There’s a very interesting and instructive conversation between Daniel Rourke and new media artist Hito Steyerl at Rhizome. Reading Steyerl’s remarks on Renais’ and Marker’s migration from Celluloid to Web I imagined them evoking perplexity and amusement in cold degenerate matter storage long after the death of our sun.
There’s a very interesting discussion of the merits of Marxism and an Anarchist-Green politics set out in John Zerzan’s book Twilight of the Machines (which I’ll admit to downloading, not reading!) over at the (Dis)loyal Opposition to Modernity. As I understand from the gloss in the DOM post, Zerzan views technology as inherently alienating and destructive and proposes its relinquishment in the interest of human autonomy and the planet (this gloss may need nuancing, obviously!).
Unlike some technophilic left-liberals, I treat relinquishment as a serious moral response to the incompatibility of technical modernity and political transparency. This is because modern technological systems are post-geographic and post-cultural – that is, any invention or device can be replicated in multiple contexts with inherently unpredictable results on the rest of the system (think, for example, of the global impact of Tim Berners Lee’s invention of hypertext for cabal of physicists at CERN). If modern technological systems are inherently unpredictable, then they are inherently uncontrollable. So even if we replace capitalist forms of ownership with a more rational way of allocating resources we’ll still be “living on this thing like fleas on a cat” (to quote Dr Gaius Baltar,)
The only options to verminous status I can conceive are relinquishment or a kind of anti-technological theocracy that artificially restricts the dynamism of self-augmenting technological systems (SATS). Both solutions are arguably based on a self-defeating ideal of sovereignty or autonomy. As Martin Hägglund argues via Derrida, there is no decision without the spacing between now and then – meaning that we can’t live without chancing the worst. The Anarcho-Green is thus a wrong-headed, philosophically naïve death-obsessive but, as fantasies of self-immolation go, his a relatively intelligible one.
According to Hilary Putnam, if we can think that we are brains in vats, we are not brains in vats because we cannot think about things like vats without having discriminating causal relationships with real vats (Reason, Truth and History, p.16) .
How might Putnam’s argument apply to the claim that we could be living in a computer simulation: in other words, that the entire universe – including our brains – is simulated on a computer in some under-universe with which we have no direct contact?
A simulation is (to a first approximation) an implementation of a software object. So if we are implementations of software we will interact somehow with other implementations within the simulation. In fact (on Putnam’s assumption) that’s all we” be able to interact with and thus all we’ll be able to think about.
But this doesn’t entail that we can think that we are in a simulation because understanding that requires that we can think about the other bits of the under-world in which the simulation occurs. And we can’t do that for the same reason that we can’t think about our vats. Yet it seems entirely possible that we are a) in a simulation and b) that we can think about it.