Monday, January 12, 2015

misanthropology and bleak theology

An interesting post titled "misanthropology." Like usual highlights then a link. First, though, a thought or two.

I do not find it to be antithetical to the theistic view - or at the very least the panentheistic view - that opting for the misanthropic over the anthropic necessarily means nihilism and cold "scientific" rationality, or simply that one should just ditch God once the reality of dire straights has set in.  Afterall, Schelling and many of the German idealists (see Krell's The Tragic Absolute: German Idealism and the Languishing of God or Feld's Melancholy and the Otherness of God) knew of a suffering and lamenting God, one that is never complete in its continual evolutionary development and frustration, suffers like humans in order to know their suffering - as well as their extinction - and knows as well that within its creative domain other "cosmic epochs" are indeed possible.  Indeed Gnon creates but also suffers. This is the "bleak" theological view, and it's one that I do not find unconducive to my own metaphysical stance.

The thing is, despite the current fad of reveling in our own decay humans must still realize that extinction is imminent and nature goes on without us.  Either way, in terms of philosophical naturalism and evolutionary cosmology (thank you pragmatism) we either adapt or perish.

I refuse to sugar-coat the great face of nature, like many process philosophers of today do.  Taking a more Landian sober perspective one must ruthlessly face facts.  Looking out into the cosmos it seems that rationality is not just human, afterall.  "Nature or God is a decision of equivalence" as the first sacred law is: Reality Rules. I've written about this before a few times, for example:

And speaking of bleakness and melancholy: Schopenhauer, Nietzsche, and their connections to a bleak perspective make appearances rather timely for me in this recent 3:AM interview HERE.

These anthropocentric worries over human continuity make for a strange tension in the theoretical moment: they are appearing just as a range of disanthropic moves have attempted to decenter and displace the human as subject, agent, or figure: Actor-Network Theory, Post-Humanism, multi- and interspecies analytics, Object Oriented and other “ontological” turns, speculative realism and new materialism, to name a few. Despite this turn away from the human, however, the final disappearance of the species seems to mark a limit for most disanthropic theorists; few welcome the possibility of human extinction. Disanthropy yes, misanthropy no.

[M]isanthropy needs rethinking: perhaps it is time for a serious misanthropology. In their now famous book What is Life?, the biologist Lynn Margulis and her co-author and son Dorion Sagan revel in the productivity of the biosphere, where, with or without us, Gaia will exuberantly continue to spawn multiple life-forms. They propose not only a more expansive notion of forms of life, which would include biospheric processes, but ask us also to consider a more expansive notion of consciousness, one recognizing that “at even the most primordial level living seems to entail sensation, choosing, mind” (1995, 220). For them the biosphere as a whole is conscious; the planet is a “vast sentience.” Admittedly, humans play a crucial role in this mind, as “our technology-extended intelligence becomes part of planetary life as a whole,” forming the “brain or neural tissue of a global being.” This “global being,” however, will persist even after good old anthropos is done with. Margulis and Sagan make it clear that they are not afraid of climate change.

This is not unlike the transhumanist position of celebrating the self-evolution of humans into a non-carbon-based, superintelligent being. There, too, matter is understood as having been intelligent all along, with the human as merely a temporary instantiation. For transhumanists, the supreme unit of this evolution is information. They argue that soon this intelligence, in the form of information processing or computation, will become so vast and complex that the world itself will no longer be recognizable or predictable by us – the threshold that they call the Singularity. Ray Kurzweil is the most famous champion of this path to human obsolescence, and much has been written about his views (including by me). In his vision, if the end of humanity is a portal to greater consciousness, then we ought to celebrate that end as good in itself, without parochial anthropocentric anxieties. The goal of developing computational power, then, is not to avoid our extinction but to accelerate our obsolescence: the ultimate technofix.

In some ways, this fascination with a world without us is not new. What’s interesting about the current misanthropic end-time views – from the low-tech VHEMT to the super high-tech singularity, from simple extinction to heat death or cold death of the universe – is that they emerge out of science, rather than being religious left-overs. They are the outgrowth of a long discursive line in secular science that begins at least in the mid-19th century, when Rudolf Clausius, presenting his formulation of the second law of thermodynamics, declared that the universe tends inexorably towards entropy. I think that we could go back further, though, to the original disanthropic turn: the Galilean-Copernican revolution, which knocked the earth off center at the same time as it materially (through the use of lenses and new forms of visibility) and mathematically (with new equations and understandings of planetary motion) expanded the universe, producing a radical sense of human finitude. This was picked up and articulated by Pascal, who passed it on to Schopenhauer, who turned it into anxiety, and ultimately Weber, who turned it into disenchantment. They did so as men of science, ruminating not on the eschaton but on the meaning of finitude and progress.

Today, science toggles between entropy and creativity as dominant narratives for understanding the future of the cosmos. The probability of life and consciousness in the universe, as well as its demise on our planet, is now subject to scientific rationality: given the conditions of the universe, the development of complexity into life and consciousness was inevitable, in which case of course there likely are others like us and our rock out there. Or perhaps it is the complete converse: it was ridiculously impossible, and this weird Rare Earth is doomed to disappear as meaninglessly and singularly as it appeared. Everything is fine-tuned for our type, or everything is hostile to our type. In the scientific imaginary, the universe is either anthropic or misanthropic.

Link to the full post HERE.