STEVE FULLER AND THE QUANTUM TURN (3): from empirical probability to noetic possibility

An interesting aspect of Fuller’s explication of the difference between the quantum and the classical approach, between kairos and chronos, is that he does not posit an absolute opposition but a polarity that allows for intermediate cases. Thus Kuhn’s innovation was to include within the linear progression of science “quantum” phases of revolution that lead to a bifurcation into a new paradigm.

Another intermediate case is perpetualism that refers to God’s power of bifurcation:

“the choice that God always has to continue or alter the universe from moment to moment”

Fuller finds traces of this view in the idea of self-governance (and the maintenance or the rupture of the social contract) and the democratic principle of regular elections

Given this gradation, Fuller analyses what happens to the concept of possibility as we become less classical and more quantum in many domains:

“I have suggested … that underlying the West’s transition from Aristotle’s grounded view of the human to Plato’s more cosmic vision was a redefnition of the meaning of “possible,” from something empirically probable to something logically conceivable”

The grounded classical view is past-oriented and determinist whereas the quantum view is cosmic, future-oriented, and indeterminist. This quantum sense of the possible, that Fuller attributes to Duns Scotus, leads to the sense of an open universe.

“[It] opened up an alternative lineage for humanity, one that was much more open-ended and encompassing than Aristotle had circumscribed because it traced our descent directly from the divine logos rather than its various materializations”

This means that there is a division in the concept of God, and in the Christian idea that we are made in God’s image. Classical Christians see the world as eternally preordained and unchangeable, determined under  God’s ordinance. Quantum Christians consider that God’s vision of the world is that of a space of possibilities, and that God’s power is not past-based pre-ordination but future-oriented bifurcation:

The revived Platonic sense of the possible involves imagining that the actual world is literally the realization of something that could have been otherwise—and may be otherwise, given the fullness of time”.

Fuller likes to make provocative statements about Christianity being responsible for the rise of modern science, but it is clear that in his own terms this refers to Christianity’s vision of the quantum God of possibility space and bifurcation. As noetic beings we live in the intermediate space where we can participate in the power of bifurcation, but only intermittently (as Stiegler reminds us).

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STEVE FULLER AND THE QUANTUM TURN (2): there is no default subject of history

The methodological and meta-ontological considerations that we examined in the last post lead to a renewed vision of history in terms of chronos vs kairos. Humanism is, as Fuller indicates, chronos-based, whereas post- and trans-humanism are kairotic. This means that humanism’s linear successive view of history as a human-centric narrative flow requires some unitary characterisation of the human to maintain coherence and plausibility. The more abstract the criterion of demarcation of the human the better, and a favoured candidate is that of language or logos. Deconstruction has made it its mission to cast as much doubt as possible on such logo-centrism, but without being able to agree on a positive counter-proposal.

This problem of deconstruction results from its abstraction and its tendency towards de-literalisation, both of which amount to a “de-cosmosisation” (to coin an ugly word). It is useless to fight logocentrism on its own, unworlded terrain.

As Steve Fuller points out Renaissance humanism was already trans- and post- humanist, because it countenanced a “cosmic conception of humanity” in which intelligent beings on other planets could be considered human even if their bodies differed radically from ours. Classical humanism, Fuller argues, is Aristotelian in its geocentric grounding of the human in the polis and the family.

According to Fuller Renaissance humanism was already in the process of overcoming the restrictions inherent in the overly grounded category of “human” by returning to a more Platonic vision of the human as characterised by its noetic force, whatever its corporal or material instantiation. This vision allows for a cosmic conception of humanity as a form of intelligence that could be found elsewhere in the cosmos.

Fuller’s analysis is convergent with Bernard Stiegler’s position. Stiegler seeks a median view between Aristotelianism and Platonism with his insistence that there is no noesis without exo-somatisation, which corresponds to Fuller’s notion of the “superorganic” as extensions and/or enhancements of the human, including both social and technological assemblages.

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STEVE FULLER AND THE QUANTUM TURN (1): there is no default narrative flow

Over the past fifty years we have seen diverse attempts to incorporate insights and clues present in quantum mechanics into wider philosophical visions and modes of thought. It is not necessary to construct a formal “metaphysics of quantum physics” to belong to this quantum turn.

Contemporary thinkers such as Karen Barad, Slavoj Zizek, or Gilles Deleuze and his epigone François Laruelle prefer a more hermeneutic and heuristic informal approach that draws on quantum physics for some very general principles that need not be limited to physics but that can inspire our whole image of thought to take up new directions.

(NB: despite protestations to the contrary by his followers, Laruelle’s enterprise is clearly a metaphysics on any reasonable non-question-begging sense of the word).

For an interesting overview of a quantum approach to political possibility one can see a very useful article by Steve Fuller: The Posthuman and The Transhuman as Alternative Mappings of the Space of Political Possibility.

Unlike the phantasmagorical elucubrations of François Laruelle and his disciples Fuller’s style is always clear and concise, and his theoretical premises are much closer to Deleuze or to Zizek’s quantum thought.

Fuller is the author of a major work on the philosophical trajectory of Thomas Kuhn: THOMAS KUHN A PHILOSOPHICAL HISTORY FOR OUR TIME (2000), and of a very interesting comparison of Kuhn’s and Popper’s ways of thought: KUHN vs POPPER The struggle for the soul of science (2003). In much of his subsequent work he has been able to use this opposition between Popperian and Kuhnian thought to elucidate many theoretical problems that at first sight have little to do with the original debate between Kuhn and Popper.

In the article cited Fuller retains from quantum physics the idea of a virtual possibility space and its determinate actualisation:

“it envisages reality as a possibility space, in which the the actual world consists in the collapsing of this space into moments, which provide portals to understanding what is possible in both the past and the future”.

He associates Popper’s idea of permanent revolution in the sciences with the notion of probability space, and Kuhn’s normal science punctuated by revolutionary periods with actualised states and their transformations. In a Deleuzian gesture, Fuller distinguishes “contrasting approaches to time”:

In Kuhn’s linear thought, which Fuller associates with “chronos“:

“genealogical succession drives the narrative flow, with revolutions providing temporary ruptures which are quickly repaired to resume the flow”

In contrast Fuller associates Popper’s risk-taking in any and every possible direction with “kairos“, where

“there are recurrent figures who constitute the narrative but no default narrative flow, as the world order is potentially created anew from moment to moment”.

This distinction between chronos and kairos as images of time active in many domains and on many levels of thought is convergent with Deleuze’s treatment of the contrast between Chronos and Aion (Deleuze also uses the concept of kairos to characterise Aion), in particular as it is developed in LOGIC OF SENSE).

Fuller’s short text ranges over quantum physics and metaphysics, causality and free will, epistemology, Newton, Einstein, Orwell, Marxism, Revisionism, self-fulfilling prophecies, the difference between the Old and the New Testament, metaphysical perpetualism and the idea of regular elections.

He then goes on to extend the distinction between the chronic and kairotic approach to the difference between trans-humanism and post-humanism (kairotic) and the more traditional human-centred approaches (chronic), in whose narratives the default subject is Homo Sapiens.

We can retain from this excursion that someone who is unafraid to cross disciplinary boundaries can usefully illuminate and renew our vision of quite different domains and that the “quantum turn” in philosophy is not some new discovery but was already at work in far older disputes concerning the nature of science and of human life in general.

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We have entered a post-pluralist age where reductionism has come back in force. The old reductionisms based on a single final foundational level have been mostly abandoned at the philosophical level, although dogmatic scientism survives in the media.

Pluralism has come to be travestied as post-truth anti-realist relativism where every idea and opinion must be respected. In its place, given that mono-reductionism has failed, we see the edification of more eclectic versions, combining two or more foundational levels. This is the epoch of multi-reductionsm.


François Laruelle’s non-standard philosophy, with its concept of the “quantum Christ” is an exemplary case of bi-reductionism, combining as determinant in the last instance two domains that were formerly in competition for the determining role, or at least that were sharing that role against all other rivals.

(This notion of determinant “in the last instance” corresponded already to a weakening of direct reductionism, attempting both to incorporate aspects of pluralism (by means of the concept of “over-determination”) and nevertheless to maintain a fundamental level).

Laruelle’s scientistic religionism constitutes one of the avatars of this new configuration in the battle of reductionism against pluralism. Combining two “magisteria”, in this case religion and science (after effecting a preliminary reduction of these domains to gnostic Christianity and to quantum physics respectively), by voiding them of all but the vaguest content leads to a highly unfalsifiable bi-reductive synthesis.

This combination is unstable, and Laruelle oscillates between one or the other of the two domains as finally determinant, but it is apparent that he gives primacy to religion. This tendency towards religionism is clearer in many of Laruelle’s Anglophone followers, the rest tending towards Marxist scientism (but seeing no need to distance themselves from their religionist comrades).


Thus with Laruelle we see the triple movement of the new multi-reductionism:

1) explanatory reduction of all domains to two or more foundational domains (this corresponds to “suture” in Badiou’s terms), e.g. to science and religion

2) simplificatory reduction of each foundational domain to one of its components, e.g. reduction of science to the “quantum”

3) valuatory reduction of a reductive composite giving primacy to one of its elements, e.g. in the composite science-religion (quantum Christ) giving primary value to religion

(In Laruelle’s case this leads to the absurd notion that the early Christians discovered or invented the basic principle of quantum mechanics two thousand years in advance).


Bernard Stiegler’s thought, on some interpretations, is a form of tri-reductionism based on the trinomial of individual, collective and technical determination, with primacy in the last instance given to technology. However, Stiegler escapes this reductionism most of the time, given his emphasis on individuation, and ontogenesis at each level.

This accounts both for the reductionist aura of Stiegler’s thought, and for his frequent protestations that he is not a scientistic or technological reductionist. He does not bother to declare that he is not an individualist or a social determinist, as there is no ambiguity on that point.

Stiegler’s denial of reductionism is flawed, in that he can avoid one-sided technological (mono-)reductionism only by elaborating a more complex triune model.


Zizek’s ontology is also based on a form of tri-reductionism (Freud-Lacan, Hegel-Marx, quantum physics). In his case the preliminary reduction involves reducing psychic and social individuation to Lacanian psychoanalysis and Hegelian dialectics, and reducing science (as ontologically relevant) to quantum physics.

These new forms of reductionism allow the system to incorporate elements of pluralism without renouncing a foundational referential base. The double movement of reducing each domain to one of its component parts and then reducing all else to these domains or “conditions” (in Badiou’s term) permits ambiguity. In particular Zizek is able to pass back and forth between a Deleuzian pluralism and a Lacanian reductionism, in conformity with his ideal of a Deleuze/Lacan “pact” or “compromise” (Zizek’s words in A TRAVERS LE REEL, page 17).


Such multi-reductionisms oscillate between a soft and a hard version.

The soft version makes use of key words in a polyvalent and evocative way, elaborating a thought that is seemingly open , tolerant, and multidimensional.

The hard version sticks to a very limited acceptation of these same terms as glossed in terms of the intra-conditional reduction.


Badiou’s philosophical system is a very clear example of the ambiguity allowing him to oscillate between hard and soft reductionism. His four conditions on the soft version are art, science, love, politics. On the hard, double reductive version, Badiou’s conditions are the matheme, the poem, the Two, and communism.

On the soft version Badiou could easily add further conditions, e.g. religion, sport, or technology. In contrast, on the hard tetra-reductionist version there is no un-reduced place for religion, and Badiou clearly does not know what to do with it, proffering highly implausible analyses in terms of the hard versions of the four conditions.

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LOGIC OF SENSE is composed of thirty-four chapters, or “series of paradoxes”, and five appendices. These chapters correspond to roughly the number of classes in an academic year, and so the book expresses an “ideal seminar” (Badiou’s term for the succession of chapters in his THEORY OF THE SUBJECT), irrespective of whether the chapters were delivered as actual lessons or not.


The first chapter or “series”, after the short Preface, is entitled “First Series of Paradoxes of Pure Becoming”. I have re-translated the first half of that first paragraph to bring out more clearly some of its logical structure.

Alice and Through the Looking-Glass deal with a category of very special things: events, pure events. When I say “Alice grows,” I mean that she becomes bigger than she was. But by the same token too, she becomes smaller than she is now. Certainly, she is not bigger and smaller at the same time. But it is at the same time that she becomes both. She is bigger now; she was smaller before. But it is at the same time, in the same stroke, that one becomes bigger than one was and one is made smaller than one becomes. This is the simultaneity of a becoming whose characteristic is to elude the present (translation modified).


The very first sentence declares that Deleuze’s ontological project is an investigation of categories, of logical grammar. In particular, it is an investigation into the grammar of events. This link between ontology and grammar shows that Deleuze’s book belongs very much to the semiotic turn that characterised the major French thinkers of the second half of the Twentieth Century. This semiotic turn preceded, accompanied, and succeeded “structuralism”, which was merely one of its avatars.


It is noteworthy that three of first seven sentences in the chapter begin with “but” (in French “mais”, in each case). In each case we have two voices: a common sense, doxic, affirmation is not so much contradicted, as completed by and contrasted with a more paradoxical statement (introduced by but). The interplay between the two voices signals at the level of grammar that we are engaged in a series of paradoxes.


The expression “at the same time” seems to suggest something composite happening, when it is really a case of undetermined time, that of the event, Aion. Determined time, Chronos, is the time of the composite, of mixtures. Aion is the time of the pure event. So “at the same time” is a categorically ambiguous expression, between Chronos and Aion.

As Aion, Deleuze treats the expression “en même temps” as synonymous with “par là-même” (“by the same token”) and “du même coup”. One could translate this last as “in the same stroke”, but “coup” also evokes the “move” in a game (for example chess) and the “throw” of the dice. This second expression (“in the same stroke/move/throw” is omitted in the published translation).

By leaving this expression out the published translation blurs the distinction between chronological time (Chronos, time of composites) and evental time (Aion, time of the pure event, of pure becoming, of eluding the present) that is already being foreshadowed at the level of the vocabulary.

Note: I am indebted to an exchange with Corry Shores for helping me clarify my reading.

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PROLEGOMENA TO A REVISABLE READING: Bernard Stiegler and the duplicity of jargon


The impression of lexical obfuscation that I describe comes after reading several of Stiegler’s books or after listening to several of his classes. One feels illuminated and inspired at first, but then the repetitious but un-illuminating use of an abstract jargon becomes the dominant impression.

In particular in the courses and seminars, a major part of the talk is is taken up by the task of reducing any other discussion to these abstract tokens, and repetitively tracing the connections between the tokens.


When I say that my criteria of satisfaction with a theorist as based on divergence rather than convergence, I am not talking about a theoretical satisfaction based on divergence within the text examined, but about divergence in my evaluations.

I am successively and/or simultaneously satisfied, dissatisfied, perplexed, by what I read. So you will never see satisfaction-convergence in my meditations. The thinkers and the ideas you love are also your traumas. That’s what pushes you to think, and not just to follow.


On the trinome of reduction: I do not accuse Stiegler of technological reductionism, nor of any mono-reductionism, I say explicitly the opposite. My point is his self-revendicated avoidance of technological reductionism is flawed, in that he falls into trinomic or triadic reductionism.


 Here I fully adhere to Stiegler’s self-defence. He admits to misreading his sources, but he reminds us that all these thinkers (Nietzsche, Foucault, Canguilhem, Simondon, Derrida, Deleuze) were in favour of individuation and thus of creative misreading. He argues that we must become the “quasi-causes” of our influences and not their banal retranscription.


I do not effectuate the standard moves of standard philosophy, with its dualisms and its unilateral valorisation of cognitive thought. This is one point where I wholeheartedly adopt Stiegler’s vocabulary: the substitution of “noesis” for “cognition” is no mere verbal tokenising, and it helps us avoid the reduction of thought to cognitive processes and the sterile contrast between emotional thought and cognition.


My own writing, like my talking, is neologistic in both French and English. My problem is not with Stiegler’s theoretical vocabulary resorting to neologistic tokenising, for we need its power of re-conceptualisation. There is also an abbreviating and time-saving quality to such a jargon, allowing us to go faster.

However this abbreviation-effect of idiolectal tokens can become mere stereotyping, and the speed-effect can move from acceleration (whether good or bad, vis-à-vis stereotypes) to time-wasting obsessive ritual retracing of connections between tokens.

Further, there is a temporality in thinking which means that one’s reflections belonging to a phase prior to serious engagement with an oeuvre, in this case Stiegler’s, need to be treated with prudence.


This prudence is associated with another of my satisfaction-criteria (in this case of my degree of satisfaction with my own analysis of a thinker’s work): immanence, including that basic form of immanence that is immersion in the oeuvre. Our first impressions do not satisfy that criterion of basic immersion, and so they can only be prolegomena.

I believe that prolegomena are not first principles, neither temporally nor logically, and that they must continually be revisable.

Note: I wish to thank Artxell Knaphni for a stimulating discussion, which helped me to clarify the ideas expressed in this post.

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Stiegler gets the notion of individuation from Simondon, who got it from Jung. However, I myself got it from Jung. This is my (unsystematic) precautionary criterion for adopting elements of Stiegler’s system: I adopt those aspects of thought and jargon that I can cross-validate with other thinkers I admire.

Simondon was a freer and more open thinker than Stiegler, as he did not get stuck inside the Freud-Lacan crystal palace. Simondon read Jung and was favourable to some of his ideas. Stiegler says Simondon didn’t understand Freud. I think rather that Stiegler doesn’t understand Jung.

On the question of Freud, as on other questions, Stiegler is halfway between Derrida and Deleuze, but still can’t quite get to Deleuze. The problem is more general: in France Jung is overshadowed by Freud. Stiegler shows no grand originality on that point.

However, Stiegler has been referencing and using Deleuze’s concept of “quasi-causality” quite a bit. He often discusses Deleuze or uses his concepts, and that for me is one of his most interesting aspect. My thought is not that “Stiegler should discuss Deleuze”, as he already does that. It is rather: reading Stiegler has transformed my reading of Deleuze in a far more useful and inspiring way than the Deleuzians and Deleuzian scholars have done. This enriching reading of Deleuze is accomplished despite Stiegler’s continuing recourse to Freud and reliance on him for his own theoretical basis.

The idea that Stiegler’s thought is halfway between Derrida and Deleuze is not so much a summary of his trajectory as my positioning of his thought in trying to explain both my enthusiasm and my dissatisfaction. I have been following Stiegler intensively for seven years, listening to all his online classes and seminars, and reading the books and articles he publishes in conjunction with them. So I am fascinated by his ideas and find therein much theoretical satisfaction, but I discuss his work only rarely and briefly.

I have trouble finding the language to talk about Stiegler’s work. I do not try to assimilate his thought to some implicit system of my own, but I do resist being assimilated by his thought and jargon, because this is a very real danger, as Stiegler himself admits and warns against.

Given that I find much to criticise in the thinkers I discuss one is entitled to ask what are my criteria of satisfaction-convergence. I have none. I do not seek convergence but divergence, multiple perspectives.

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