November 27, 2015

Complexity and Computation at The New Centre


I will be teaching a course on complexity and computation at The New Centre from January 10 to March 27. The description and registration information can be found here.

Complexity and Computation:
An Introduction to Measures, Paradigms and Programs

This seminar is an introduction to two widely popular yet often culturally misconstrued topics, complexity and computation. Why are social sciences no longer tenable without an extensive restructuring around theoretical and applied dimensions of these two subjects? Why is in the absence of a systematic engagement with the all-encompassing consequences implied by the findings and advances in computation and complexity sciences, philosophy's regression to antediluvian platitudes inevitable? And at the same time, why should the vogue culture surrounding complexity and computation be approached with a critical vigilance and extreme caution? By presenting a survey of some of the key ideas in complexity sciences and computation which have direct implications for philosophical and political thinking, this seminar sets out to tackle and answer these questions.

The first module begins with one central question: What is meant by complexity? To answer this question, we will look at different measures of complexity, their strengths and weaknesses and how they deviate from or intersect with the commonsense concept of complexity. Subsequently, we will examine these measures in relation to two questions, 'what is a complex structure' and 'what is a complex function'. This inquiry will lead us to a more fine-grained investigation of complexity in natural and socio-cultural phenomena. Complexity in the order of being and in the order of thought, dynamic systems, structural stability, statistical complexity, logical depth, hierarchies or dependency-relations, generative entrenchment, intrinsic emergence, mechanisms and functions are among the topics that will be discussed in the first module.

The second module focuses on the correlations between complexity and computation particularly in the context of computational complexity and classification of computational problems in relation to measures and hierarchies discussed in the first module. However, depending on how we answer the question of what we mean by computation, the notion of computational complexity can be approached differently. To this end, we will look into what Samson Abramsky calls the two puzzles of computation, 'why do we compute?' and 'what do we compute?'. This will open a discussion on the distinctions between those paradigms of computation centered on the issue of computability and those concerning the fundamental problem of what computation is. In this respect, some of the most significant challenges to the Church-Turing thesis that underlies the current dominant paradigm of computation will be addressed. We will particularly concentrate on the recent paradigm shift in computer science toward understanding the fundamental duality of computation and the interactive nature of computing. To conclude this module, we will review the two major programs of computation established by the Church-Turing and the interactive paradigms, contrasting their capacities in engaging with the question of complexity and evaluating their scope of application. Some of the key terms covered in this module are hierarchy theorems, computational classes, intractability, computational cost, sequentiality, concurrency, algorithmic computing, interaction as computation, design vs. description and the strong informatics thesis.

Drawing on the discussions presented in the first and the second modules, the third module deals with complexity and computation in the domain of cognition, particularly in the context of the linguistic scaffolding of thinking and the computational picture of language. We will primary concentrate on how social / interpersonal interaction shapes the functional architecture of language and conceptual thinking. But the question is that what is exactly 'social' when we refer to social linguistic interaction. To answer this question, the social-interactive dimension of language will be introduced as a computational framework that is directly linked to the generation of semantic complexity and high-order cognitive abilities. The objective of this module is to determine what is exactly computational about social linguistic practices and how linguistic interaction generates complex cognitive abilities. To this end, we will expand on the role of computational dualities - introduced in the second module - in linguistic interaction. The point of entry to our discussion regarding the connections between computational dualities of interaction, language and cognition will be the concept of game. In line with the theme of this module, we will examine Wilfrid Sellars's account of language as rule-governed games and Robert Brandom's game of giving and asking for reasons in light of recent works in logic and computer science on interaction games, most notably, the works of Andreas Blass, Samson Abramsky and Jean-Yves Girard.

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 11:35 AM

November 9, 2015

What is Philosophy and Revolution Backwards

The first part of my text on philosophy as a program is now online. The second part should be out next month:

Also an expanded version of the essay on Turing and computational functionalism has been published in Matteo Pasquinelli's Alleys of Your Mind: Augmented Intelligence and Its Traumas (Meson Press). The entire volume can be accessed here:

Posted by Reza Negarestani at 4:58 PM

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:

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