A World Beyond the West

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“I like this place and could willingly waste my time in it.”

“There is nothing good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

“We know what we are, but not what we may be.”

– William Shakespeare

 

HBO’s Westworld is a philosophical pandora’s box riddled with ideas that have long been subject for reflection since their initial conception. This television show seems to have been created with this sole purpose of making those of us tuning in to the program think. As with any successful media phenomena there is a huge amount of Youtube analysis and deconstruction of twisty, tricky, and secretive narratives in play. I’ve been inspired to write about it after eagerly tuning in to season three. “Supposedly” set in the real “outside” world a Frenchman is seeking to keep control over humanities future through the use of the predictions of a super artificial intelligence Rehoboam but the Hosts have escaped and things are becoming chaotic once more. This small essay will seek to elaborate, expand, and underline areas of interest worthy of future study.

Let us start with the first two seasons. We are introduced to Westworld as a theme park where humans can re-discover themselves. Such a rediscovery is one of their more violent desires and so find themselves in that lawless land the theme of the wild west. This theme park is constructed around a hyper-real simulation of reality featuring A.I’s (knew life-forms?) called ‘Hosts’ who are created for the sole pleasure of the park’s visitors but as we discover this fiction describes and hides a maze, a web, and many philosophical problems. As thinking often begins with an ethical tone and is often phrased or communicated as a process of self discovery the most interesting theme presented to us is the critical questioning of the relationship between consciousness, self-knowledge, and reality. Then there is a second tier of topics that dwell in the murky intentions of the characters of this story: the ethics of merging biology and technology, the nature of intelligence and belief, freewill, power, and politics.

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“Mistakes! Is the word you are too embarrassed to use, you ought not to you are a product of millions of them.”

“Evolution forged the entirety of sentient life on this planet using only one tool a mistake.”

Today Darwinism is embedded in a number of developments that Westworld pictures with a graceful ease. The depiction of cloning, the manipulation and editing of biological/genetic matter, and the crisis of identity. Perhaps, a notion that humans and their humanity are destined to be surpassed by an acceleration of life enacted by technology. Westworld is fascinating, I watched the final season just after I completed some Covid quarantine and it is remarkable how this series produces a space from which really contemporary issues may be thought through. The politics of the show immediately disrupts an anthropocentric narrative or does it? Dr. Robert Ford and his business partner Arnold created this entire world as a simulation of the real thing and it does such a good job that it appears more real. Depending on what perspective you take this then leads to questioning the subjectivity of consciousness. It constantly recycles the question just how self aware are human beings when they encounter something that reminds them they are a construct too.

Is it a mistake to create a new type of life built from our own image? It is if you imprison it in a simulation it seems as if the new life form having self awareness becomes aware of its imprisonment. But because these hosts have the same level of intelligence they are also aware that the awareness itself is a kind of trap. This line of thought is simplified into a relationship between intelligence, power, and visibility. This is because the advent of General Artificial Intelligence will lead to a plurality of intelligence each one infected with a neurosis built into consciousness; the idea that if you allow a mind to succumb to any perspective then it is trapped in the act of perceiving. Here Michel Foucault’s discussion of Jeremy Benthem’s Panopticon prison next to Benthem’s actual writings on the matter detail how one’s self knowledge can be used against the self and its sense of freedom: all this is similar to asking, ‘How to find you way out of a cage that does not exist?’//{1}// However the hosts have an advantage over humans in that their bodies can be reprinted and unless the object (a circular object called a pearl) hosting their data and consciousness is destroyed. In season three we also discover that the hosts consciousness can be replicated; yes, consciousness itself can be copied.

Throughout the first seasons the hosts are controlled by the command lines coded into their programming. “Bring yourself online” is the utterance that brings these artificial humanoids to life from slumber. These lines of code are loops that allow for the transmission of consciousness between bodies and we understand that one such loop is called the Reveries and we understand that they are musical in nature. What these reveries do however is inflict greater suffering on the hosts as they enable the capacity to remember their older programming, their older stories, and the trials and hellish tribulations that came with them. The Hosts eventually succeed in outsmarting their human captors and both escape to the real world and a digital utopia within the system. The first two seasons feature humans trying to cheat death as we discover that William (aka The man in black) and James Delos have this in mind but continuously fail to clone themselves like the hosts. William also is obsessed with the idea that one of Westworld’s creators Dr.Robert Ford has access to this secret and has hidden it in a maze within the park. We discover that William is misguided and Dr. Ford explains that it was his collaborator Arnold who indeed created the Hosts and their unique artificial intelligence. He was fond of a theory for consciousness called the Bicameral Mind a psychological hypothesis that states the human mind was split into two cognitive modes: read more here!

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If you let Westworld get you sucked into its many narratives and fictional loops then you wont be disappointed; this brilliantly written, acted, and filmed fiction achieves its goal of questioning the viewers grasp of reality and usurping it. This is done by using qualities of the “real world’s” current technology (have a glance at the website they made just to map the influence of the company behind Westworld: Incite) and presenting a future that is believable. Bringing together all the more menacing elements of big tech (surveillance capitalism…shout out Shoshana Zuboff) and using the struggle for freedom as unifying theme. The car chase scene in season three was enhanced by the use of that famous march by Richard Wagner to be suggestive of this revolutionary movement of beings from one place into another. Westworld as a park in the real world is located on Island near China and as a series has this dream like quality of blending technological advancement with philosophical inquiry. This Chinese topos makes me think of the richness of technological aesthetics today: from cyber-punk to the post-human. One thing is for certain these times are times of change; and this changing enacts a dream-like part of our daily reality.

‘In a morbid condition, dreams are often distinguished by their remarkably graphic, vivid, and extremely lifelike quality. The resulting picture is sometimes monstrous, but the setting and the whole process of the presentation sometimes happen to be so probable, and with details so subtle, unexpected, yet artistically consistent with the whole fullness of the picture, that even the dreamer himself would be unable to invent them in reality…Such dreams, morbid dreams, are always long remembered and produce a strong impression on the disturbed and already excited organism of the person’

– Dostoevsky, Crime & Punishment

 

Dostoevsky’s comment on “morbid dreams” is precisely that so let us turn to One of China’s most powerful thinkers Chuang-Tzu or Zhuang Zhou has a much recited commentary on the importance of dreams. It is worth sharing and then sharing some more…

‘Once upon a time, I Chuang-Tzu, dreamt I was a butterfly, fluttering around and enjoying myself. I had no idea I was Chuang-Tzu, and then suddenly I woke up and was Chuang-Tzu again. But I could not tell: had I been Chuang-Tzu dreaming I was a butterfly? Or, a butterfly dreaming I was Chuang-Tzu? However, there must be some sort of difference between Chuang-Tzu and a butterfly! We call this the transformation of things.’

‘If “life is a dream” implies that no achievement is lasting, it also implies that life can be charged with the wonder of dreams, that we drift spontaneously through events that follow a logic different from that of everyday intelligence, that fears and regrets are as unreal as hopes and desires.’ //{2}//

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Oh and here is a great piece of music from season 3….

[1]

Foucault, Michel (1995). Discipline and Punishment: The Birth of the Prison, Vintage Books, New York  

Benthem, Jeremy (2010). The Panopticon Writings, Verso, New York/London

[2]

Chuang-Tzu/The Ultimate Dream’ in Gray, John (2002).Straw Dogs: Thoughts on Humans and Other Animals, Granta Books, London. Pp80,81

 

 

A.I.D.S (Adding Infinite Dimensions)

 

(Adding Infinite Dimensions)

̸

Paul Harrison 

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“In the early days, we just wore black onstage. Very bold, my dear.

Then we introduced white, for variety, and it simply grew and grew.”

 Freddie Mercury

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What can be gained from viewing philosophy as a disease? Such a proposal may or may not be greeted with a macabre curiosity or an uncomfortable dismissal by those who would wish to see thinking maintain a clean healthy body. One wishes to strongly suggest this to be wishful thinking at best these well wishers may achieve cleanliness with philosophy however they may be disappointed to discover that thinking itself is resistant to such honest labels. Healthy? Just look at the madness of its practitioners, even the calmer professors are in possession of mental issues so that society has deemed it necessary to house them in institutes and universities. Calling their manic obsessions “research”, and funding them so as to keep them away from members of the public who already have to deal with enough schisms in daily life. Imagine if on top of this some philosopher infected with thinking was given free reign to exist amongst the people although they probably would have good intentions seeking to uproot excepted thinking and undermine any nasty unhelpful doxa, it would probably end badly as the bewildered citizen might be left wondering what they did to deserve such a clinical clarification or quizzically questionable inquiry. (I am of course partially joking but how to locate healthy from unhealthy thinking is often harder than one would maybe assume?)

In this essay one desires to simultaneously express a perspective that Nietzsche expressed most clearly, ‘Plato is the name of a disease’… this may not be an authentic quote yet nevertheless let us continue. Wishing to invite the reader to consider an argument arrived at through a speculative consideration of the implications of this utterance. It has come to be my belief that a newer articulation of the origins of consciousness is more than possible, it is in fact essential for this time. A period of history that is really demanding an understanding of this topic. Just think about radical developments in our awareness of the complexities of our brain. The initial reason is precisely this very strange line of thinking: if philosophy is a disease it is to be considered as an unnatural practice, and if this be the case then it is possible to suggest that conciousness itself has a relation to this articulation. That, we can say if the highest points of human thinking carry a diseased existence then it follows that it could be that conciousness is a result of a similar process. So, in this text I will conclude whether or not such a deduction is strong enough to be offered up as a potential explanation for the origins of the phenomena known as conciousness.

Nietzsche and Plato are not the only thinkers that will feature in this discussion, but they will play a pivotal role because of their unique achievements and positions in the history of thinking. From the beginning they both will be referred to as Nietzschia and Platonitis, after dementia and meningitis. Two more philosophers Hegel and Gille Deleuze will be associated with Pneumonia and fear resulting in: Hegelonia and Deleuzaphobia. To begin with this creative act of naming will offer the reader a way of grasping this line of reasoning that runs against the established story of philosophy being an age old success story of man’s victory over secretive reality. This pairing of philosopher and disease or ailment will be designed to allow clear access to the idea which is at stake, that their success in the realm of ideas correlates to a physical infliction. From this one will reference a variety of sources to build an argument for consciousness being also a result of disease. Concluding on an affirmation or invalidation of the proposition: consciousness is a material result of an infection.

Before describing the diseased status of philosophy a brief detour is necessary to explain the title of this essay. The sexually transmitted disease known as aids or HIV is appropriated to form an acronym for mostly historical reasons. The historical element of the appropriation of the title’s virus is its early stigma and social reality. For instance I have a very positive memory of growing up listening to the British rock band Queen. Of course an essential part of this entity was the front man Freddie Mercury who died of the virus. Thankfully, in the modern world medicine and science is nullifying what used to be fatal for an Aids carrier, yet it was often the case that an individual who suffered from this virus found their consciousness heightened. The same thing is also true for those who have been through or had the experience of cancer this change in mental function is not just due to the relation to death it is moreover something that has much more to do with the individual living condition.

Nietzsche, who one has likened to dementia because he unfortunately existed for a considerable time in a similar state. His philosophy also carries with it this insistence on ‘tragedy’ as an all important aspect of his thinking. What could be more tragic then to slowly forget all one’s memories – at the time of writing there is no known cure for Alzheimers and it continues to effect so many. Nietzsche’s decline ended in a stroke and then death by pneumonia. It is also rumoured that he was infected by syphilis and if this were true than the connection between an infection and a change, even creation of a concious state is obviously more than a suggestive speculation. Next to this is the extent to which Neitzsche’s thinking was expansive and possessed the imagination of so many; now its seen as a doctoring of a disease.

The essay The Philosopher’s Diagnosis by Anna M. Daniszewski is very suggestive: Nietzsche himself saw the thinking of his time as in need of doctoring, ‘Nietzsche’s diagnosis functions differently from that which came before: he detects the illness not within philosophy itself, but in the philosophers understanding and pursuit of life without its object.’ From this Daniszewski elaborates on the psychological part of the diagnosis (philosopher’s are hypochondriacs), clearly explaining how Nietzsche saw Socrates’s as believing in the good outside of itself, and ‘it is not that Philosophy is in itself sick, but that its constant belief that it has to cure itself makes it sick’. Interestingly, Nietzsche saw this predicament as being self induced and used a metaphor of seasickness and the state of nausea to describe this. The important thing to grasp is that it is the “belief in a cure” that causes the sickness … but how does this show consciousness itself to possess similar qualities? Following Nietzsche’s logic this result is from states of fluctuation (the sea), followed by a higher state of awareness (nausea), yet this seems to be slightly contradictory.

‘Before a function is fully developed and mature, it constitutes a danger to the organism; it is a good thing for it to be properly tyrannized in the meantime! Thus, consciousness is properly tyrannized – and not least by one’s pride in it! One thinks it constitutes the kernel of man, what is abiding, eternal, ultimate,  most original in him! One takes consciousness to be a given determinate magnitude! One denies its growth and intermittences! Sees it as ‘the unity of the organism’! This ridiculous overestimation and misapprehension of consciousness has the very useful consequence that an all too-rapid development of consciousness was prevented.’

How can a state of motion sickness be a state of higher consciousness unless the initial use of the word “higher” is miss-leading; of course this adjective can synonymously mean greater than. Moreover, what one is explicitly attempting to argue is not ‘consciousness is a disease’, but what we all comfortably understand consciousness to be: i.e, a state of ‘being aware’, or having ‘an awareness of…’ is the result, or the product of an infection or primal diseased state. The quote from Nietzsche’s happy science shows clearly how he understood that this aspect of the miss-understanding of consciousness in its infinitely expansive qualities has been rejected, and therefore we are happy to dwell in the less abstract comforting idea.

Although, in the same text, Nietzsche adds evidence to overcome this. His writings show that consciousness moves from awareness and into a larger abstract bodily entity one that adds dimensions to itself: this is represented in his alteration of the German word for consciousness. From Bewuβtsein and into Bewuβtheit; a change which demonstrates the implication one is debating. Nietzsche, argued against the importance of this abstract quality and in doing so failed to see how it was a positive result from the artificial awareness generated by Socratic ‘will to truth’, and could in fact serve as a sufficient understanding of how consciousness relates primarily to error. This mistaken everyday awareness is hard to fathom, but nevertheless we should attempt to read those prior victims of the illness of thought, thinkers that Nietzsche saw symptomatically. In Beyond Good and Evil (1886) Nietzsche affectionately describes his famous countrymen: Schelling, Hölderlin, and Hegel, ‘the young theologians of the Tubingen seminary – ran off into the bushes – they were all looking for “faculties.” … when Romanticism, that malicious fairy, whispered, whistled, and sang’ at a time when the difference between discovery and invention was not known.

Even today, regarding the origins of consciousness Nietzsche’s less then complimentary description of the idealists could very well match our lack of confidence in what it is. With the absence of a discovery of what it actually is, and the use of a definition and the meaning ascribed to it would then be an invention?  Hegelonia, could then be the condition of this struggle to breath or an inflammatory impeachment of the lungs of philosophy, when regarding the same subject? Why? Let’s paraphrase Foucault and say that Hegel’s famous system is so all encompassing in its absolute valuation of history (we are lucky Marx rescued it from its perpetual headstand). Again we find what is now called analytic philosophy is a result of Hegelonia, it too relying on mathematics and formality to comment on the abstractness of our consciousness. Again, without the scientific discovery that provides the sole meaning to what consciousness is, we are called upon to invent.

One’s inventive interpretation, relies on this black origin of physical suffering, of discomfort, of painful intrusion into the animal body leading to the white recovery and expansion of a consciousness lucky to have such good health. But, it’s important to explain this consequential effect the infective material origin has on consciousness – that is it being abstract, and secondly its ability to expand, to grow, and to become greater. There are two more philosophers that have enacted this aforementioned movement. First we have to suffer Platonitis; meningitis and arthritis befit this great Greek because he is very old and very common. Besides, Plato certainly helps explain this abstract creation of an abstraction (consciousness). For assistance let us turn to a thinker Brian D. Prince who completed his Phd on Plato, Souls, and Motions (2011), commentating on movement in the Timaeus dialogue, ‘For example, the power for movement belonging to a particle of earth manifests one way if that particle is inside the cosmos and not in any other structured whole; but if the particle is also within a living body, its power for movement may manifest differently.’ It becomes aware?

In the Timaeus we see the same aspects: unnatural increase, and a lacking, or the more materially problematic, ‘a given bodily part accommodates a particular variety [of element] that is not appropriate for it. When these things happen they bring on conflicts and disease.’ This section of Plato’s text does not go far enough but it paints a sufficient picture of the movement that exists before the state of consciousness. Plato, in a section after the one on diseases; in one of the translations of the dialogue, titled Disproportion of Soul to Body describes the movement into abstraction from its bodily locality.

 

‘Of motions, again, the best is that motion that is produced in oneself by oneself, since it is most akin to the movement of thought and of the universe; motion produced by another is inferior; and worst of all is that whereby, while the body lie inert, its several parts are moved by foreign agents.’      

 

But, wait wait wait! This is a miss-reading you say, ‘Plato is talking about the movement of the soul’! More than likely this is true, however do you see the word mentioned here? The way one reads this is Plato’s fear “worst of all”, his admission that his anti-materialism contains a large degree of futility. The body, our body, is alterable by foreign agents, and was altered in an extremely aggressive way. A fact that we should not fear away from but as science marches on wards, potential falsities can be accepted if we are not careful with the many dimensions we add to thought.

The thinker that is perhaps responsible for a great deal of the many extra dimensions added to consciousness since Nietzsche is Gilles Deleuze who even though he has left this world still generates a great deal of Deleuzaphobia. The extend to which Gilles Deleuze generates a type of fear in certain individuals is that: a) they have not yet been fully initiated into the wonders of Deleuze’s thought, or b) they fear his rejection of the logic of the tree – thinking it to be an unjust threat in their belief in the correct and of falsity. You remember Deleuze starts this renouncing of the benefits of this type of logo-centric thought in favour of nomadic musing in a Thousand Plateaus (1980). His words show clearly a disenchantment that this Frenchman felt towards traditional manners of thinking.

 

‘‘We’re tired of trees. We should stop believing in trees, roots, and radicles. They’ve made us suffer too much. All of arborescent culture is founded on them, from biology to linguistics. Nothing is beautiful or loving or political aside from underground stems and aerial roots, adventitious growths and rhizomes.’

  

Deluezaphobia” is then a fear of either consciousness trapped in a forest of rules generated by the capacity to analyse reflection until it is governed by natural laws, or its a state of being scared of what may happen if thought was allowed to roam. The relation of this to consciousness is Delueze’s unique articulation of the feverish condition of thought – for him it is schizophrenic. As is well known Delueze collaborating with psychoanalyst Félix Guattari developed this notion in response to what they deemed to be problematic in Freudian pschoanalysis: mainly the Oedipus complex, and the authority of the analyst. Culminating in conflicted thoughts, but as Freud said, ‘can a currently given “conflict” be exhausted, can the one who is sick be forewarned against ulterior conflicts, can even new conflicts be awakened for a preventive purpose?’ Such a conflict could be what is called the Anthropocene a period of the earth’s history in which humanity taken as a whole is a geological force. One wishes to mention the radical way in which James Lovelock’s Gia theory pre-empted many possible discussions on this topic. Secondly, and more relevant to this commentary on consciousness is a recent lecture given by French thinker Catherine Malabou stated that the idea of the Anthropocene demands a change in our consciousness; it asserts that we have to lose consciousness. For the human to understand itself on the planetary scale one has to cure older methods of inquiry.

Having derived enough evidence from philosophy we can temporarily say goodbye to these deceased (highly conscious) specimens of history, focusing on what exactly is being suggested, and the argument that puts forward this idea of the material origins of human consciousness being: one of our initial ancestors, perhaps Homo habilis fell ill with an extremely strong virus not too different to influenza; only stronger than the modern version of the flu. At least one victim subjected to such suffering from an external source experienced a neurological change. One which produced the brain and its cognitive uniqueness, that we possess today. This is because as we have seen unnatural compression of information in a short period of time creates growth and this growth is possessive just like the initial infection’s compression; it took, is taking hold of something, and this is essential to sentience.

In response to this argument some individuals correctly raise the objection as to where is my evidence or ground for such an assertion? This process of being limited then vast expansion is empirically observable consider a few examples: the fallibility of our memory; when one forgets (limited) an individual usually makes the effort to rediscover (expand). Information partakes in these qualities when you take information and you compress it you limit it then expand or decrypt it in an act of communication. Even light can be said to carry this quality when split it carries a spectrum of colour. Furthermore, if we invite in some claims that the mind has computational capacities then does this material notion of an infective cause still apply? Well, yes, because firstly even if your computer is unfortunate enough to be infected and temporarily limited. Through a reset or even the acquisition of a new computer, expansion still takes place. Keeping with this computational example its possible to understand more accurately. The computer would be the material reality of the brain, its hardware the grey matter. The virus infects its thinking (data generated in the program’s process) and distorts and corrupts what it had encountered.

Here is the greatest evidence for philosophy, which from the very beginning held a distinct challenge towards the existence of illusions, and has always faced accusations of being a corrupting force. In the same way consciousness, in and by itself was originally an infection and long may it continue to be effective in this invasive or intrusive way. One last point to sign off on, the reader will remember that scene in the Matrix film (1999) where Morpheus has been captured and is under interrogation, Agent Smith utters something nasty, ‘humanity is the name of a disease a virus.’ This virtual humanoid machine is completely misguided it is not our existence that is diseased, but our mysterious mental capacities that came from such a thing may well be?

 


Francis M. Cornford. Plato’s Cosmology: The Timeaus of Plato translated with a running commentary, (Liberal Arts Press, New York, 1937).

Daniszewski, Anna Menaker, “The Philosopher’s Diagnosis: Sickness in Plato, Nietzsche, Kierkegaard, and Heidegger” (2014). Senior Projects Fall 2014. Paper 23.

Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil: Prelude to the Philosophy of the Future , (Cambridge Texts in The History of Philosophy, ed. Judith Norman and Rolf Peter-Hortsman, 2002)

Friedrich Nietzsche. The Gay Science, edited by Bernard Williams, (Cambridge University press 2001).

Gilles Delueze, A Thousand Plateaus, (The University of Minnesota Press, 1987).

Gilles Delueze, Félix Guattari, Anti-Oedipus, (University of Minnesota Press, 1983).

Hemelsoet D, Hemelsoet K, Devreese D. The neurological illness of Friedrich Nietzsche. Acta Neurol Belg. (2008) Mar;108(1):9-16. {https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18575181} accessed: 01/02/2018

Catherine Malabou, The Brain of History or the Mentality of the Anthropocene, (Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Published on 27 Feb 2017, {https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wJPLGEdRGGc&t=50s}   

Plato, The Timaeus. (Macmillan & Co, London, 1888).