Catherine Malabou has created a meticulous and profound new concept of the brain. Malabou analyses the functions which neuroscience has discovered, conducting a contemporary synthesis of neuroplasticity, crystallizing a new concept which acts as a curious new abstract machine with many parts. She names this concept plasticity after the plastic multiplicity of the brain; and one component of this concept expresses the brain’s power to learn and to heal, and even to reconfigure itself. Another component is transdifferentiation, or the power of life to remake and refold itself: the capability of certain (pluripotent, totipotent) cellular organisms to unfold into some or many other kinds of cells.
In reality, goals are absent.
Rivalry is only a spectacle; it is the state of appearance. Equilibrium is phenomenal, and the distance is real. The law of opposition belongs to phenomenology; the law of irreversibility or of falling downstream is real. Behind all representation.
A Genealogy of Modern Science
Science appears to begin with the Greeks: somehow, somewhere, a resentful pre-scientific impulse begins to criticize the unity of life and culture. Some say that before this interruption, there must be an alien infiltration (the arguments for Oriental contributions to Greek culture,) but ultimately the “true” source is irrelevant, for it is this real criticism, this faithful engagement with the material culture, with everyday life, that is at once of the greatest importance, that is the authentic germ of enlightenment (Greek or otherwise.) For this criticism already contains a larval critique of creativity, of society, and most important for the development of a scientific instinct, a criticism of divinity and images. By Plato and Aristotle, science will separate itself completely from creativity, from works of the imagination and from art. Plato’s criticism of images (what we would call “advertising”) is well-known; Kant’s rejection of the empirical as a source for truth reproduces the same critique in reverse. In short, it is by rigorously separating life and culture that science discovers itself positively (i.e., as this objective dissocation, this symmetrically dis-sociative personality.)
“What does man actually know about himself? Is he, indeed, ever able to perceive himself completely, as if laid out in a lighted display case? Does nature not conceal most things from him — even concerning his own body — in order to confine and lock him within a proud, deceptive consciousness, aloof from the coils of the bowels, the rapid flow of the blood stream, and the intricate quivering of the fibers! She threw away the key.” (On Truth and Lying in an Extra-moral Sense, Part 1)
“To calm the imagination of the invalid, so that at least he should not, as hitherto, have to suffer more from thinking about his illness than from the illness itself! –that, I think, would be something! It would be a great deal! Do you now understand our task?” (Daybreak 54)
A Simple Theory of the Unconscious?
There is no simple theory of the unconscious in Nietzsche’s work. This is because the unconscious is complex, a site for transformation and not a singular ‘object’ of analysis. The unconscious would be everything which accounts for image-object-thought associations, and therefore that by which we could explain relations between thoughts and activities. However, Nietzsche clearly recognized that we cannot simply analyze the unconscious as a thing in-itself: it was very important for him that we should not be taken in by the idea that our explanations for things are adequate expressions of an underlying reality. Because in fact there is no necessary relation between human beings and reality; rather, we artistically create the mode in which we confront and understand the world. Thus there are no longer any laws of nature for Nietzsche: “…what is a law of nature as such for us? We are not acquainted with it in itself, but only with its effects, which means in its relation to other laws of nature — which, in turn, are known to us only as sums of relations. Therefore all these relations always refer again to others and are thoroughly incomprehensible to us in their essence.” (Truth and Lying, Part 1) We cannot reach the essence of a relation except by being deceived into thinking they are simple; like the will, which we are apt to conceive as a pure simple essence of participation, an ‘inclination,’ when it fact it may be the most complex phenomena in the entire world.
Everything about the modern State is false: it is cold, mechanical and monstrous. And there is no hope for disruption: machinic production annihilates life. Capital is the calculated sacrifice of whatever is left of spiritual health: profit in exchange for humanity, slavery in exchange for inner value. The enslavement of free creativity is the only positive operation of capital. Without the knowledge of what it is to think adventurously, to journey abroad, to breathe freely, there is only the madness of anti-production: the state and the market stand as the singular figures of parasitism and death. They are opposed to culture, to freedom, to health. Economy is violence, and mute static has replaced the human spirit. This machine devours humanity: it chews, grinds, enslaves.
Artificial intelligence stands in need of a fresh thought: a new thinking of complexity, of the virtual, and of machines. Instead of a virtual founded upon forms which remain forever the same, we need an idea of the virtual founded upon difference itself. We need a creative virtuality.
The task of building a robot demands a lucid and algorithmic way of grasping the frame problem. An adaptive principle of distinguishing problem spaces, some genetic evolution culminating in the capacity to mark a difference. So how do the sense organs evolve? Which is another way of asking: how does experience form?
Just as the glaciers increase when in the equatorial regions the sun burns down upon the sea with greater heat than before, so it may be that a very strong and aggressive free-spiritedness is evidence that somewhere the heat of sensibility has sustained an extraordinary increase.
Nietzsche (§232, Human, All Too Human)
As Nietzsche develops it, the specifically psychological question is already a social investigation, perhaps even close to the anthropological question. The psychologist asks: what is the specifically cultural essence, or social truth, which is expressing itself in such-and-such a symptom?
Hence in order to explain scientifically the psychological origins of culture, Nietzsche dares to suggest we have need of a truly new kind of science, one finally made capable of analyzing cultural institutions without prejudice, from a perspective both critical and healing at once. In order to maintain its deliberate and fruitful inconsistency, the science of the unconscious must first of all recognize that cultural shifts are like geological changes. Social evolution shifts all potential axes of action and reallocates the coordination of space and time. Cultural transformations can sometimes even involve a shift in cognitive dimension, as in the ‘cusp’ at the apex of a mountain range, born from a complex balancing of counter-movements.
Indeed, we see Nietzsche intervening in the popular account origins of society, of thought – but always in order to point towards a more legitimately scientific and psycho-historical way of diagnosing and re-evaluating specific cultural modalities. For the psychologist, a fable of creation (whether of the universe or a single idea) betrays jealousy and ambition. We ought to understand creativity in a purely immanent sense: not as diverging from being, but rather perceiving that creation functions as the origin of difference, and is not only concerned with temporary variations in dominant modes of consumption or production. The power of the originary impulse is such that it formulates even the second-order coordinations of coordination which all together frame the conditions of any potential change. This is why unrecognized difference is the very beginning of thought.
The dominant patterns of coordination express themselves culturally as a lattice of ontological limitations a people willingly imposes upon its self-creation: an absolute vision, of an absolute goal. Though creativity may fail, though the goal may be forgotten, the path is anachronistically adhered to: this is the meaning of an origin, as the traumatic real which lurks behind every symptom as unitary cause. Over time a people loses their original vision of the world; and when our very principles have been inverted, how could we hope to understand our own origin? Thus the question arises: have we misheard the voice of history? Has reality been misrepresented, or worse – has representation become indiscernible from reality?
The desire to create continually is vulgar and betrays jealousy, envy, ambition. If one is something one really does not need to make anything—and yet one nonetheless does very much. There exists above the ‘productive’ man a yet higher species.
Nietzsche (§210, Human, All Too Human)
We desire illusions — because we desire revelation. When we have faith, our energy inverts itself from within: the world is suddenly magically transformed, us along with it. Illusions! More like liaisons. Economy is the same way: a magic power grasps hold, a flow of energy spontaneously rearranging the underlying order of the universe. Capital is a specter and a spectacle: universal miracle machine, superego-substitute and hyper-sexual idol all-in-one. From images branded onto faces, tasks onto hands, and illusions onto gazes– somehow money is produced. Capital is the illusion; for money-as-signifier is dead, dead since capitalism declared its global aim, to include all within its dream. Capital is a pure power retreated into its own image — which has just as quickly plunged the earth right into the depths of the Virtual.
The image only is sovereign — the sovereign is imaginary. Ideal for a complex bureaucracy — where we are ruled by no one. The spectacle is again the most ancient epic, the many against the one, the story of power’s evolution: until finally machines have taken responsibility over our imagination! Once, timid and easily frightened away or turned back, now the Image has truly come into its own virtual domain. Spaces for interpretation of any kind are now entirely produced as images. There is no love but for a machine; all else is war, a war against the order of things… Hope is an image, fear a symbol; both are faces, branded onto images more deeply than their contents or design. Yet we know we can affect images — because images affect us! Micropolitics is not just local subversion, but molecular involution: unfolding, reconvergence, diffusion.
Ideology is not a dream, nor can we abandon concepts for functions: for it is our very existence in question and on trial as a false image of life… Conscience demands that we must move beyond ontology towards a new dimension, on the other sides of images — in sohrt, towards a material ethics of conviviality. Which is not to say of justice per se, but more explicitly of cohumanity, control and creativity. Never has it been clearer than in our time the essential disunity of human existence: that is, that necessity is not opposed to free will. We are not total by ourselves; our potential is only unlocked in the energy and power of a group. And as soon as a group has definite aims, a goal and an identity, it is already a war-machine. It seems we cannot escape answering some call or another; the lesson is not only that we ought to distinguish between imaginary ideals and real dreams, but even that the real image we follow has only virtual substance, one we are choosing and desiring to experience.