Philosophy and the Mind
28 Oct 2014

Philosophy and the Mind

Reza Negarestani

An extract from my forthcoming essay What Philosophy Does to the Mind (Knowledge, History and the Mind) – to be published in Centers and Peripheries. In some way, this essay is the continuation of The Labor of the Inhuman:


Philosophy is archenemy of the obvious. Even though philosophy frequently falls in the trap of the obvious, it has the habit of always coming back to exact a revenge on what is obvious in a manner and the scale not dissimilar to the epic culmination of Jacobean revenge dramas. Unlike any other thought discipline known to man, philosophy never closes the circle of its revenge. It is characterized by its perpetual refusal to put any matter to rest. This absolute recalcitrance bespeaks of the corrosive blood that runs through the body of philosophy, which is that of the principle of deep skepticism: Knowledge must be suspicious of what it already knows. To know more is to believe less, the more we know the less should we believe in what we know. If the task of belief is to turn the accumulated knowledge into a regulative foundation and respectively, a matter of faith, then the progress of knowledge is by definition retroactively aborted. For how can one acquire new knowledge if the knowledge that has already been accumulated is treated as the locus of truth?

If the site of truth is in what has already taken place, then knowledge only exhibits the truth-preservation of classical qua logical rationality, and thus violates the first objective of knowledge, which is that ‘one knows because one does not know.’ But, ‘to know’ is to preserve and mitigate ignorance at the same time, a dual task whose logical structure is at odds with the monotonicity of truth-preservation embedded in classical logic.

The monotonic entailment of truth-preservation functions precisely by conserving ignorance in its very logic–it ignores the possibility of what it is ignorant of. This is the principle of conservation of ignorance without acknowledging it or what can be called the ‘deficit of ignorance-awareness’. The principle of conservation-without-acknowledgement is the functional model of an epistemically maimed mind; it is a mind that empowers itself by choosing to operate primarily on the basis of accumulated and well-stabilized information and in so doing, turning ‘what it knows’ into a blind spot against ‘what it doesn’t’. In such a scenario, further generation of knowledge equals further degeneration of the mind and its epistemic incapacitation. The pitfalls of knowledge become the maladies of the mind and the maladies of the mind become social disabilities in knowing what to think and what to do. No mind by itself has a defense mechanism against the ‘epistemic maiming’ inflicted by its own spatiotemporal approach to truth and information. It is for this reason that only deep skepticism, or at least the strategies that undergird it, can save the mind from its self-inflicted epistemic maiming.

From a navigational perspective, any account of truth that is situated in the past and reinforces the dogma of ‘knowing more equals trusting more in the truth of what we know’ suffers from a unipathic structure or navigational uniqueness. It is unipathic since in order to preserve truth, it must maximally stabilize the transit of truth values by ignoring any other possible path that might invalidate the preserved truth. Hence the mapping and approaching truth is determined in advance.

But the rule-governed game of navigation endorses no unique path and no map drawn in advance, not only is it multipathic but it also does not leave unchanged any address or path taken in the past itinerary. Its ramifying structure includes not only what ought to be navigated (the consequent content of the commitment), but also encompasses what has already been navigated (the antecedent commitments or the premises of the commitment as such). In other words, in the game of navigation, ramification is universal and it is this universality that keeps knowledge in the permanent state of agitation–a landscape with a shifting scenery or a transitory ontology upon which no foundation or navigational preconception can be imposed.

Whereas the unipathicity (i.e. the uniqueness of path) of truth-preservation is secured by ignoring possible or hypothetical navigational paths or transits, the principle of deep skepticism is equipped with a tentative rationalism required for deviating from the unipathic navigational approach so as to be able to activate and acknowledge the condition of ignorance and respectively mitigate it. This is the underlying logic of non-monotonic reasoning in which ramification of every qualitatively organized site of information into cascading paths creates a universal revisionary wave that perpetually reassess and alter any conclusion reached or information organized. Knowledge is not about centralizing the accumulated known but about qualitatively organizing information, navigating the space of concept, developing supple and revisable conceptual patchworks, updating and accessing through various modes the existing knowledge-bases without regarding them as immutable foundations. For knowledge, the crisis of foundations is an emancipative prospect.

According to the monotonic structure of unipathicity, which works from the viewpoint of epistemic entrenchment, the increase in the qualitatively organized information–in the form of premises or axioms–results in the increase in theorems (i.e. further establishment of the known). But the non-monotonic structure of navigation as a ramifying procedure does not permit such a symmetry between ‘to know’ and ‘the known’. This is but the navigational reformulation of deep skepticism in which ‘to know’ does not necessarily make any positive difference in ‘the known qua the accumulated knowledge’. Under the condition of non-monotonicity, addition of new premises fundamentally revises the old conclusions and does not bolster the epistemic entrenchment.

Deep skepticism accordingly is the sharpening of the defeasibility inherent to the non-monotonicity in the realm of the mind itself. It suggests that all insights of the mind into the inner workings of the world must be deflected or rendered defeasible by the insights of the mind into its own inner workings. While at the same time, it simultaneously proposes that all insights of the mind into its inner workings must be revised and deflected by the insights into the workings of the world which condition the workings of the mind.

To put it differently, deep skepticism builds orientational passages (or adjoint vectors) between the workings of mind and the workings of the world (M⇄W). The adjoint vectors or the adjunction symbolized by a left and a right arrow signify the broadening and integrative aspects of deep skepticism that at once deepens the scientific image of the world and leads to a more corrected and sophisticated manifest image of ourselves and establishes a stereoscopic coherence between them.

Deminishing the obvious qua the blind spot in all its forms is only possible by radically disturbing the equilibrium and breaking the symmetric relation between ‘knowing’ and ‘the already known’. The concomitant scrutinizing of the world by looking into the mind and inquiring into the mind by looking into the world constitute the navigational attitude of deep skepticism as adopted by philosophy. It is in this sense that deep skepticism, rather than being an impediment or refutation of knowledge, becomes a catalyst for the expansion of knowledge and the evolution of the mind; it perpetually set frees the game of navigation from its foundationalist commitments, blind spots, epistemic entrenchments and navigational pre-conceptions. For knowledge neither requires a foundation nor a positive differential relation between ‘knowing’ and ‘the known’ in order to expand its frontiers.

According to the skeptical current of philosophy, it is the truth of the acquired knowledge that occasions the blind spot against the truth of future of knowledge. The unipathic approach to truth establishes a model of mind as a self-reinforcing vicious circle blind to the progressive impoverishment of its own capacities. In reality, the more it knows the less it knows because the more of the new is nothing but the more of the same. Once the old or obtained knowledge is established as a regulative foundation–a matter of belief–all it produces is more of the same. It only reproduces itself qua foundation. It is the parochial loop of ‘the more we know the more should we trust in what we know’ that fuels the skeptical revenge of philosophy.

However, in order to inhibit the conversion of knowledge into belief and more importantly, in order to prevent the entrenchment of unipathicity, philosophy adopts two interconnected strategies. As we shall see, beneath the surface character of these strategies lies a different mode of adaptation to the reality of time as the chronic truth of philosophy:

(continue reading the excerpt)