Bruno Latour’s “Facing Gaia”

I’m sharing two lectures recorded for my online course this semester, Process and Difference in the Pluriverse. In these two modules, we are studying Latour’s recently translated book Facing Gaia.

Chapters 1-4:

Chapters 5-8:

 

 

Unnecessary Mechanism: A Reply to R. Scott Bakker

“The machinery of the brain does all the work–after all, what else is there? What [Cain] calls ‘thinking of science in normative terms’ is a mechanistic enterprise, something our brains do. Since metacognition is all but blind to the mechanistic nature of the brain, it cognizes cognition otherwise, in nonmechanical, acausal, magical terms. Normative judgements, intentional relations, and so on: these are simply ways our brain naturally mischaracterizes its own activity.” -R. Scott Bakker

 

“Scientists animated by the purpose of proving that they are purposeless constitute an interesting subject for study.” -Alfred North Whitehead, The Function of Reason (16).

Those who have been tracking my last few posts (HERE and HERE) will know I’ve been enjoying Ben Cain’s philosophy blog Rants Within the Undead God. It was in a guest post on fantasy author R. Scott Bakker‘s blog Three Pound Brain that I first encountered Cain’s mind. Bakker has just published a critical reply to Cain’s guest post a few days ago on the philosophical difficulties facing scientism. I’m as new to Bakker’s “blind brain theory” (BBT) as I am to Cain’s “existential cosmicism,” but I’ve been reading Cain and Bakker’s recent exchange concerning the ontological status of consciousness in our scientific age with tremendous interest. I agree with Bakker that we ought to be extremely disturbed and existentially unsettled by BBT’s implications, just not for the reasons he thinks.

Like Cain, I find Bakker’s BBT threatening not because it is true in some matter of fact sense, but because it is becoming increasingly true (in the American pragmatist sense) as the values of techno-scientific imperialism continue to infect secular societies (techno-capitalism has done a fabulous job marketing these values thus far). It is indeed becoming increasingly more difficult to distinguish ourselves from machines. As Cain suggests:

 Maybe our imagination, emotion, intuition, and creativity will atrophy as our habits continue to be shaped by our artificial environments. Then again, we’d be looking not so much at a scientific revelation of what we’ve always really been, but at a transformation of human nature for the worse.

While Bakker cognitively mobilizes unexplained explainers like “scientific accuracy” (achieved by a disinterested res cogitans?) and “natural mechanism” (mathematizable res extensa?), I’d prefer to call upon the non-modern powers of creative imagination and cosmogenesis in my speculative fantasies (in Hillman’s sense of fantasy). I take my speculative risks on behalf of philosophical inquiry and creative intuition attempting to attune with the logos of the chaosmos. This is an infinite task, it must be admitted. But then philosophy is full of infinite tasks, as Husserl taught us“Scientific accuracy” is also an infinite task, is it not? I suppose only if the universe is an infinite fact. 

Bakker is not happy about the loaded labels of “scientism” and “absolutism” fired at him by Cain. I think its true that these labels tend to carry negative connotations, but I’m surprised that Bakker doesn’t just own up to BBT’s philosophical allegiance to those very connotations (i.e., science as the only valid way of knowing because philosophical intuition is bosh, etc.). Neuroscientists like the “hardheaded devotee of aggressive-exterminative scientism” (as Graham Harman referred to himThomas Metzinger and eliminativist philosophers like Ray Brassier don’t shy away from the term but seem rather to wear it as a badge of honor.

The Danger of Scientism? (response to Benjamin Cain)

Go read Benjamin Cain’s fascinating and tightly argued essay posted at Three Pound Brain (the blog of author R. Scott Bakker). Below is my comment to him:

That was a thoroughly enjoyable read.

 

I agree with what may be your most important conclusion: that the real danger “we” face as auto-poetic “minds” is that techno-science is systematically disassembling the “cultural”/”folk psychological” conditions necessary for human ensoulment. The built-environments and electronic media we have surrounded ourselves with are not simply made in “our image”; the machines have also been making us, from the very beginning, into something other than human. The techno-evangelists call this the “transhuman,” but I’m not so sure we in the “developed” world are taking a step “beyond” our “natural” state as pre-scientific social animals.

 

Whether or not scientific knowledge can really transcend its biocultural conditions in order to speak transparently on behalf of the Facts of Nature, simply believing such a thing were possible has lead in a few short centuries to a total re-visioning of the purpose of human life (=consumerism) and civilization (=techno-capitalism).

 

Even if our pre-scientific ancestors really partook of something called “life” and had individual “souls” which found themselves in relation to “gods,” this became impossible the moment the techno-scientific utopia finally arrived. Once science dispelled every supposedly meaningful quality in the observable universe, “we” didn’t need “souls” anymore, or at least, we forgot how it was that our ancestors managed to ritually invoke them.

 

Mythic culture traditionally allowed for collective ceremony and celebration of the sacred marriage of earth and sky. It oriented primal humans to the rhythms of the cosmos upon which they depended (agriculturally for food and spiritually for existential orientation). We are wrong to assume that the imaginations of early humans “projected” meaning onto the patterned movements of earth and sky. Just like modern day machines shape us as we interact with them, impressing their digi-logic into our neuro-logic, the seasonal rhythms of earth and the cosmic revolutions of heaven projected their astro-logic into the imaginations of early humans. True myth was not “made up” by humans; the first human stories were learned by paying very close attention to the language of nature itself. Nowadays, with the stars drowned out by the light of our cities and the animals driven nearly to extinction by other industrial activity, human language has become far more arbitrary, far less archetypal. If nominalism was still entirely false in Plato’s day, it has since become truer in ours.