

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 11:51 PM

February 3, 2014

Workshop on functionalism


Function: Decomposition, Localization, Abstraction
Speakers: Ray Brassier, Reza Negarestani

Although principally associated with a thesis in the philosophy of mind, functionalism has wide-ranging ramifications. The concept of "functional role" or "functional organization" ties together a metaphysical problem about the basis of the distinction between matter and form, an epistemic problem about how to distinguish semantic content from physical information, and an engineering problem about the relation between structural and functional properties. This workshop will try to unravel the metaphysical, epistemic, and engineering aspects of functionalism by developing themes from the work of philosophers including William Bechtel, Robert Brandom, Wilfrid Sellars, and William Wimsatt.

Date and Time: March 25, 2014, 6:30pm
Wollman Hall, The New School
66 West 12th Street
New York, NY 10011

This is a free event and open to the public.
Seating is limited: You can order tickets via Eventbrite.

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 3:57 PM

January 25, 2014

What is philosophy?

This is a revised and extended version of a short piece I wrote a while ago for Mohammad Salemy's project Encyclonospace Iranica. Salemy's project is a reconceptualization of the modern model of knowledge as an encyclospace, or a dynamic universe for the qualitative organization of information and the proliferation and navigation of its knowledge-bases. This is of course a far too reductive description of Salemy's project and its ambitions. A good place to start with Salemy's project is its documentation website, and also here.


The text in PDF.

Navigate With Extreme Prejudice
(Definitions and Ramifications)

•  Traditionally, philosophy is an ascetic cognitive experimentation in abstract (general) intelligence. As an ascesis in cognition, it concerns with grasping the mind in terms of a diversifiable set of abilities or practices whose deployment counts as what the mind is and what it does: special doings that one must undertake in order to count as organizing the intellect and setting in motion the faculty of thinking. By abstracting the mind to a set of practices, philosophy experiments with possibilities occasioned by decomposing the behavior of the mind into special performances or practices. The opportunities brought about by this practical decomposability are numerous and are still largely unidentified. The schema of this functionalist abstraction has at least two immediate implications. One is that by decomposing the mind to a set of practices, philosophy is able to envision itself as a veritable environment for an augmented nous precisely in the sense of a systematic experiment in mind simulation. Therefore, the mind is conceived - less in the sense of what it is and more in the sense what it does and what it can do - beyond its immediate or hard constraints. In other words, philosophy simultaneously expands the scope of experimentation with the mind and the scope of what mind can be and what it can do. The other implication is that by decomposing the mind into a set of practices, philosophy progressively registers itself as the domain of practical wisdom rather than theoretical wisdom, where 'mind as a theoretical object' is replaced by 'mind as a system of practices'. Already pregnant of pragmatic-functionalist and social-communal gestures, the practical decomposability of mind, accordingly, transforms philosophy into a domain of practical wisdom and by so doing, it allows the understanding and manipulation of the mind as a collective enterprise of robust social practices. Once mind is mapped on the level of social practices, manipulation of the social fabric in the sense of diversifying robust social practices, design of new social conducts and administration of social organizations leads to the constructive manipulation, or more precisely, practical abstraction of the mind as a collective horizon. Indeed, philosophy establishes a link between intelligence and modes of collectivization, in a way that liberation, organization and complexification of the latter implies new odysseys for the former, which is to say, intelligence and the evolution of the nous. In this way, philosophy presents the first collective model of general intelligence according to which 'what intelligence is' and 'how it can be liberated' are no longer exclusively sought in the workings of the mind as a strongly structurally-coupled entity. In other words, its embedding in materiality (i.e. embodiment) and natural design (i.e. optimization principles associated with natural evolution) are no longer adequate criteria for its identification and liberation. Instead the reality of intelligence (what it is and what it can be) is found in the strongly functional realm of 'mind as a system of collective practices' which, by virtue of the function's autonomy with regard to conditions of its constitution, is capable of proliferating itself in new complex structures and organizations. It is the collective instantiation inherent to this model that provides intelligence with a certain plasticity that can be modified, distributed, facilitated, even expedited. To sum up, by concurrently treating the mind as a vector of extreme abstraction and abstracting the mind into a set of social practices and conducts, philosophy gesticulates toward a particular and not yet fully comprehended event in the modern epoch - as opposed to traditional forms - of intelligence: The self-realization of intelligence coincides and is implicitly linked with the self-realization of social collectivity. The single most significant historical objective is then postulated as the activation and elaboration of this link between the two aforementioned dimensions of self-realization as ultimately one unified project.

Continue reading "What is philosophy?"

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 10:11 PM