Felix Guattari and Bernard Stiegler: Towards a Post-Darwinian Synthesis

Guattari’s move from “schizoanalysis” to the “ecosophy” of his later years  does not constitute a change in paradigm or the proposition of a new theoretical model. In both cases his concern is not with the elaboration of any particular theory or model, but with facilitating a process of “meta-modelization”. Far from propounding a system, his works are interventions,  containing a series of reflections, lines of reference, and reminders on the multiple aspects that any particular model will have to take into account.

A fundamental consideration is the need to think outside the isolated subject confronting an external object, and the need to take into account our directly collective subjectivity and our constitutive supplementation by technical or “machinic” inscription, interface and embedding. We are ecological subjectivities embedded in multiple networks, and not cut-off Cartesian subjects.

Seen from this ecosophical perspective, however interesting an eliminative materialism such as R.Scott Bakker’s BBT model may be in analysing certain atomised contexts, its meta-modelization is totally impoverished, and is quite unable to accomodate  technical equipment and instrumentation, inscriptions and reticulations, cognitive institutions and communities with their collective procedures of examination,validation and rectification. Despite the materialist-sounding talk about “brains” Bakker’s BBT is to that extent idealist in form, if not in content.

Following an indication from nonmanifestation here, it is interesting to compare Bakker’s eliminativism with Michel Foucault’s earlier post-Althusserian dallying with structuralism and his later reintroduction of subjectivity, only outside the subject/object bifurcation. Foucault’s early work (BIRTH OF THE CLINIC, THE ORDER OF THINGS, ARCHEOLOGY OF KNOWLEDGE) was very much under the influence of  the structuralist dissolution of the phenomenological subject, even if he maintained a certain distance from the programmatic aspects of structuralism.

Bakker’s eliminativism takes us back to the 50s and 60s, and constitutes a sort of neuro-structuralism, at least in intention. However, the form of cognitive science that he borrows from reproduces the Cartesian paradigm at a materialised level, the solitary brain face to face with an external world, caught in the aporia of cognitive incompetence dictated by this scenario. The epistemological aporia is in fact dictated by an inadequate ontology.

On Deleuze’s reading, Foucault’s final work generates a new ontology, based on the fold, that allows for processes of subjectivation that do not reintroduce a cut-off subject. This “fold” subjectivity has much in common with Johnston’s “gap” formative of subjectivity. In both cases we see a concept of subjectivity that precisely is not reducible to the cut-off subject, nor to “intentionality”, which is a secondary formation.

Paradoxically, the cognitive anomalies that Bakker ceaselessly signals are the signs, as seen from within his paradigm, that this paradigm is radically insufficient. Our cognitive biases and general theoretical incompetence are already instantiations of Johnston’s constitutive gap, only seen negatively by means of Cartesian spectacles. This bias and incompetence of the individual brain is no sign of the inevitable failure of cognition, but rather the mark of our necessary inscription in the social and technical networks of what Bernard Stiegler calls transindividuation.

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22 Responses to Felix Guattari and Bernard Stiegler: Towards a Post-Darwinian Synthesis

  1. rsbakker says:

    Never in my experience, has a serious, respected critic of a theorist refused to answer that theorist’s requests for clarification. So let’s try one more time, one item at a time…

    “However, the form of cognitive science that he borrows from reproduces the Cartesian paradigm at a materialised level, the solitary brain face to face with an external world, caught in the aporia of cognitive incompetence dictated by this scenario. The epistemological aporia is in fact dictated by an inadequate ontology.”

    I just don’t know where this ‘solitary brain against the world’ comes from. My position represents a form of *extreme externalism* – the most radical ‘enactivist’ or ’embodied’ account on the market, actually. Perhaps you would like to explain to your readers precisely how it lapses back into internalism. No demurrals. No herrings. No attempts to reverse the charges. Just a step by step analysis of the very thing you claim to know better than I do.


    • terenceblake says:

      Dear Scott, are you replying to me or to David Roden? I certainly don’t make any critique of your theory as involving internal representations. Yet David seems convinced of their necessity.

      I refuse to midwife you into a clearer formulation of your theory, you’re going to have to do that yourself. I have done enough for you already.


      • rsbakker says:

        You. I’m not asking for your help with my theory, Terence, I’m asking you for help with your interpretation, which I do not understand at all.

        As I said, no serious critic of a theorist, when confronted by a request for clarification of the point of theory criticized, would fail to provide such a clarification. You can’t beg ‘time constraints’ since this is what, the 10th post including criticisms of BBT in a row?


  2. terenceblake says:

    Scott I think you are asking me for help with your theory, which exists in a “cloud” state in your bloated theoretical prose and mostly contextually defined rather than stated explicitly in concise form. I will not midwife you into greater concision and clarity, nor will I do it in your place.


  3. dmf says:

    DR, why assume that the representationalists are right, why would representing/conceptualizing be so different from say acts of re-membering?


  4. dmfant says:

    Reblogged this on synthetic_zero.


  5. noir-realism says:

    Hi Terrence, could you clarify what you meant by Bakker’s eliminativism takes us back to the 50s and 60s, and constitutes a sort of neuro-structuralism, at least in intention. However, the form of cognitive science that he borrows from reproduces the Cartesian paradigm at a materialised level, the solitary brain face to face with an external world, caught in the aporia of cognitive incompetence dictated by this scenario.

    What authors did you have in mind for this reversion to the 50’s and 60’s? As well as which authors that Scott borrows from? Just interested in tracing this history down… I’m slowly working through the gamut of the history of cognitive sciences and the philosophy of mind at the moment, so the more information and authors the merrier.

    I want add my thoughts on this since it seems with Scott, David, and dmf you have your hand full… 😉


    • terenceblake says:

      I am thinking of just basic intellectual history going from Levi-Strauus and Althusser’s work of that period perceived as comporting a structuralist revolution inaugurating the dissolution (or elimination) of the subject, and continued in Foucault’s theme of the “death of man”. The same sort of grandiose claims, and the same sort of scientistic foundation, even if the sciences involved were different (human sciences then, biology and cognitive psychology now).


      • noir-realism says:

        Oh, ok, I was assuming those earlier philosphers of mind rather than the structuralist and post-structuralist Continental traditions… ok, then, thanks!

        The more I read Scott I realize he very well versant in the Continental and Analytic modes of discourse, but he is also reliant of a completely different skeptical naturalist traditions that are, to me at least, not truly earmarked in the structuralist discourses.

        And, I’m beginning to reject these criticisms of ‘scientism’ which seem a little off the mark in their lumping of what actual scientists do as compared to what they might say or think about their work (and to me that is one of the problems we face in understanding this whole issue). We take on face value the terminological framework presented by layman for layman as the truth of science(s), when in fact most of these interpretations about scientists tell us more about the critical tools of the critic and philosopher than they do about the sciences in question. To truly understand what he scientists are doing as compared to saying is to enter into their domain of expertise, migrate to their set of mind tools, and work from inside their actual practice. At least that is my take so far. Scott, like the rest of us uses a great set of heuristic devices or mental engines of thought to pitch his claims. Yet, being like us all these tools are certainly open to revision and transformation as those within the actual sciences present other findings. Our windows onto these actual working scientists are limited to our own limited capacities, not to the actual practices that we might be describing. If we fail to align our descriptions to the truth of what is actually going on in the work, then that is a failure of our incapacities as Scott has iterated in one form or another on several occasions on his blog.

        What Scott is doing is speculative theory-fiction in his search of a terminological framework that can actually present what these scientists are ‘doing’ not what they are ‘saying’… this makes his attempt a worthwhile enterprise and one that is in the tradition of all those amateur scholars such as ourselves.


  6. dmf says:

    thanks will give this more thought/time soon except to raise my doubts about there being such a thing as Language.
    Marks on pages or walls, human-doings like vocalizations, neuronal firings, gestures, etc sure but some thing/agent like Grammar doing things, nay, back later, dirk


    • terenceblake says:

      For Stiegler, who is a materialist, all language is inscribed, it is marks and inscriptions, that nonetheless instantiate and facilitate processes of categorisation.


    • dmf says:

      “inscribed” like as with people who are projecting internal-maps and such on the brain?
      would be interested in more of the mechanics of how “instantiate and facilitate processes of categorisation” is to be happening.


  7. noir-realism says:

    Yea, I tend to understand the take of representations in the brain, but for me this is somehow connected to physical memory storage not to some immaterial process (which I certainly cannot describe in scientific terms). I was thinking of scientists working on open brain patients triggering visual memories,etc. That in itself tells us that we have both all the human senses stored in aspects of the brain for recall: sound, smell, site, touch, etc. I think that right there is an aspect of AI research that seems to go by unnoticed in at least early literature in which they saw AI only in terms of visual semiotic forms without realizing the brain is not just connected to our head but is has distributed subconscious connections to the full body. We are not just creatures of thought, but of smell, sound, touch, etc. So in the creation of a AI we would have to take that aspect into consideration.

    Sorry for the aside… was just thinking out loud. lol


  8. terenceblake says:

    Hello Craig, I have nothing to say in reply to Bakker nor to any query, direct or indirect, about his ideas. I will not be brow-beaten or otherwise intimidated into not mentioning his ideas in passing, whenever I wish, as an example of naive scientistic eliminativism. I have no idea what your dithyrambic praise of Bakker’s views on science is based on, but if I wanted a realistic picture of science in the making i would never look to his pronouncements. Nor do I find him well-versed in the Continental traditions that I have studied.


    • rsbakker says:

      It’s not about browbeating, Terence, it’s about finding my name and my theory attached to claims that have nothing to do with them, not to mention what seems to be growing into a smear claim. Otherwise, my friend, I was a Continentalist for a good thirteen years before realizing just how bankrupt my ontological arguments were. In all my posts on Continental Realism I try to be very scrupulous about staking out my shortcomings as an interpreter, and explicit welcome correction on points of interpretation. I even welcomed you to do the same by email, if I remember aright.

      Instead I get this. Holy moly, man. You might as well put up a photo of me and draw a moustache on it, for all that you actually engage my views, Terence!

      Maybe some boobies… and some Spock ears, just to make it interesting!

      I take that back. It is very interesting, incredibly so, what’s going on here. Just not for the reasons you think.


    • noir-realism says:

      You say: ” I have no idea what your dithyrambic praise of Bakker’s views on science is based on”… hmm are we reading the same information on his blog? And, who is brow-beating, certainly not I, nor am I trying to intimidate you. Saying that eliminativistism is naïve and scientistic seems a little unscholarly on your part since a great many of the current neuroscientists actually hold onto one form of it or another in their current practices. And, anyone who has read a lot of Scott’s older posts knows very well that he is well versed in both Continental and Analytical philosophy. Seems my friend, much like you’ve done in the past with the likes of Graham Harman, that you’ve taken a personal affront to Scott and rather than confronting him on an intellectual plane and answering his questions you’ve just decided to first, confuse people with ill-founded dribble that misrepresents not only the intent of his work but the work itself. So be it Terrence… I’ll go my own way and want bother you again… enjoy your petty confrontations with ghosts…


  9. terenceblake says:

    dmf: no, inscribed as written in books or embedded in technology, in the sense that a neolithic flint tool is also an inscription.

    As to the categorisation stuff, that is the object of his course and seminar that I am following this year. I may get round to giving summaries but my time has recently been taken up with catering to Bakker’s unreasonable demands on my time, first in responding to his demands and now in defending myself from his ego-centric brow-beating. If you look at my production over the last couple of months I have been putting out quite a lot of stuff and intend to continue, but on my own terms.


  10. dmf says:

    I see, I tend to think of these matters largely in terms of extended-mind-ing but look forward to hearing more of BS’ unfolding work as time and interest allows.


  11. rsbakker says:

    This is actually a crazy difficult issue to parse, simply because as you know there’s so many views out there. But Andy Clark’s position is a good landmark, I think, because of the way it occupies the middle ground. Certain kinds of cognition seem ‘representation hungry,’ insofar as they pretty clearly seem to require ‘onboard information about’ to discharge their functions, so Clark (with various collaborators) suggests a continuum of ‘representationality’ as a sober means of resolving the representationalist/anti-representationalist dispute.

    But the ‘onboard information’ argument entails representationalism only if the information at issue is *semantically* construed (as it is by the vast majority of theorists in the cognitive sciences). If you construe information nonsemantically, like I do, then the need for onboard information entails no commitment to representationalism (there’s nothing mysterious about systems isomorphically recapitulating environmental structure), and the problem becomes one of explaining or explaining away the obvious normative properties of cognition – which of course is what BBT is all about.

    All of which brings me back to Terence’s baffling criticism. Once intentionality is eliminated, how on earth can anything resembling ‘subjectivity’ be reasserted? It seems pretty clear that he needs to argue either that I’ve failed to eliminate intentionality because of the implausibility of my posits, or (as it usually the case with claims like mine) because I implicitly smuggle it in the back door.

    Either way he clearly has some argumentative and interpretative work to do. Instead, all he seems to be working with here is a rhetorical association of ‘brain’ and ‘subject.’ Again, I’ll reference my “Just Plain Crazy Enactive Cognition” for those interested in exploring further: http://rsbakker.wordpress.com/2013/10/29/just-plain-crazy-enactive-cognition-a-review-and-critical-discussion-of-radicalizing-enactivism-basic-minds-without-content-by-dan-hutto-and-erik-myin/


    • JTH says:


      You wrote:

      “Once intentionality is eliminated, how on earth can anything resembling ‘subjectivity’ be reasserted?”

      I am wondering how you deal with the corresponding question: Once intentionality is eliminated, how on earth can anything resembling ‘truth’ be reasserted? I remember that Rosenberg holds that nothing is strictly speaking *about* anything else, but I don’t recall whether he went on to try and answer this question. It might be that you want to preserve something resembling truth closely enough to warrant the name, i.e. that the heuristic concept of truth as it currently stands will emerge from its parsing by BBT without being *wholly* divested of its current content, which I suppose means without being *wholly* eliminated. But if that is possible then it looks like subjectivity can pass through the eye of the needle as well – whereas, if it is not possible then the success of science becomes a problem for BBT rather than a motivation. Again, do you have, in broadest outline at least, any idea of how to account for this success without employing anything that even *resembles* an intentional concept? If not, don’t we thereby allow for the possibility of something resembling subjectivity as well?


  12. Chen says:

    To hear the BBT folks talk among themselves, one would think they’re at The Last Supper for the intentional. I suppose the only interesting question remaining with them is who will be the Judas of this movement considering they have already found their savior. I’m wondering if we’re not witnessing a new positivism, the grandiose claiming the end of all metaphysics ( in this case the intentional and the havoc it will create for the humanities, et al.) with the corresponding posture of not being able to understand anything not said on their terms. It’s all been seen before.

    All these aggressive demands for answers to questions that have been answered is depressing to see from people that are styling themselves as critical and sober minded. It seems to be because you’re not framing your answer in terms of the cognitive program Bakker or others utilizes, it is being deemed illegitimate. I’m dumbfounded at remarks like this ” Saying that eliminativistism is naïve and scientistic seems a little unscholarly on your part since a great many of the current neuroscientists actually hold onto one form of it or another in their current practices.”

    So it cannot be naive and scientistic because neuro-scientists hold to it? Why? Because it generates results? Any group whether scientist, philosopher or otherwise can be naive and parochial and still have results. The question to answer here is what the results mean. If everything is heuristics and agreeing for the moment that most neuro-scientists are eliminativists, ( operationally or ontologically?) how does this prevent them from being naive, scientistic? Perhaps, some claims outstrip the actual work? Perhaps, the claims, insofar as they are interpreted towards one paradigm can be involved in another? Bakker can’t fathom how Johnston’s materialism. for example, can say anything about all this ( demonstrated by how he demands and quizzically asks how Johnston would translate some of his claims) but this is mere bluster to me, a desire to have Johnston to translate his work into cognitive science which it isn’t but may well incorporate. There is no a priori reason he cannot. Furthermore, it seems Terrence has already conceded in different posts and has said Eliminativism may will be a useful heuristic. He has not denied this, only the broader global eliminativist claims like Bakker has made. So it does not seem “unscholarly” at all . If these neuroscientists deem that eliminativism is not just a useful, operational heuristic tool to dealing with the mind/brain but the ‘truth’ and only way to go about knowledge of the mind/brain then it it certainly possible to hold that insofar as the latter claim is implicit or explicitly made it is naive and scientistic. Whether or not one agrees or disagrees is a point to debate but a denial that eliminativism is naive and scientistic because of current practices of neuroscientists produces the same kind of bafflement that you guys have been feigning against, Terrence.

    Now, Terrence has declared his materialism so I think you guys can relax. But being a good pluralist he seems able to understand that, especially under the assumption of heuristics, that the results or ongoing practices of a program can be interpreted in a variety of ways. As such, denying the universality of eliminativism and critiquing it has naive and scientistic can be perfectly appropriate.

    It’s sad to see these folks turning against you, Terrence. It doesn’t make much sense to me.

    Liked by 1 person

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