Deleuze thought that we were moving towards a new configuration that would involve the release of the forces contained up to now in the human form as one particular organisation of these forces dependent on a particular state of the sciences and of our technologies. He envisaged a vast recombination of these forces due to molecular biology, the neurosciences, information science and digital technologies, such that we may no longer be be “human” in the traditional sense in the new configuration. Faced with new knowledge and new forms of control (what Bernard Stiegler calls psycho-power and neuro-power) Deleuze poses the question: what are people going to become? How are they going to individuate themselves, and what new forms of individuation will they invent? What is the role of the brain, its control and its individuation, in the changes to come?
These considerations raise the spectre of “eliminativism”. I am not an eliminativist, although I find eliminativism a line worth pursuing, and thus defend it against a certain type of non-empirical objection. I know that Feyerabend defended it as early as 1951 in his doctoral thesis. Feyerabend always defended eliminativism against silly conservative objections that presupposed the meaning invariance of terms in successive theories and that prohibited incommensurable leaps. So Feyerabend’s aim was to defend the intelligibility of eliminativism, and here I agree with him. His later meditations on Being (especially in CONQUEST OF ABUNDANCE) would suggest however that this eliminativism cannot exhaust the meaning of Being and cannot be imposed on full-fledged traditions that interpret and experience things otherwise. I find that eliminativism sharpens the debate and produces interesting hypotheses, but so do hypotheses of the unconscious that make no reference to material inscription and indeed relativise its meaning and importance. I think the neuronal unconscious may ultimately replace the Freudian unconscious. But I don’t see the hypothesis of the unconscious in its most general form (as in Jung, Deleuze and Guattari, and James Hillman) give up the ghost so easily, as eliminativism, from this point of view, is just one cognitive style amongst many. That said I think it is heuristically useful to pursue the eliminativist programme as an aid to thinking and research.
In the old days people used to distinguish the context of discovery from the context of justification, but then Feyerabend came along and said it’s all heuristics folks. In other words, what is primary is the context of participation. But in fact I am going too fast. What actually happened is that Feyerabend came along and said “Everything is pluralism”. He then went to von Weizsäckers seminar on Quantum Theory and said again “everything is pluralism” and argued that alternative lines of research had been ruled out, and that they should be explored. However, von Weizsäcker showed him the way quantum mechanics arose out of concrete research. So Feyerabend concluded that “Everything is heuristics” and von Weizsäcker was not happy about that when he learned of it 12 years later. Thus even quantum theorists can have amazing ideas at the content level (cognition) but balk at the metacognitive heuristic implications. This is why Feyerabend looks more to Niels Bohr and Wolfgang Pauli for the heuristic attitude.
For me the concept of heuristics and of its pervasiveness is tied to the notion of diachronics. Heuristics are ecologically sensitive, and thus multiple and variable over time and that’s the big point of the cluster of ideas around diachronic ontology that I have been writing about. Derrida remarks that in deconstructing a binary opposition one can be led proximately to privilege the underprivileged term. I have been at pains to explain that it is only a question of the relative primacy of diachrony over synchrony, as one couldn’t exist without the other. I am thinking also of Althusser’s auto-critique, where he uses the image of bending a stick that is already bent in one direction in the other direction to get it straight. When I read this it amused me greatly as I used to maintain to the Althusserians that the famous science/ideology distinction was conjunctural (an important word for them) in its importance, in its nature, and in its necessity ie that its very existence and use was dependent on the conjuncture. They would have none of that, and so I was pleased to be partially vindicated by Althusser himself. Of course not only did I argue that this distinction was relative to the conjuncture, I maintained that Althusser had in fact misread the conjuncture and that this was not a distinction to insist on. I still maintain that.
Bakker strangely comes back to this sort of epistemological dualism. As ordinary brains we live in cognitive illusion, but science tells us how wrong we are, and how constitutive this miscognition is. I think Bakker is in danger of falling into a performative contradiction that both he and I find in Levi Bryant: despite enouncing our « theoretical incompetence » and admitting that his BBT is « speculation » (ie NOT science) and so seeming to espouse “non-foundationalism” and conceptual experimentation, Bakker does have a foundational level and vocabulary, that of BBT and its scientific parents (cognitive psychology, neuroscience, neo-darwinian synthesis, which his appeal to the cognitive incomptence thesis illustrates. Bakker has created from these a speculative synthesis that we are entitled to call the “metaphysical lens” of BBT, which poses an epistemological foundation in science and an ontological foundation with its neural reality behind our cognitive illusions. However, Bakker himself is still responsible before the question that he so readily addresses to others “How do you know”, not in the narrowense of any particular knowledge claim but in the global sense of “How do you know your fundamental ontology is true? and is it revisable? », given that BBT is not science but speculation. The question amounts to : is your BBT a useful heuristic that can guide and explicate philosophical and scientific research or is it a new apodictic foundation, unrevisable in its basic structure?
To be clear: Bakker’s brain talk seems to be his own foundational level, and so his epistemology is unsatisfactory, to say the least. So much for the problem of the status of science in his discourse. But a further problem remains. Everything is heuristic, except apparently this theory, whose actual status seems unclear. This further objection addresses the status of BBT itself, which Bakker admits to be « speculation ». This implies that what Bakker is doing is more metaphysics than science, and in that case it is bad metaphysics at that. He is proposing an interpretative synthesis based on an extrapolation of the cognitive and neuronal sciences, and thus he is shielding himself from scientific testability, without engaging the philosophical issues. He seems to be speaking from his own personal no man’s land, neither inside science nor inside philosophy.
However we can perhaps agree that empirical research can be accomplished by philosophers, or novelists, who are open to conceptual experimentation and also to new information coming from the sciences. In this understanding the dividing line between the BBT as metaphysical speculation and BBT as heuristic synthesis of and guide to empirical research becomes a little more subtle, but does not vanish – it is more a question of two different treatments of the same theory, two different uses: apodictic and heuristic. But this implies that « speculation » can be cognitive too, if only we have a diachronic approach to cognition. Metacognition would not be just the second-order realm of illusion, but the dimension of metanoia, or deep transformation of cognitive and existential paradigms.
Bakker seems to recognise and acknowledge some of these complications by claiming that BBT is “continuous with the natural sciences”, I gloss « continuous but not identical », continuous because continuing the research on the interpretative and so conceptual level. I find a Laruellian non-standard philosophy ring to the phrase. So my question is pluralist: does Bakker admit the value of other quite different approaches that aim at being “continuous with the natural sciences” such as for example Bruno Latour’s or François Laruelle’s? If yes, then great as he is maintaining his pluralism and applying it to himself. If no, then I fear his baby is not only drowning in metaphysical bathwater, it is dissolving in it. Which would be regrettable.
Bakker’s BBT goes in the direction that Deleuze was taking in his “brain turn”: “There is no subject or object on BBT, no ‘correlativity,’ no fundamental ‘inside/outside,’ only a series of heuristic lenses (to opt for a visual heuristic) allowing various kinds of grasp (to opt for a kinesthetic heuristic)”. I too think it is heuristics all the way down. My question is: To what degree is the BBT itself heuristic and not just another theory of heuristic theories? Is the BBT a new foundation or a new heuristic?
I am reminded of Popper’s notion of metaphysical research programmes that are continuous with the sciences without (yet) being part of the sciences. A metaphysical programme can guide and promote testable research and protect it from premature criticism while being itself testable, at least for the moment. Eliminate these “metaphysical” research programmes (scare quotes because metaphysical here has no relation to transcendence) and you would eliminate all science. Bakker seems to be saying on a charitable (ie heuristic) reading that his BBT is a metaphysical research programme (or hypothesis) reflecting and guiding research, and on the way to testability.
On the question of « cognition », what I am trying to express is the Deleuzian sense in which knowledge of the brain is not limited to the neurosciences, but that cinema and music and painting and novel-writing can give us images of the brain that are cognitive ie embody knowledge, and that may resonate with brain science. So I maintain that not all cognition is intellectual, proceding by way of abstractions. Knowing how to swim, for example, is cognition too. When Deleuze talks about the affect belonging to the second kind, and the percept belonging to the third kind of knowledge I think he is making this point too. This non-intellectual cognition is evident in our practical embodied know-how and also in artistic knowledge. Scott Bakker is a novelist, and so it should be evident to him too. Yet he persists in affirming the ideal of scientific imperialism (which is not at all science!) that all « good » cognition ( called « knowledge » in other modes of life) is science. I like his work and I am trying to find a « diplomatic » (in Bruno Latour’s sense) way of getting him to include his own writing practice in his image of knowledge, and so to pluralise him a little more.