martes, 19 de enero de 2010

Brainstorms / The Thanatosis of Enlightenment

In the first chapter of his recent Nihil Unbound: Enlightment and Extinction, Brassier synthesizes John Marshall and Gurd's objections to Paul Churchland's case for a materialist eliminativism aimed to displace the 'manifest image' articulating traditional psychological functional accounts of cognitive life, in favor of a functional neurobiological account linking neural sets (vector activation space) to brain structure (synaptic weight space).

I will offer a very simple defense of Churchland which, I think, should nonetheless be noted, even though these attacks on Churchland are not Brassier's main target in that chapter.

The synthesized objection is rendered straightforwardly in the assymetry Marshall and Guard find between functional cognitive types, pressumably guaranteed by vector activation, and neurobiological states linked to specific synaptic configurations:

“Behavioral disorders index functional categories which are subject to different neurological instantiations – different physical aetiologies can engender identical cognitive disorders” [Pg. 14]

- My first impression to this is to say: so what? It is not clear which 'behavioral disorders' can correspond to the hypothesized cognitive function between vector activation spaces and synaptic structure. The question begged is whether the relevant behavioral disorders are constructed on the basis of the neurobiological functional account, or whether these behavioral categories remain as baggage from other registers of cognitive life. If so, that the same cognitive function can map identical behavioral disorders to different neurological synaptic configurations is no guarantee that the behavioral disorders in question are properly based on neurological functions corresponding to vector activation spaces. If on the other hand a richer typology of cognitive life may be achieved circumscribing to neurobiological functions which would appear identical to non-neurological functional ascriptions of behavioral types, the eliminativist materialist can say this just entails the superior descriptive specificity of the neurological register, not subject to the descriptively simpler behavioral jargon obtained from non-neurological functional registers .

If the old behavioral types can be substituted by descriptively richer results in terms of neurbiological vector types, while not sacrificing relevant positive relations, then it is not clear why the former create problems for the latter. It is not clear just as it is not clear that the uniform ascription of witchcraft to different behavioral attitudes should encourage us to preserve mysticism over the differentiation of physio-psychological states which are non-coextensive with the uniform function mapping of ‘witchcraft’ to a bundle of those states (say, schizophrenia and fever delirium). Nothing is said to the purpose of showing how vector activation spaces would be at pains to draw the same relations while drawing out crucial new differences, in a new typology of behavioral types.

The eliminitavist can simply claim that the differences in the neurological correlates to singular functional categories is no obstacle unless another account can show the same or greater explanatory advantages of the neurological register. That behavioral disorders linked to specific vector types can have more than one weight space configuration is a perfectly admissible result, as long as it provides one with greater specificity than competing theories. On the other hand, a complete identity between distinct pathologies in old behavioral types only signals to the limitations of the primitive cognitive functional discourse which is to be dismissed as part of the manifest image, and which would pressumably be overcome by neurobiology. Put bluntly: that ‘behavioral disorders’ can appear identical where neurobiology may find crucial differences attests to the superior explanatory power of neurobiology, unless one can demonstrate a comparably restrictive insufficiency in the latter to trace appropriate similarities.

Of course, this all leaves pending the precise criteria for descriptive superiority which would allow us to safely decide over both registers, assuming such a comparison is even possible. Brassier spots two difficulties with Churchland’s account:

- 1) Empirical resemblance between brains and neural sets are no guarantee they are superior to other models of cognition.

- Churchland’s point is precisely that such a certain sense of 'model of cognition' is to be dropped. Even if we agree with Churchland in that the criteria for superiority is not immanent to the putative resemblance between brains and neural sets, we can say Churchland is not proposing a superior model for cognition, but attempting to displace traditional functional accounts of cognition in favor of a neurobiological account in which something like cognition is either neurobiologically grounded or else deemed meaningless. Indeed, it all turns on how the criteria for such superiority is established, and whether this superiority is itself neurobiologically grounded, finally the core of Brassier’s more subtle argument.

I will deal this with this in a later occasion, but for now lets pass to Brassier's second observation.

- 2) “Second, in the absence of any adequate understanding of the precise nature of the correlation between psychological function and neural structure, whatever putative resemblance might obtain between neural architecture and network architecture sheds no light whatsoever on the relation between the latter and the abstract functional architecture of cognition. Where network architecture is concerned, although some degree of biological plausibility is desirable, empirical data alone are not sufficient when it comes to identifying the salient functional characteristics of cognition.”

- Here we should point out that Brassier presupposes that the functional architecture of cognition is something fundamentally distinct from the neurobiological account displaying specific vector activation functions to specific neural synaptic configurations. How we choose to ‘transcribe’ these relations into a typology of cognitive types, if at all desired, is a task ahead of neurobiology, not a constraint prescribed by formerly existing registers of cognitive functioning to which neurobiology must accomodate itself. In fact, Churchland would probably say that these ‘salient functional characteristics of cognition’ are subject to elimination unless properly understood from specific neurobiological configurations. Which and whether these configurations can be made still to make sense by way of analog functional relations to more primitive cognitive functional discourses is entirely debatable, but the wager is that these are entirely subservient to whatever neurobiology can elucidate in the form of relations.

The real debate is ahead of us: can the criteria proposed for an ethics of theoretical preservation/displacement be strongly enough sustained in the neurbiological order obtained without evoking folk psychological notions not rigorously specified in terms of neurlogical relations.

Ray Brassier - Nihil Unbound: Enlightment and Extinction, Chapter I, section 1.6

In section 1.6 of chapter I, Brassier explains Churchland’s superempirical criteria for theoretical superiority, in order to justify the displacement of alternative linguaformal, folk-psychological theoretical frames of reference in favor of his neuro-biologically based Prototytical Vector Activation paradigm (PVA). Brassier offers the following criteria as “superempirical virtues” : conceptual simplicity, explanatory unity, and theoretical cohesiveness. (P.M Churchland 1989: 139-51).

Brassier finds that Churchland faces difficulties in reconciling his theory of representation based on neurobiology with these super-empirical virtues which he esteems to be finally metaphysical, rather than biological. Since vector prototypes would replace theories of correspondence, discrimination of theories is to be made by appeal to these super-empirical virtues. Brassier underlines that Churchland needs a theory of adequation between representation (vector prototypes) and represented (super-empirical virtues); that is to say, he must account for how the PVA paradigm somehow corresponds to these super-empirical virtues in such a way so as to necessitate the elimination of alternative theories. This must be reconciled with the fact that, at the neurological level, there are no ontological distinctions to be made between theories: all theories are activations of vector prototypes, or put bluntly, all theories “…are equal insofar as there is nothing in a partitioning of vector space per sé which could serve to explain why one theory is ‘better’ than another.’

So the question is: why is the vector activation paradigm superior in what concerns the super empirical virtues, if this superiority is not based on the homology between PVA and the realm of its constraints, i.e. if it is not based on the ontological affinity of PVA to super-empirical virtues.

How do super-empirical virtues allow us to discriminate between theories if not on ontological terms, if not on representational kind? Churchland bases his answer around how super empirical virtues enable evolutionary efficiency qua the organism’s adaptive relation to its environment. So we are, it seems, at the pragmatic end where theories display super empirical virtues as indexes of evolutionary efficiency, meaning that the advantage of the PVA paradigm is to be gauged in terms of how super-empirical virtues simply result from evolution.

Brassier thinks Churchland’s problem is that it is hard to see how one could ground the display of super empirical virtues at the neurological level. Even if we accept that vector prototypes qua representational theory are indifferent to these virtues, they still have to be reflected at the neurological level to sustain the eliminitavist. So Brassier seems to be suggesting that Churchland needs to link the super-empirical virtues and weight synapse space configuration at the neurobiological level to show how the latter are constrained or predetermined by the stipulated super-empirical virtues of ontological consistency, simplicity which he identifies in the PVA paradigm. Churchland simply assumes this is how it works without offering an argument in favor of this.

At this point, Brassier stipulates that the reluctance to demarcate a concrete relation between vector coding process and the super empirical might be because Churchland would thereby be forced to admitt that the intrinsic neurocomputational structure is continuous with the super empirical features of the world. Even if there is no distinctive ontological homology between PVA paradigm and the superempirical virtues, the evolutionary adaptive qualities of the super empirical virtues must function as an intrinsic constraint to the vector coding process.

“For in order to make a case for the neurocomputational necessity of superempirical virtues, Churchland would need to demonstrate that the latter are indeed strictly information theoretic constraints intrinsic to the vector coding process, as opposed to extrinsic regulatory considerations contingently imposed on the network in the course of its ongoing interaction with the environment.

This leads Brassier into two diagnosing apparently problematic alternatives for Churchland” [Churchland: Pg. 20]

1) Super-empirical virtues are constitutive features of the world – The brain reaches out to the world, the world is neurocomputationally constituted, since the constraints intrinsic to the information processing of the brain by the worldly virtues would depend on the brain’s reaching out into the world to seize these virtues. Then we engender a form of empirical idealism.

“Since for Churchland perception and conception are neurocomputationally continuous, the result is a kind of empirical idealism: the brain represents the world but cannot be conditioned by the world in return because the latter will ‘always already’ have been neurocomputationally represented. We are left with a thoroughgoing idealism whereby the brain constitutes the physical world without it being possible to explain either how the brain comes to be part of the world, or indeed even how the world could have originally produced the brain.”

But if, as Churchland admits, the neurocomputational coding process of the brain is limited by the organism, extending it to make it a constitutive feature of the world then he could propose a homology between the worldly super empirical virtues and the neurocomputational brain, without thereby claiming the former is constituted by the latter. In fact, the argument from the start appeared to be that the brain’s coding of information was constrained by the super empirical virtues which in lieu of evolutionary efficiency. Indeed, Churchland would merely need to qualify his statement and say that even if the neurocomputational constitution is indeed limited by the organism, its constitution is continuous to the super empirical worldly structure; in fact constrained by them. However, this seems problematic, since it drains Churchland for any resources to substantiate the existence of such a world, or the putative independence of the super empirical virtues.

So, as Brassier contends, we would either seem to reverse to the empirical idealism, or else force a primitive realism in which the notion of world, along with its super empirical strata, remain only accessible from the purview of the neurobiological constitution. Since to claim the continuity between the neurocomputational register of the brain and the world finally only grants access to a neurologically constituted world, we are left with the strange picture in which the evolutionary constraints to the organism’s information coding lies in the neurobiological constitution of the world as such. This view seems rather untenable.

2) The second alternative Brassier contemplates is a realism where a pre-constituted physical world directly constitutes/conditions the neurocomputational brain: but in this case the borders between brain and world seem to require a general theory of representation which is not exclusively neurobiological, and which would require a general metaphysical account of how these distinctive features of the world enter in relation with the brain to constrains it.

“Since for Churchland perception and conception are neurocomputationally continuous, the result is a kind of empirical idealism: the brain represents the world but cannot be conditioned by the world in return because the latter will ‘always already’ have been neurocomputationally represented. We are left with a thoroughgoing idealism whereby the brain constitutes the physical world without it being possible to explain either how the brain comes to be part of the world, or indeed even how the world could have originally produced the brain.

Thus, Churchland cannot effect a neurocomputational reduction of superempirical virtue without engendering a neurological idealism, and he cannot reintegrate the neurocomputational brain into the wider realm of superempirical virtue without abandoning eliminativism altogether.”

I will continue to comment on this later.

Let us recall some of Brassier’s points leading to his objection of Churchland’s knighting of the PVA paradigm. He sees the tension in two commitments:

- Scientific Realism - The explanatory excellence of the PVA model is made legible by the verifiable ‘super-empirical virtues’: conceptual simplicity, explanatory unity, and theoretical cohesiveness. The question here will then concern the justification for the precise nature of these super empirical virtues. - Metaphysical naturalism – Brassier claims Churchland implicitly relies on a metaphysical framework to achieve the justification needed for scientific realism on the basis of an a priori guarantee of an adaptationist rationale measured in terms of the congruence between representation and reality. The question here is about whether this rationale is sufficient to render EM consistent or persuasive. To do this we must in turn ask:

(a) Whether this is consistent with EM’s claim that no notion of success is theory-neutral, but that each theory shifts the blueprint for what success is without there being an isomorphy to the brain’s structure. Brassier will finally suggest that to claim the PVA model could supply such evidence is to tacitly suggest that PVA’s exhibition of the super-empirical functions are more representationally ‘accurate’ or ‘correct’ since they function as precondition for the others. But the abandonment of a privileged notion of success, such as in a ‘correspondence’ theory between PVA and the super-empirical features, means that PVA’s purported displacement of folk semantics, distinguishing between ‘true and false’ representations, is in fact internally reproduced in its own dynamics in the representation between brain structure and super-empirical virtues as constraints to the organism.

Indeed the tacitly suggested affinity between the PVA model to gauge the appearance super-empirical functions seems to betray the required neutrality of theories, implying that the functional features in fact obtain as precondition for all others, since they follow a priori from the evolutionary constraints legible in the brain’s anatomy, and not as contingent facts pertaining, say, to a generalized ethology about organisms and environment. - In order to push the putative affinity between PVA’s neurocomputational model for representation and the world, Churchland has to construct the world as being either:

(*) Neurocomputational Idealism: Neurocomputationally constituted thereby making the world conform to neural features.
(**) Metaphysical abandonment of eliminativism by a metaphysical externalism: Advocating that the world has a structure coded by the brain, extending his neurocentric perspective to a metaphysical externalism, which he is precisely what EM was aimed to abandon by PVA’s self-sufficiency.

Therefore, EM’s appeal to PVA’s support on adaptational constraints results in a tacit metaphysical avowal of (**), thus inconsistent with eliminativism, or else inconsistent with the materialist requirement that there is no a theory neutral conception of success.

The first possibility extends into metaphysics by stipulating of a world-structure which comes into relation with the brain. The second poses PVA’s theoretical-neutrality by proposing evolutionary adequation is registered by the degree of resemblance between the super empirical virtues and the brain’s structure. This would mean PVA preconditions the possibility of theoretical reflection, thereby making it the one discursive sphere capable of producing ‘true’ representations. But this tacit metaphysical view conflicts the idea that theories are discerned in virtue of the super-empirical virtue rather than by representational kind, since the PVA exhibits precisely a kind of privileged representation. But since, as Churchland admits, it is each theory has its own post for success, then how can the PVA theoretical function exceed this constraint so as to reveal by its own means the super-empirical virtues without evoking a metaphysics which threatens eliminativism? The lack of this metaphysics, or rather, the conceptual weaknesses of the proposed metaphysics, is precisely what Brassier renders as troubling:

“As a result, Churchland’s case for eliminativism oscillates between the claim that it is entirely a matter of empirical expediency,15 and the argument that seems to point to the logical necessity of eliminating FP by invoking the PVA model’s intrinsically metaphysical superiority…

But the problem for Churchland is that it remains deeply unclear in precisely what way the extent of an organism’s adaptational efficiency, as revealed by the degree to which its representation of the world exhibits the superempirical virtues of simplicity, unity, and coherence, could ever be ‘read off’ its brain’s neurocomputational microstructure.”

But the problem for Churchland is that it remains deeply unclear in precisely what way the extent of an organism’s adaptational efficiency, as revealed by the degree to which its representation of the world exhibits the superempirical virtues of simplicity, unity, and coherence, could ever be ‘read off’ its brain’s neurocomputational microstructure.” [NU: 22].

Brassier argues that if neurocomputational representation reads the precondition for all theories, then these cognitive functions function determine evolutionary ethology. Brassier claims this seems to relapse into idealism, since the super-empirical virtues registered in the structure of the brain's vector partitions determine evolutionary ethology. If the determination of all other theoretical domains, such as those pertaining to environment, supervene on neurocomputational features, then indeed we seem to be in the corner of idealism; or with no further resource than the Kantian appeal to a noumenal 'in-itself' at this point. Lacking a consistent account on why PVA exhibit these features so as to necessitate the elimination of other theories.

“If superempirical virtues were already endogenously specified and intrinsic to the brain’s neurocomputational microstructure, then it would appear to be a matter of neurophysiological impossibility for an organism to embody any theory wholly lacking in these virtues. Paradoxically, it is the eliminativist’s supposition that the former are intrinsically encoded in the brain’s cognitive microstructure that ends up considerably narrowing the extent for the degree of superempirical distinction between theories, ultimately undermining the strength of the case against FP.” [Ibid: 23]

Now let us move into chapter II:

On the course of explaining the ‘speculative fusion of Hegel and Freud’ advanced by Adorno and Horkheimer’s dialectic of Enlightenment, Brassier exhibits the three strata or levels on which mimetic sacrifice would develop according to the authors:

- The biological speculative: Sacrifice of the outer layer of the organism to the inorganic, so as to shield the interior milieu.

- The mythic sacrifice of the living to the Gods; animistic reciprocity between victim and gods, and the possibility of controlling the God’s will through the system of exchange. This system effects a non-conceptual equivalential relation between the two beings.

‘If exchange represents the secularization of sacrifice, the sacrifice itself, like the magic schema of rational exchange, appears as a human contrivance intended to control the gods, who are overthrown precisely by the system created to honor them’ (Adorno and Horkheimer 2002: 40).’

- The self’s sacrifice of the present for the future, its sacrifice of the desires/drives in the present occasioned by impressions to the future. This level presumably coincides with the sacrifice of the organism’s self-defining will to realize its desires (the drive to ‘lose oneself in one’s environment’) to imitate nature’s egoless (dead) adaptational indifference. Presumably this is where mimeses turns into the conceptual subsumption of instrumental reason. Reason mimics death, in its indistinction from dead organic matter, treating everything as a homogenous inert stuff through conceptual identity, in order to dominate nature, thereby repeating the primitive mythological gesture of sacrifice (to the non-living). So ironically, the introjection to control inner nature repeats the mimetic compulsion to sacrifice it sought to get rid off.

“But where sacrifice had previously served as a means for mastering external nature, it now becomes introjected as the suppression of the power of internal nature. However, this sacrificial subordination of means to end in fact reverses itself into a subordination of ends to means, for in learning to repress the drives and desires whose satisfactions define it; the human organism effectively negates the ends for which it supposedly lives.” [NU: Pg 37]

Observation: This seems to hold well and dandy as long as you hypotesize the prevalence of the satisfaction of drives and desires to be the constitutive human functions. It is less clear why this must necessarily be the case. However, Brassier has strategic reasons for this. The alternative route might perhaps be to say that the organism’s development of conceptual theorization is precisely what defines it. But this can lead us back to Churchland: if we posit this quintessential function to be constituted of something like a set of super empirical properties (which would target the ‘measuring stick’ for what success is in conceptual subsuption).

So, the disenchantment of nature is nothing but the sacrifice of the non-conceptual equivalence to the concept’s subsumption by identity, the sublation of the very distinction between animate and inanimate to make the distinction the dead inert matter which needs conceptual subsumption to be dominated. Identity thinking thereby severs mimesis of its commemorative aspect and directly asserts its control by subordinating the flux of the present to the subsumption to the concept. Not quite unlike Heidegger’s own diagnosed ‘metaphysics-of-presence’ which end in the reign of modern technology, A&H stipulate a horizontal dialectical development leading from the organism’s evolutionary sacrifice of its outer layer to the sacrifice of the inner life of the subject to imitate disenchanted nature through the subsumption to the concept (the Idea).

“In the terseness of the mythical image as in the clarity of the scientific formula, the eternity of the actual is confirmed and mere existence is pronounced as the meaning it obstructs […] The subsumption of the actual, whether under mythical prehistory or under mathematical formalism, the symbolic relating of the present to the mythical event in the rite or abstract category in science, makes the new appear as something predetermined, which therefore is really the old. It is not existence that is without hope but the knowledge which appropriates and perpetuates existence as a schema in the pictorial or mathematical symbol.” (Adorno and Horkheimer 2002: 20–1)

This gap between the pure present of flux and the subordination to the concept is the gap between non-identity and identity, the act of the subject’s (Hegelian) negativity. So the task for reason is to go beyond this perpetual fixation with the present to and its pathological subsumption of the concept to inquire about the historicity of reason itself: its aims and destinations, Just like thought thinks of nature as what gives itself to the mind, perpetrates and imposes itself compulsively, so it imagines itself as a mechanism of compulsion (trying to overcome its drives in the extirpation of animism by conceptual identity). But in doing so it reinstates its subordination and incapability of reflection, since it merely repeats the compulsion to sacrifice, to death this time. The subsumptive conceptual projection of instrumental projection thus remains unreflective, and compulsive:

‘Objectifying thought, like its pathological counterpart, has the arbitrariness of a subjective purpose extraneous to the matter itself and, in forgetting the matter, does to it in thought the violence which will later will be done to it in practice’ (Adorno and Horkheimer 2002: 159)

So let’s hear more about the ‘healthy’, reflexive use of reason!

Apparently, the healthy commemoration of reason consists in restoring the severed mediation between the subject and the object: instrumental reason disenchants nature in its mimesis of death, of the inorganic, in which conceptuality surrenders the ends of the organism to the means, drives are inhibited in the compulsion to subsume under the concept. This is what Brassier labels the ‘schizophrenia’ of reason, as emblematized in the general form of today’s capitalism.

Brassier thinks that the restorative commemoration begins by the historical reflexive awareness on its own deployment; the passage from in-itself to for-itself, reason’s realization of its repetitive compulsion. However, it is here that we see that the presumably anthropological notion of mimesis displays its fundamental reversibility to biological/adaptative mimicry. In the end, the fear of the mimetic impulse ends up repeating the impulse.

“Whether sameness is established conceptually through the synthetic subsumption of particularity, or organically via the imitation of the inorganic, it remains bound to terror. More precisely, the terror of mimetic regression engenders a compulsion to subsume, to conform, and to repress, which is itself the mimesis of primitive organic terror”

It is precisely when conceptual mimesis sacrifices itself to the object in the inorganic, disposing of itself as subject, that the evolutionary thanatosis coincides with the cultural alienation from nature in which space amputates nature from itself. This way ‘second nature’ is made to appear precisely adaptative in that it disposes of the need for the subject in the imitation of the inorganic; the ‘second nature’ envisaged by Brassier is not the restitution of subjective mediation, but the (already effective) disposal of ‘organic’ or animistic nature which demands the extirpation of history from space. This repression of the inorganic is thereby visible in the organism’s sacrifice of its inner mileu to it, just like at the biological level the organism sacrifices its outer layer to the inorganic.

“Civilization’s embrace of lifelessness in the service of self-preservation, its compulsive mimicry of organic compulsion in the repression of compulsion, reiterates the originary repression of the inorganic.”

Finally, it is the natural-scientific reinscription of history into the pure exteriority of space, indifferent on the subject’s belonging to it or mediation, which provides it with its strength, both as a precondition for all ‘cultural’ history, but ultimately because it can relegate the former into a mere annex of a philosophical anthropology.

"Disavowing the irreflexive immanence of natural history, Adorno and Horkheimer’s speculative naturalism ends up reverting to natural theology. It is the failure to acknowledge the ways in which the socio-historical mediation of nature is itself mediated by natural history – which means not only evolutionary biology but also geology and cosmology – which allows philosophical discourses on ‘nature’ to become annexes of philosophical anthropology. This leads us into the question of correlationism; as we will see in the case of Meillasoux rampant criticism of post-Kantian philosophy and its obsession with mediation."

No hay comentarios: