Technihil: The Cultural Import of Cognitive Neuroscience (PhD-thesis)

I have now uploaded my PhD-thesis Technihil: The Cultural Import of Cognitive Neuroscience that I finished a while ago (supervised by Kodwo Eshun and the late Mark Fisher, and examined by Ray Brassier and Suhail Malik) to this website and to I won’t be doing any further work on it (although several of its core topics will certainly reappear in different formats in future writings of mine), since my writing has changed a bit since its completion (see, but I thought that I could upload it here anyway in case anyone wants to read it. Below is a brief outline to the thesis, and the full text can be found here.

Note to potential readers: Please keep in mind that most of this was written a couple of years ago (around 2014-2015), during the peak of new accelerationism, so some of it is actually (given how fast things move in those circles) already a bit outdated. In particular, there is a chapter on Nick Land that discusses the link between technology and negativity (i.e. technihilism) in his 90s work that was written before the alt-right controversy around him started to escalate, so consequently does not address that. And since I won’t be doing any further work on this text I have not made any changes to that or any other chapter. But it obviously goes without saying that I do not share those sympathies at all.

Technihil, Outline

Over the past few decades it has become increasingly clear that the left is in desperate need of novel conceptual instruments to overcome the cultural and political vacuums of the present. Orthodox critical theory and postmodern theory may have correctly identified many of the failures and deadlocks of the contemporary world – yet have been unable to overcome and actually change things for the better. In particular, a widespread critical conservatism rooted in a dubious commitment to human authenticity in response to the emergence of late, global capitalism seems to form a particularly unfortunate conceptual obstacle in this context at the present. Yet over the past few years, a set of novel theoretical strands – known as “new accelerationism” and “new rationalism” among other things – have emerged, and taken on the ambitious task of renewing postmodern critical dogma according to deepened modern and progressively emancipatory principles. This thesis aims to contribute to this task at the intersection between the technological, the cognitive, the aesthetic, and the cultural.

Technihil is a contribution to cultural theory that explores the cultural implications of the natural sciences – cognitive neuroscience in particular – from the perspectives of new accelerationism, new rationalism, and an inhuman Prometheanism. It is well-known today that cultural theory – much like the critical theory and Continental philosophy it often is inspired by – usually has very little positive to say about the natural sciences. Cultural theorists often characterize the latter in terms of what the philosophers Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer refer to as instrumental rationality – a kind of anti-human, enlightenment-rationalism that is blind to its own irrationality and the mythical pattern of sacrifice that it is part of. For Adorno and Horkheimer, and for the many theorists that they have inspired, the Western belief in the authority of the natural sciences is the root-source to the barbarism of the contemporary world, and the massive structures of control that have emerged and handicapped mankind throughout the 20th century – including capitalism, Nazism, and the culture industry. Seen from this perspective, the natural sciences can only alienate man from his true self.

But as the natural sciences continue to make progress and the world in which we live becomes more and more dependent on advanced technology – while scientific fields such as cognitive neuroscience, artificial intelligence, and evolutionary biology are in the process of redrawing the classical understanding of man as a supernatural being – it becomes more and more obvious that this critical perspective no longer works. What is needed instead is a novel critical apparatus that not only is compatible with the natural sciences, but also is capable of utilizing them as conceptual foundation for the remaking of the world on the basis of wider emancipatory principles than those that have come to characterize global capitalism.

This thesis aims to present an outline to such a critical apparatus on the basis of cognitive, technological, aesthetic, and cultural perspectives. Its core argument is that the techno-scientific objectification of human cognition should not be understood as the cognitive pathology that Adorno and Horkheimer characterize it as, but as a principal foundation for a renewed understanding of what it means to be human – and that a new accelerationist, a new rationalist, and an inhuman Prometheanist perspective provide the wider conceptual foundations according to which this argument should be understood.


‘Alleys of Your Mind’ is Now Available

Meson Press has now published the digital open-access version of their anthology on augmented intelligence on their website. It includes my essay on Late Capitalism and the Scientific Image, and other contributions by a number of great thinkers. I especially recommend Reza Negarestani’s extended piece on Turing-functionalism, which I really enjoyed when I read it in the shorter version. A hardcopy-version of the anthology will follow later.

EDIT: My bad, looks like the hardcopy already is available on Amazon.

Alleys of Your Mind: Augmented Intelligence and Its Traumas

A slightly reworked version of my essay on late capitalism and the scientific image of man will appear in a forthcoming publication on augmented intelligence, edited by Matteo Pasquinelli for Meson Press. The volume will be available in May both as digital open access and in a printed format (there will be a Dutch translation as well). Here is a brief overview of the volume which also can be found at Matteo’s website:

An Open Access anthology edited by Matteo Pasquinelli forthcoming (2015) for Meson Press, Leuphana University Lüneburg. With texts by Adrian Lahoud, Jon Lindblom, Reza NegarestaniOrit Halpern, Ana Teixeira Pinto, Charles WolfeBen Woodard amongst others. Dutch edition forthcoming for Leesmagaziijn, Amsterdam.


It will not be arbitrary one day to reframe the thought of the 20th century as a quest around the definitions of error, abnormality, pathology, trauma and catastrophe always understood in both their political, technological and epistemic combination. It may be surprising for some to learn that Foucault’s history of madness was sharing common roots with cybernetics and its error-friendly universal machines. This book aims to revive some crucial debates of the early years of cybernetics and to update the critical toolbox for the times of a visible acceleration of Artificial Intelligence.

The idea of augmented intelligence was introduced by Douglas Engelbart and others in the early ‘60s as a recursive learning loop between the human and the computer. Engelbart’s vision was progressive: any form of augmentation of the individual intellect would immediately result in the augmentation of the collective one. Engelbart did not account, though, for any social tension, psycho-pathology and cognitive trauma that such new intelligent technologies would entail. The crescendo of that virtuous loop is breaking by itself, today, into the supposed ‘intelligence explosion’ of the Singularity and the collective fears for the construction of a superhuman AGI (Artificial General Intelligence).

In the same years of Engelbart, French philosophy was applying itself to the very maladies of reason. Canguilhem, Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, among others, dedicated their main works to the political constitution of psychoses, madness and schizophrenia. In the late ‘90s, moreover, the political ‘abnormality’ and economic agency of the collective mind itself will be stressed by Autonomist Marxism via the notions of general intellect, immaterial labour and mass intellectuality.

Recently, a philosophical scene at the border between neomaterialism and neorationalism has revived the debate around augmented intelligence, addressing the always artificial autonomy of reason and extended cognition or, on the other hand, defending the primacy of materiality and embodied cognition. This book intervenes precisely here: it attempts to recapitulate the different trajectories of the philosophy of the mind of the 20th century in relation to the most recent developments of the mass technologies of intelligence.

Indeed digital networks are not just a matter of communication and cooperation but also of cognition. Large-scale computation is not just a weapon of mass control in the hands of superpowers: it is breeding a new scale of possibilities for education, knowledge, science and politics. Embedded in social networks and search engines, supercomputers have already transformed how our brains function and communicate. The curiosity for extended minds and social brain has always belonged to underground subcultures and the arts too. The title of the book, Alleys of Your Mind, is a reference to a track released by the Afro-Futurist band Cybotron in 1981 (probably the first track to be identified as ‘techno music’).

Whatever utopian or dystopian account of augmented intelligence may be considered, the positive and constructive role played by errors, traumas and catastrophes in the construction of the technological mind is central. The normative autonomy of mind abnormalities, psychopathologies and madness (addressed once by French post-structuralism) should be finally applied also to the network society and cognitive capitalism. This book aims to illuminate the cognitive and epistemic ruptures (and consequent re-adaptations) generated by the last stage of the Turing revolution and only recently recognised by media theory, critical neuroscience, gender studies and political philosophy.

The Cognitive Import of Contemporary Cinema: ‘Enter the Void’

This is a recently finished piece in which I present some thoughts on the cognitive import of contemporary cinema from the perspective of modern neuroanthropology (Metzinger) and rationalist inhumanism (Negarestani), by looking at deviant phenomenal models and various forms of cinematic perception in Gaspar Noé’s psychedelic melodrama Enter the Void (2010). Also included are brief critical accounts of the recently proposed philosophies of aesthetics and cinema by Steven Shaviro and Darren Ambrose. The essay can be found here. Key sequences of the film mentioned in the essay can be found here (DMT-sequence) and here (death-sequence).

Late Capitalism and the Scientific Image of Man

This is a relatively brief (7,000 words) essay I wrote recently for my degree. The aim was to sketch a few initial outlines of some of the intellectual sites I’m interested in pursuing in the thesis, which means that it does contain a number of sweeping claims (particularly towards the end) that need to be elaborated on quite a bit – but this is something I intend to do in future writings. The topic of the essay is the cognitive malaise concomitant with digital culture as daily life in late capitalism, and the speculative potency of the scientific image for the construction of alternate cultural scenarios. The essay can be found here.