Saturday, December 27, 2014

Slavoj Žižek, a Note

I've read almost nothing by the man. Yes, I understand that he's a major thinker in some pretty large intellectual circles. Alas, I can't help but regarding him as a last gasp in a Continental intellectual tradition that peaked in middle of the previous century. Just what's going to become of that tradition in this, the 21st century CE, I do not know. I suppose something will keep going on as a kind of alchemy astrology theosophical New Age critique add-on. But we need a more vital interpretive tradition.

Anyhow, Žižek was interviewed at the U. of Chicago by Kerry Chance some time after 2006 [there's no date on the interview, but Žižek mentions The Parallax View (2006) as his previous book]. Concerning the cognitive sciences:
. . . they should be taken seriously. They should not be dismissed as just another naive, naturalizing, positivist approach. The question should be seriously asked, how do they compel us to redefine the most basic notions of human dignity, freedom? That is to say, what we experience as dignity and freedom is it all just an illusion, as they put it in computer user terms, a user's illusion. . . .

The thing to do - and I'm not saying I did it, I'm saying I am trying to do it - is to take these sciences very seriously, and find a point in them where there is a need for an intervention of concepts developed by psychoanalysis. I think - I hope - that I isolated one such point. I noticed how, when they tried to account for consciousness, they all have to resort to almost always the same metaphor of this autopoesis, self-reflexive move, some kind of self-relating, self-referring closed circuit. They are only able to describe it metaphorically. What I claim is that this is what Freud meant by death drive and so on.

But it's not that we psychoanalysts know it and can teach the idiots. I think this is also good for us - and by us I mean, my gang of psychoanalytically oriented people. It compels us also to formulate our terminology, to purify our technology as it were.
I can't say that I find the cognitive sciences particularly interesting on human dignity and freedom. It's interesting that Žižek chooses this as a point of contact while saying nothing about what the cognitive sciences have to say about perceptual and cognitive mechanisms and structures.

But who's going to develop a discourse of freedom and dignity in the context of the computational sophistication of the cognitive sciences? What would that look like?


  1. The Tibetans show us how cognitive sciences are useful to change the world. Change begins in our minds first. But, only once we learn to see our thoughts and finally become aware of how to change them.

  2. Playing a ‘Beyond Game’ with Materialities of Cognition