Digital Inquiry: Bernard Stiegler on "Lights and Shadows in the Digital Age"
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Bernard Stiegler Keynote lecture Digital Inquiry Symposium Berkeley Center for New Media UC Berkeley, Berkeley, CA April 27, 2012 1. Cognition, technics and knowledge I am a professor of philosophy. I studied at the EHESS where I wrote a thesis about the relationship between technics and time under the direction of Jacques Derrida a work published in English by Stanford University Press. I began my academic career at the UTC in 1988 where I founded a laboratory dedicated to the questions of cognition, knowledge and technical systems, and which still exists. In this team, our project was based on the idea that the models stemming from the cognitive sciences, which were still very computationalist in these times, even if connectionist models complicated the hypotheses, and above all the theory of autopoiesis and enaction, the idea was that in cognitive sciences in general, there was a sort of huge paradox and misunderstanding due to the fact that these sciences used a technological artifact the computer as a model for explaining cognition without theorizing about technics itself. It is on the basis of this statement of fact, and of analyses founded on prehistory, particularly the theses of Andr Leroi-Gourhan, and on theories inspired by Georges Canguilhem, like the simondonian philosophy of individuation, that I created COSTECH (this meaning Knowledge, organization, and technical systems) dedicated to the development of cognitive technologies. We must distinguish between cognition and knowledge, and today I prefer to say knowledge technologies rather than cognitive technologies. Nevertheless, if we used this expression of cognitive technologies, it was mainly to claim that before we can think a science of cognition, we have to consider the technologies of cognition, that is, the technological condition of cognition when it has become not only cognition, but knowledge. There are obviously animal forms of cognition. And if it was one of the main points of the cognitive theories to claim after cybernetics that a science of cognition must apprehend this one in its unity though its diverse animal, human and machinic forms, we answered that here it remains the question
of what is the intrinsic role of technics in the human form of cognition. And this is here that we need to distinguish precisely between knowledge and cognition. When cognition stems from this technical form of life which the human life is for Canguilhem, cognition becomes knowledge, and not merely cognition, that is a social production and not only a mental or cerebral one. And this is also the reason for which here Simondon is so fruitful when he shows that it is impossible to think the psychical individuation without thinking collective individuation (and transindividuation) at the same time. To think this, we must study prehistory and the role of technics as the beginning of a process of exteriorization of life, for speaking with the terms of Leroi-Gourhan, that is also a transformation of memory. Now, this expression, process of exteriorization, must be used very carefully because there is no interiority that precedes exteriorization, but to the contrary, exteriorization constitutes the interior as such, that is to say, distinguishes and configures it in the very course of what Leroi-Gourhan describes as this process of exteriorization. 2. Human memory as epiphylogenesis The Zinjanthropian was discovered in 1959 : it is an Australanthropian dating back 1,75 million years and whose oldest biped ascendants go back 3,6 million years. It weighs about thirty kilos. It is a true biped : it has freed its front legs for motricity : they are henceforth essentially destined to make tools and to expression, that is, to exteriorization, which constitutes the humanity of the human, and which is a break in the history of life. That which up to then was a part of the living, namely conditions of predation and defence, passes outside the domain of the living : the struggle for life or rather, for existence, and for acknowledgement and re-cognition, if we refer to Hegel can no longer be limited to the Darwinian scene. The human conducts this struggle that we could say is noetic, that is a struggle for recognition, that is for ex-sistence, by ex-teriorization, that is by non-biological organs : by artificial organs that techniques are. And this is the beginning of what is called today the enhancement of the human as the beginning of the human meaning that human doesnt exist, but is always still to come : it is a idea for which the question is its consistancy and not only its existence, this consistancy being irreducible to this existence. We usually call this question the one of sense. This life is no longer simply bio-logical then : it is an existence oriented towards consistancies to come, that is, a technical economy of anticipation, that is also a technical economy of memorisation as well as an
economy of enhancement, and this anticipation founded on a new condition of memorization is organised as a desire, sustained by hypomnesic technical milieus, which are also symbolic milieus, in which one finds fetishes and tools, but such that the drives find themselves submitted to a principle of reality, that is, to a postponement of their satisfaction, and beyond the pleasure principle, to a principle of sublimation that is also a principle of idealization all of this forming a libidinal economy whereby the energies of the drives are transformed into libidinal energy, that is, into desire, sublimation and ideas. Freud, whose theory of the unconscious is a theory of memory and of its censorship, nevertheless constantly worries this question without being able to formalize it, which will lead to a neo-Lamarkism in Moses and Monotheism. We owe to Leroi-Gourhan the thesis that technics is a vector of memory. From the Australanthropian to the Neandertalian, a biological differentiation of the cerebral cortex takes place which is called the opening of the cortical fan. But starting with the Neanderthal, the cortical system is practically at the end of its evolution : the neuronal equipment of the Neanderthal would be rather similar to ours. Now, from the Nearderthal to us, technics evolves to an extraordinary extent, and that means that technical evolution no longer depends on biological evolution. The space of technical differentiation takes place outside the biological dimension, and independently of it. The process of exteriorization is in this respect the process of the constitution of a third layer of memory. Since the neo-darwinism coming out of molecular biology, and in the wake of the research conducted by Weismann, it is held that living sexuated beings are constituted by two memories : the memory of the species, the genome, that Weismann calls germen, and the memory of the individual, somatic memory, located in the central nervous system, and where the memory of experience is found. This memory exists starting with the limnees of Lake Leman studied by Piaget, including the chimpanzee, as well as insects and vertebrates. Now, mankind has access to a third memory supported and constituted by technics. A shaped flint-stone forms itself by shaping in organized inorganic matter : the technicians gesture engrams an organization that is transmitted via the inorganic, introducing for the first time in the history of life the possibility of transmitting knowledge acquired individually, but in a non-biological way and which is precisely not simply cognition. This technical memory is epiphylogenetic : it is at one and the same time the product of individual epigenetic experience, and the phylogenetic support for the accumulation of knowledge constituting the intergenerational cultural phylum.
It is because his knowledge is a function of this primordial exteriority of memory that the slave boy in Platos Meno draws in sand so as to trace the figure where the geometrical object is found : to think his object, he must exteriorize it by organizing the inorganicity of the sand which, in the same stroke, becomes, as a plastic surface capable of receiving and conserving an inscription, the space and the support of the projection of a geometrical concept. However mutable it may be, the drawing in the sand can conserve more durably than the mind of the slave a characteristic of an element of the figure, because the mind of the slave is essentially fluid : his thoughts are constantly passing away and effacing themselves, he is retentionally finite. His memory constantly snaps, his attention is always attracted away from its objects toward new ones, and he has a hard time intentionalizing the geometrical object taking it in perspective in its organic identity, its necessity, its innermost essence : its eidos. The drawing, as hypomnesic memory, is therefore indispensable to this potential philosopher, the slave boy, and to his passage into action, that is, from dunamis to energeia or entelekheia, that is, to his anamnesis : this drawing constitutes a crutch of understanding, a space of intuition entirely produced by the gestures tracing in the sand, at every step of his reasoning, the figured effects of this reasoning the sand holding them as results that the slave, his intuition and his understanding have henceforth in view, and with which they can extend and construct the geometrical proof. Now, the platonic opposition between the intelligible and the sensible, that is, between logos and tekhn, will make this literally impossible to understand, in the dialogues following Meno and thus metaphysics will take shape as the denegation of the originary technicity of memory. 3. Grammatization, hypomnesis and anamnesis Now, according to Husserl in 1936, geometry is conditioned by the appearance of writing, and writing belongs to a new process of exteriorization : the one of mental contents by projection in space of temporal contents of mind projection w