I am an evolutionary anthropologist, futurist, and science writer. These interests collide in my academic work and YouTube channel. In my work I try to explore the intersections between science and philosophy in order to better understand the future of our species. I spend a lot of time on hubski and twitter. If you want to contact me, my email is: firstname.lastname@example.org.
"For me, I am driven by two main philosophies, know more today about the world than I knew yesterday. And along the way, lessen the suffering of others. You'd be surprised how far that gets you." - Neil deGrasse Tyson (Astrophysicist)
"The purpose of science is not to cure us of our sense of mystery and wonder, but to constantly reinvent and reinvigorate it."
- Robert Sapolsky (primatologist)
“Science, evolution, anthropology, and history are all on the same side. The other side is where the anti-intellectuals and ideologues are, and have always been, the ones who either don’t understand evolution themselves, or are knowingly misrepresenting its implications to the public.”
– Jonathan Marks (biological anthropologist)
"Cosmologists argue about whether the [universe] will end in [a Big Crunch or a Big Rip], but this does not take into account the power of intelligence, as if its emergence were just an entertaining sideshow to the grand celestial mechanics that now rule the universe."
- Ray Kurzweil (futurist)
"There is grandeur in this view of life, with its several powers, having been originally breathed into a few forms or into one; and that, whilst this planet has gone cycling on according to the fixed law of gravity, from so simple a beginning endless forms most beautiful and most wonderful have been, and are being, evolved."
- Charles Darwin (evolutionary biologist)
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Nothing like a good thenewgreen response, inquisitive and open as ever.
Lacan is often criticised in philosophy (and was explicitly criticised by Jacques Derrida) as being too "phallogocentric". Phallogocentric means that you are developing knowledge from a "masculine" "linguistic" centric focus. This is why many deconstructionists would try to delegitimise Lacan's program by saying that his psychoanalysis basically amounts to a privileging of the phallic organ.
I tend to think this is a huge philosophical mistake. The first thing to note is that, towards the end of his career, Lacan specifically focused on the psychoanalysis of feminine jouissance (sexual enjoyment). For Lacan, as well as the many feminist Lacanian scholars who have further developed his concepts, feminine jouissance is perhaps the most mysterious and important of all psychoanalytic experiences. The second thing to note is that Lacan's paradigm (his "return to Freud") is meant to reinterpret all of the Freudian conceptual edifice (which relies on many biological metaphors) through the lens of structural linguistics. This means that when Lacan talks about the "phallic function" he is not referring to the "biological penis" but the way in which the symbolic is always-already overdetermining the "biological penis". I think this is nicely captured if one takes a close look at the symbolism of early human cultures where the phallus is always central and fundamental representation of ontology. Furthermore, in Lacanian psychoanalysis castration, basically the lack of "THE" penis ("THE" man) is something that all human subjects pass through (not just biological males). The consequence of castration, then, is that the lack of the penis (symbolic) is something which overdetermines gender identity for both men and women. For men they experience it as "not-having" and for women they experience it as "not-being". This negative effect is crucial to understand Lacanian metaphysics.
In terms of the penis as organ having an "outsized" emotional/mental impact, there is no question! But it is crucial to note that this "outsized" impact is something that must be read on the level of the symbolic and thus on the level of sublimation. It is not just the "sex act in itself" in which the "outsized" impact has consequences on the body. Indeed, for any human subject who "submits to the phallic function" and "becomes a man" (husband, father), there is a sense in which one is actually an "organ without body". The "phallic function" has "overdetermined" the body. This is the meaning of integrating the signifier "husband" or "father". It takes an enormous amount of integration of unconscious emotional energy to enact these roles.
I love your points about the strange way in which certain organs become important metaphors for feeling and action (e.g. penis, heart), whereas others would seem totally out of place (e.g. spleen). The heart in particular is an interesting metaphor, and I think it would be seen, or possible to interpret more on the level of the feminine jouissance.
In terms of animal emotions, I have recently been diving head first into learning more about the Wim Hoff method. I was really moved by his phenomenal description of learning the truth of the body and the brain imaging work that showed he was accessing the deeper emotional cores of the brain beneath abstract reason. For me, I am so in abstractions and so disconnected from my emotions that I have a lot of work to do to connect deeply with my emotional brain. From the descriptions of some of the neuroscientific literature on emotions, I would tend to think that emotions go down to the core of complex organisms. I think that emotions like "fear" and "hunger" are primal and core to their being. I think that the difference with emotions is that we have this layer of abstract self reflection and understanding. This layer of abstract self reflection and understanding filters the emotions and sometimes they can be "too much". Whatever is unique in humans, we may say from a religious point of view, is that this awareness of emotions is the core of suffering ("life is suffering"). It makes me think that the core difference between the sciences and the religions is related to the difference between the primordial scientific axiom of "I think therefore I am". With this axiom we have the pure abstract cogito (thinking subject) gaining an objective universal frame for being. What this pure abstract cogito sacrifices is embodiment (Cartesian dualism), and thus, perhaps, sets the stage for the division between science and religion. In the Western-Christian sense the body (and bodily resurrection) are central and primary. It may even be related to an axiom something like "I feel therefore I am" ("I love therefore I am"). This is totally foreign to the classical scientific understanding, but absolutely primary to the classical religious understanding. In any case, some of my thoughts. Not sure how I feel about it!
Thanks for bringing it to my attention thenewgreen. The classical "subject of science" is a weird appearance precisely because the limits of their knowledge are not inscribed into the "thing-in-itself" (i.e. we cannot objectively study inner states like thoughts and feelings, therefore there must not be inner states like thoughts and feelings). Of course such a split is likely the consequence of a Cartesian metaphysics where the self-certain knower-thinker can perfect an abstract understanding.
Nonetheless it seems much more likely the case that emotions and thoughts exist throughout the animal kingdom even if we cannot study them objectively or prove them in the way that we can prove the existence of certain external manifestations of behaviour. I would just add a precise distinction on the level of the symbolic or cultural. Animals likely experience feelings and thoughts, but only in the human world are these feelings and thoughts marked by/interpreted through symbolic-cultural material.
Either way there is no way to get inside another's head, animal or human. The advantage with humans (and hence the existence of psychoanalysis) is that a human can tell us that they experience feelings and thoughts with their linguistic capacity. We believe them, even if the subject of science tends not to find the methods and practice of psychoanalysis too convincing.
In any case, I quite like de Waal's specific metaphor about "emotions as organs". I experience my emotions like a 'throbbing organ" (heart, lung, etc.). When they are on they are on: desire, love, fear, sadness. The beat of the organ takes over my body. This is why I like Jacques Lacan's notion of "organ without body" to capture the idea of the emotion as an organ which overdetermines the body as a whole (as opposed to the physical organ which is a part within the body).
- The part where he talks about the 3d printing clothes and circuit boards etc. is a little under developed.
I agree. I wish I could have gotten more concrete examples of how new technologies could be used to generate practical steps towards empowered individuation and self-organized communities. This is still super blurry to me and always seems to miss the dimension of the need for new large-scale political forms.
Thanks steve. I'm excited to start producing some online content again. I hope you enjoyed the whole episode :-)
I think it is interesting to note that the amoeba metaphor was also used to illustrate the nature of the imaginary limit-image in-itself (i.e. the virtual domain, the excessive sphere of language) by psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan (see: Lacan, J. 2005. Position of the Unconscious. In: Écrits: The First Complete Edition in English. Translated by Bruce Fink. New York: Norton. p. 846-8.). When thinking the "limit-image" in-itself think for example the radical multiplicity of views that humans posit in relationship to the whole of reality but which have no physical substantiation (i.e. sub-atomic string worlds, multiverse worlds, post-human utopian worlds, heavens and other supernatural worlds etc.). These "limit-images" don't "physically exist" but they nonetheless structure the motion of human subjectivity (and in radically different worldview domains).
In some of my recent Ph.D preparations I have found this video useful to illustrate the potential large scale meta relation between the imaginary nature of language in its relation to biology (i.e. the nature of humans as "linguistic bodies") where the "amoeba" can be visualized as language, the paramecium can be viewed as "pre-historical primates" and the interaction between the amoeba and the paramecium over time can be viewed as the stages of "pre-history" (amoeba surrounding unaware paramecium), "history" (paramecium struggling in vain to escape the totalitarian control of the amoeba) and the "end of history/event horizon" (the death of the paramecium and the triumph of the amoeba). In this mode of representation the imaginary domain in-itself can be conceptualized as a type of infinitely divisible immortal surface that pre-disposes humanity from ever being satisfied with the contemporary state of the world (i.e. no matter where you go in history you will find people positing or striving for some utopian image of perfection).
This is extra interesting in the context of the contemporary scientific mode of technological singularity theory. The question from my perspective is how should we interpret this utopian positing of actualized future immortality? Should we think that the contemporary positing of humans utilizing a scientific view of the world as legitimately going to actualize some form of human immortality? In this mode we could think of some continuously transforming identity structure that was capable of achieving ever greater degrees of cognitive control over its surrounding medium of interaction (which is certainly what many humans desire spontaneously). Or should we think that there is a general imaginary force colonizing the whole of humanity that is expressing in-itself the force of immortality in different cultural forms? It is certainly the case that the idea of immortality has been around for as long as we have written accounts of human thought and the archetypes of immortality likely stretch back to pre-historical times. In other words, could it be that the force of immortality is an inhuman virtuality that is "always-already" a part of the linguistic/symbolic order structuring an insane "super-human" motivation in some type of meta-historical dialectic?
If we are to seriously entertain the latter hypothesis then how should we approach scientists who are working in the genetics, nanotechnology, and robotics revolutions and their potential consequences? How should we think about their symbolic interventions in the world? On the one hand clearly their worldview structures have far greater actual effectiveness then any previous worldview structures, even and especially when factoring in idealistic positing (where typically religious ideal positing is totally impotent). However, there is still usually a profound gap between the ideal positing of scientists and the actual manifestation (the consequences) of the positing. In that light how should we entertain the possibility that the ideal positing of scientists related to radically longer life expectancy (genetic engineering of our stem cells, nanotechnological replacement of biology, etc.) could lead to consequences that are dramatic... but dramatic in a totally unexpected way? In other words could it be that the idea that we will eventually be immortal will not actually lead to the actualization of human immortality, but rather some other type of event horizon or radical discontinuity where we confront directly the limits of human existence?
Thanks b_b -- I'm all good. Actually the scary thing is that the Maelbeek/Schuman metro area is a line I take everyday. Luckily I have a pretty bad flu today so I decided to stay in...
Agreed. As soon as I read that I had the same reaction.
- Have you listened to the other conversation in that post? it goes into a lot more detail.
I know what I'm going to do tonight! Thanks for the link :)
- I think that this is basically the best argument for "mincome" or something like it. There are, in the not too distant future, going to be people who aren't just unemployed, they are unemployable. We will be in a "post-scarcity economy"
I, of course -- (I am not a monster!) -- I support Universal Basic Income (UBI). But I think the whole notion and societal conversation of a UBI suggests to me that there is something far more serious and fundamental that is wrong with our socioeconomic system (not that that is news...) and that we need to go beyond money, whatever, post-money, eventually. I think eventually it will be unnecessary and there will be a more effective and humane ways to build trust and collaboration between humans and the networks of AI/AGI that emerge throughout the century. Even sharing economy and gift economy models of organization are surprisingly varied and abundant, I have been looking more into different entities that function without money, and there are many of them! One of my favourite examples is, and I have used it quite a lot now, is couch surfing. It totally functions, it could of course function better, but it totally functions just on altruism and reputation systems, which enable a type of social trust without any money exchanging hands. I think there are signs for optimism here.
I think C.G.P Grey's "Humans Need Not Apply" video was a cultural moment. For people who had been following general singularity theory for some time all this is not news, but now that the wave of technological innovation is disrupting basic functioning of civilization in regards to -- I think the key categories of disruption include labour, property, and state -- now it will affect the way people in general imagine themselves and their relation to society.
Shouldn't be too long... I even don't care about paywalls for the journals I've published in, I anyway make the paper available for free and no one at the journal has ever contacted me.
EDIT: but maybe if I was a bigger name in academia etc. they would pay more attention to that act of rebellion...
- The truth of the matter is that our national identities are competing with our identities that don't benefit from geopolitical boundaries.
I agree, but now the burden falls on us to affirm that this process, of our national (bounded) societal identity undergoing a processual transition towards an online (open) societal identity, is irreversible. In this sense what is important is not ultimately the identity but rather guiding the process of differentiation leading to higher degrees of freedom and expression.