In considering environmental ecologies – independent, perhaps, of humans – John Moriarty uses the concept of the rhizome, to make a point, about the rootedness (or otherwise) of things. ‘Unlike the dandelion,’ Moriarty says, ‘we have now no rhizome, no rhiza, no root, down into the nourishing earth.’ He laments in the same piece how the human mind is merely clever, impoverished in some ways by its ignorance of alternate, ecological sensibilities. I’m trying to identify the actual source, though I think it’s from Night Journey to Buddh Gaia. Moriarty wonders, just before this reference, whether – just as dandelion and the groundsel has their etymological roots in French and old English, respectively, each with its own eternal story (the dandelion from ‘tooth of a lion’) – these plants had their own names ‘among the leeches who tended the warriors who had been wounded at the Battle of Maldon.’ It is as if, in some way that is strange-to-us, the leeches had their own version of the academy, their own epistemic basis for understanding the world and their role in it. Moriarty’s vision is nothing if not all-encompassing!Continue reading “John Moriarty and the Rhizome”
The Berinmo people of Papua New Guinea are a small tribe of people with a curious flourish in their language. Specifically, they do not distinguish between green and blue, and they have two separate words for types of yellow. This has deep implications for those who argue for a consistent and objective real (universalists), and the ultimate possibility of artificial intelligence. We’ll come back to the Berinmo, and color linguistics later. While strategies for the avoidance of bias in AI focus on the injury of minority oppression and design failings in creator preference, a deeper semantic analysis of some of the fundamentals of AI reveal several foundational assumptions that give cause for concern. Simply put, the fundamental task of an AI is to construct an image of the world within the parameters of its design (from narrowly defined chatbot engines to Artificial General Intelligence or AGI), which in turn establishes the context for automatic machine decisions to be made. In order to arrive at that image of the world – the simulated real – there are several intermediate layers that each introduces a risk of misinterpretation. This article will walk through each, and understand where some of those challenges might lie. But first, Heidegger.Continue reading “The Ontological Layers of AI”
Barreling through Eilenberger’s wonderful book on Weimar German philosophy, Time of the Magicians, themes begin to emerge. Some are forced, it has to be said, though language is certainly a consistent force. As Walter Benjamin had it, ‘the original sin of the philosophy of language in the modern era lies first of all in the fundamentally arbitrary nature of linguistic signs.’ (p.212) Ernst Cassirer ‘…understood man’s development through symbols as a continuous process of liberation that found its starting point in conceptual forms from which mythical thought derived.’ In other words, for Benjamin, language confused everything – that one is forced to theorise and philosophise through language limited the possibility of philosophy. Language of course was but one form of communication, one tool for concept formation; yet each concept, expressed as it had to be through nouns, imposed meaning on the thing, and distance between the signifier and the signified. For Cassirer, mythological concepts were as important as linguistic ones, allowing a level of transcendence – even if still wrapped in the stultifying chains of language.Continue reading “Language, Love and Meaning”
What do we think about when we think about technology? What are we really talking about? The philosophical consideration of technology begins with the relationship between technology and the human subject. From there, it extends to the relationship between the human subject and her environment. The very word between directly implies separation – two distinct entities – and therein lies our first dangerous assumption: is technology an extension of the human subject, as we in practice assume it to be? Is it somehow separate from her?Continue reading “The Philosophy of Technology”
Themes of alienation, vacuity, and absurdity have permeated the art and literature of the late twentieth century. From Samuel Beckett, to Mark Rothko, Marcel Duchamp, Brett Easton-Ellis, Salvador Dali, and Albert Camus, there appears to be a recognition of something misdirected, misaligned, out of whack. It’s political, social, economic, and even aesthetic – the artists themselves often recognise the futility of even their own art. What has been missing is – naturally – hard to pin down; but there is something essential about it, something epistemic. The resultant failures of society to compensate, despite eager, youthful, soviet-style enthusiastic promises of progress and improvement, merely accelerate the retrenchment of people from the public sphere, from the political, and into the familiar space of the self, and the narcissistic selfie. If this is wrong, if this is not right, or not how it should be, what happened to us?Continue reading “The Anti-Apocalypse of Being”
In Martin Heidegger‘s Being and Time, he refers to verfallen as a characteristic of being, or dasein. It means fallen-ness, or falling prey, an acknowledgement that we do things not because we want to do them, but because we must; we act in particular ways, we fall into line, we do jobs, have families, get a mortgage and a pension, obey the law and so on. We consciously engage with the systems and societies into which we have found ourselves. It is surprising how frequently this concept of ‘the fall’ emerges in philosophy, theology and popular culture.Continue reading “Falling Down”
The recent BBC revisiting of the history of art – Civilisations – is fascinating for its juxtaposition against the 1969 predecessor by Kenneth Clark. The new version tries to be genuinely global, post-imperial, and generally woke, so to speak. However, it doesn’t quite get to the philosophy of the creative act, the artistic imperative. The series grapples with consequences and politics, with religion and hierarchy, but not really with any philosophy of art, or questions of meaning. The interpretations of Martin Heidegger and Gilles Deleuzes, while diametrically opposed in some ways, are illuminating on the subject.
Heidegger’s view (specifically on Modern Art) was that it was essentially destructive. In a 1956 Der Spiegel interview, published after his death ten years later, he argued that just as philosophers could not prescribe a new condition for humanity to confront modernity, art had no suitable perspective from which to contribute. Art in essence, as I read his comments, compounded the inherent entrapment of the modern, further distancing us from our essence, or being.Continue reading “Two Theories of Art”
Later this week I’m speaking to the UCC conference on Eco-cosmology, Sustainability and a Spirit of Resilience, on the subject of ‘Machine Generated Illusions of Intimacy’, about the challenges of modernity and computational epistemology. Here’s a sneak peak.
What has happened to Europe? What of our glorious post-war project to bring together our cultured peoples after centuries of war, that brave experiment not merely in statecraft, but in post-state statecraft, to redefine government, and seize peace to our hearts? It has persevered and grown for over sixty years, launching exuberantly into the new Millennium with the Euro, but now she finds herself beset on all sides by vast forces including geopolitics, security, technology and global finance. Worst of all, Europe seems to have lost its soul. Not merely its raison d’etre, but its spirit, its ambition. What is missing?Continue reading “The Lost Soul of Europe”
Do you know what progress means? Do you know what technology is? Many elements of cultural structure have been so consistent and unchallenged now for so many years that we may have landed in a kind of intellectual stupor. Our self-awareness has dissipated, and our alienation has become so complete that we have almost become meta-brands, brands of brands, images of images, pictures of pictures. Our pandemic mimesis denies innovation and inspiration, and only increases the penalty for deviance, or perversion. Self-knowledge has become a curse, something denies us membership of society, leading us to post-truth, and ‘fake news’.