Transcendental Blues

Content Notes: Suicide (§0-1), Mental Health (§*), Neuroscience (§2, §4), Logic (§3.2), Computer Science (§4), Rhetoric (§*). PDF.


0. That Fucking Dog

When I found out Mark Fisher had finally been cornered by the black dog, I was standing at a bus stop on a chill morning in Ryhope. I could see the sea from where I was, and I could hear the pain in my friend’s voice, but I couldn’t connect with either of them. I couldn’t connect with anything. My life had unravelled around me. I’d recently admitted to myself and others that I couldn’t return to my postdoctoral position in South Africa. I couldn’t write or read. I couldn’t even understand my own work. I couldn’t enjoy anything. Not music. Not food. Not the morning sea. I could barely stand to be in the same room as people who cared about me. All because I was being chased by the same black fucking beast.

I was dragging myself out of bed every morning and walking a tooth grinding forty-five minutes to the nearest swimming pool in order to get the thirty minutes of exercise that was supposed to keep the beast at bay. The path follows the route of an old colliery railway line, over a bridge my great-grandfather helped build more than a century ago. Every day, once on the way there, and once on the way back, I’d think about throwing myself off of that bridge. It would never quite rise to the level of volition. I could consider the burdens I’d lift from others, the anxieties I’d finally be free of, even the bleak poetry of it. What I couldn’t do was ignore it. This was the first time this had ever happened to me.

I couldn’t process the significance of Mark’s death. I was too numb. Deep depression washes all the colour out of the world, turning the contrast down until you can’t tell the difference between real loss and mundane misery. It’s leaked in slowly, bit by bit over the last year, as I regained enough sensitivity to properly feel it, and enough understanding to properly mourn it. It’s the sort of thing you get periodically reminded of, discovering new layers of response each time, be it wistful sadness or blistering anger. I don’t think this process is finished, it won’t be for a while, but I hope that writing this post will help it along. Back then, there was one meaningful signal that cut through the depressive noise: this fucking thing shouldn’t have been allowed to take him from us, and I shouldn’t let it take me too.

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Towards Computational Kantianism

The video of my talk on Computational Kantianism from the #Accelerate General Intellect event organised by Tony Yanick and the New Centre for Research and Practice at the Pratt Institute in NYC is finally available. Unfortunately, chunks of video are missing, the sound quality is not great, and the first 10 minutes or so are absent entirely. Luckily, those first 10 minutes cover much the same ground as my talk at the Future of Mind Conference. Technical issues aside, I’m mostly happy with the content of this talk, though it covers work that is still in progress. The only qualifications I would make concern the more speculative remarks on mathematics towards the end, which I can see probably don’t have enough context for most people, especially without video of the diagrams I was using to illustrate the connections between my reading of Kant and computational trinitarianism. Moreover, I can now see that what I was saying about co-inductive types is not quite right, because it doesn’t adequately capture the speculative duality with homotopy type theory I’m circling around, even though I’m still convinced that there is a significant duality hereabouts. These are ideas I’m obviously going to have to elaborate in more detail elsewhere. Till then, this will have to do:

Figure/Ground Interview

This is a short post to announce that I’ve been interviewed by Laureano Ralon for Figure/Ground.  The questions I was asked cover a really wide range of topics and have forced me to revisit a number of things I haven’t talked about in a while. However, I’m not known for brevity, and so some of my answers are rather in depth. I hope people enjoy reading it!

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Prometheanism and Rationalism

Here is the video for my talk ‘Prometheanism and Rationalism’, which was given at Goldsmiths courtesy of Simon O’Sullivan and the Visual Cultures department in May. The same talk was given the previous week at the Dutch Art Institute’s Prometheanism 2.0 event, organised by Bassam El Baroni, alongside Patricia Reed, Yuk Hui, and Inigo Wilkins. The video for the DAI version is available here. However, as is often the case, I think the second version is better.

Here is the abstract:

The aim of this talk is to articulate and defend the connection between contemporary forms of prometheanism and rationalism. It will begin by defining prometheanism through its opposition to political liberalism and normative naturalism, as developed by the projects of left-accelerationism and xenofeminism. It will then show how the success of these oppositions is premised upon philosophical rationalism, insofar as it supplies the needed accounts of positive freedom and normative autonomy, and articulate the problems faced by alternatives to liberalism and naturalism that reject these conceptual resources. The remainder of the talk will be devoted to elaborating the account of rational agency through which these concepts should be understood. Positively, it will aim to explain what reason is, giving a minimalistic picture of the capacities its exercise involves. Negatively, it will aim to explain what reason is not, addressing some common objections to rationalism based on misunderstanding its relation to affect, embodiment, collectivity, and other issues.

I’m quite pleased with the talk overall. For those who would like to read the first half, it is available in written form here. If you’re having difficult reading the slides, they’re available here. It’s also worth pointing out that this makes a good companion to my paper ‘The Reformatting of Homo Sapiens’ (video), whose analysis of myth it borrows. Furthermore, the explanation of contemporary rationalism at the end has been developed substantially in my work on Computational Kantianism, which I’ll be sharing here eventually.

Finally, it’s worth noting that my positive thoughts on what is now more properly called Left-Accelerationism (L#A) haven’t been widely available till now. This is despite the fact that I organised the second Accelerationism Workshop at Goldsmiths, was involved in putting together #ACCELERATE: The Accelerationism Reader, and, weirdly, that my tumblr response to Malcom Harris’s confused review of the reader – ‘So, Accelerationism, what’s all that about?’ – which does it’s best to diagnose the usual errors in usage and explain the left/right distinction, is the first reference on the accelerationism wikipedia page. This talk doesn’t cover everything I have to say about the matter, and there’s still some controversy about whether the term is salvageable, given the aforementioned confusions, but it’s nice to have something people can refer to.

General Intelligence in General Terms

Here’s the video of my short talk at the Future of Mind symposium, given on a panel with Patricia Reed, Reza Negarestani, and the guys behind the New Centre for Research and Practice. It was a weird and wonderful event, with people from very different backgrounds and rather different opinions talking about a diverse range of things. Ed Keller of the New School and Ben Goertzel of the OpenCog Foundation did a great job bringing all these voices together, and I hope it happens again.

If the embedded link doesn’t carry the timestamp properly, my talk begins at 1:55:31 or thereabouts. The whole of the symposium is available on youtube for your viewing pleasure.

PS: The slides for the talk are available here.

#AGI: Accelerate General Intellect (etc.)

For those who don’t have easy access to facebook, here is the programme for the #AGI: Accelerate General Intellect event being organised by the New Centre in conjunction with the New School’s Future of Mind conference next week. As you can see, I’m first up on Monday morning. Advance Warning: I’m going to be pretty badly jet-lagged and coming out of a 22 hour flight from Johannesburg to NYC (via London) the day before. The abstracts and suggested reading for my seminar are available here.

I’m also going to be talking at the Miguel Abreu Gallery on the 26th of July, as part of an event titled ‘Images, Information, and Meaning’ kindly organised by Joshua Johnson. The details of this can also be found below. My talk will be developing some themes from my essay ‘The Artist’s Brain at Work’ in conversation with Claire Lehmann, whose essay ‘Color Goes Electric’ provides an intriguing contrast.

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The Joys of a Whiteboard

Photo on 14-07-2016 at 14.34

I’m not going to attempt to explain much of what’s going on here, other than to say it’s a taste of things to come. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about the duality between intuitionistic logic (IL) and co-intuitionistic logic (CIL) over the last few months, after Lucca Fraser got me hooked on it in Berlin a few years ago. I’ve also spent a lot of time thinking about its applicability to type theory, and this is the current state of my thinking regarding the relation between IL/CIL in the flavour of sequent calculus used in type theory and various logics in the flavour used in categorical model theory. There’s probably several embarrassing errors in here, but as with anything, it’s important to overcome the fear of embarrassment before you can do anything interesting!

Experience Points

Greetings from the Southern hemisphere! I have now arrived in South Africa to take up a position as a postdoctoral research fellow in the Philosophy Department at the University of Johannesburg. I haven’t met most of my colleagues yet, and I’m off to New York for some speaking events next week (see below), but I’m very much looking forward to being part of an academic community again. I’ve spent far too long in the wilderness. There is a lot I want to do in the year (or more) that I’m going to be here: from just generally getting my life in order and building up some positive habits, to teaching myself some more abstract mathematics and concrete applications thereof. However, my main focus is to convert as much of the unpublished work I’ve done over the last decade into things that can be published in journals and thereby converted into academic experience points. For better or worse, I’m on the professional equivalent of a dungeon crawl. At least I’ve got some fellow adventurers to come researching with me, and who is to say there won’t be some interesting loot to find along the way?

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