Philosophy and the Mind
28 Oct 2014

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)

Strategy 1 (constructing a navigational or ramifying account of history):
Rather than assuming that truth is in the past–the obtained knowledge–philosophy dislodges the site of truth from the past–the origin and what has already taken place–to the future. If truth is characterized by its spatiotemporal site in the game of navigation, then to identify truth with what has already taken place or the past is both a metaphysical bias against the reality of time and a logical dogma against the site of truth. As we have argued, the consequences of this logical dogma is the epistemic maiming of the mind.
By permanently moving the site of truth to the future where (1) there is no accumulation of empirical footprint (hence, unshackling truth from empirical dogmatism) and (2) from which the reality of time is expressed as the asymmetry and the excess of destinations over the origin or what has already taken place, philosophy introduces a new outlook on moving through history. Moving from the past to the future either as a result of privileging what has already taken place (the origin over destinations, a deeper foundation over a broader evolution) or as a result of proceeding from the historical truth situated in the past is the very condition of the unipathic structure and the monotonic logic.
By endorsing the bias that we must proceed from the site of accumulated information and under the general condition of preserving the invariant traits of this spatial, temporal, causal or epistemic accumulation, unipathicity and monotonicity turn the conventional model of history as the path from the past toward the future into a disabling condition for the evolution of the mind in the broadest possible sense. To think along this path is to integrate the principle of conservation of ignorance-without-acknowledgement within the very logic of socio-historical development as a different (social) realization of the mind. Overemphasis on the epistemic entrenchment of what we already know or the knowledge of what has already taken place leads to the epistemic maiming that forestalls not only the future of knowledge but also distorts recognition of history both as recollection of the past and orientation toward future.
The blindness of the mind toward its own progressive incapacitation is reinscribed at the level of historical processes where the historical development is increasingly drained of its possibilities of action and understanding. Thinking on history–recognition of history as recollection of the past and orientation toward the future–in this sense becomes tantamount to the maiming of the mind insofar as the two are tightly integrated via a network of general and specific practices. The unipathicity and monotonicity inherent to an account of history and historical truth realized as the path from the past or the origin toward the future preclude the very possibility of understanding and acting on history as a navigational terrain. And if the navigational structure that comprises of exploration and coordination of theoretical reasoning and practical reasoning, of truth and of goodness, is the condition of freedom–both epistemic and social–then the unipathic account of history has only very limited resources for a genuine freedom.
If the mind in the broadest possible sense evolves not only through but also in response to history, which conditions and nourishes it, then without a navigational or exploratory account of history, the evolution of the mind is by default restricted. An impoverished concept of history leads to an impoverished, epistemically maimed and evolutionarily limited mind. The dire socio-political implications of this correlation are yet to be adequately diagnosed particularly because the mind, by the virtue of its practical decomposability, not only encompasses the cognitive mind but also the mind as an intersubjective social community of norm-consumers and norm-producers i.e. mind as a social project.
By letting loose its corrosive skepticism against the temporal site of truth and the unipathic-monotonic account of history, philosophy points to a navigational account of history. According to this navigational account, the revisionary import of the future-situated truth becomes a basis for the cultivation of the tendencies of the past, with the present being the site where the effects of revision and cultivation become manifest. Only a politics informed by this exploratory or navigational account of history is capable of unbinding the prospects of the mind in the broadest possible sense and thereby unlocking hidden abilities of the mind as a socio-historical and practice-based project.
Lacking a navigational concept of history, to think in terms of historical development (whether through dialectical materialism or fatalism of technological singularity) is to further widen the deficit of ignorance-awareness at the level of history. It is this gaping deficit that manifests as descriptive and explanatory impoverishment with regard to historical processes. The immediate expression of this descriptive-explanatory impoverishment is the prescriptive inconsequentiality concerning how possibly we can recognize and act on history.
All one can hope for is either the feeble resignation in favor of the ordinary–the poor man’s Gelassenheit–or technocapitalist defeatism, if not simply trifling exercises in localist solutions. It is under this impoverishing model of history that Marxism today for the most part has attributes of a fear-mongering cult and Marxists feel more at home to self-identify themselves as the Brothers Grimm of cautionary tales rather than forces of the future. In order to reopen Marxism to the future without eliciting a pathological futurist eschatology, it is necessary to have a navigational and commitment-oriented model of history not only to broaden the scope of action and understanding but also to explore various ramifications of the reciprocal influence between history and the evolution of the mind in the broadest possible sense.
What the knowing subject should be afraid of is what it already knows not what it doesn’t. In the same fashion, what the collective subject should be wary of is the knowledge of history as the knowledge of the past and action solely in accordance with this knowledge. Because whether it manifests as an implicitly or explicitly temporal register, the background knowledge is susceptible to being a locus of epistemic disablement. Just as knowledge is a mode of navigation, history at its base is the exploration of time.
Navigation or exploratory procedures are only possible in multipathic environments. For this reason, they are incompatible with unipathicity, be it a unipathic horizon of knowledge or a unipathic account of history for which the historical link is always extended from the past qua origin. This is because prospects of action and understanding in unipathic environments are limited to options that are strongly in conformity with the accumulated resources of knowledge insofar as they are constrained to preserve the truth-values of an overdetermining informational organization. But this preservation is always at the cost of either actively ignoring or being passively blind to possible alternative paths or modes of organization. This is why unipathic links in history are distinctly impoverished, both from the perspective of their epistemic purchase and their capacity for action and organization. Short of epistemic insight and facilities for organizing action and reorienting social organizations, the unipathic history in which the present should preserve the origin or is either epistemically or socially anchored in the past (or the accumulated knowledge of history) is destitute of the possibility of any genuine change.
In unipathic history, any genuine change is always experienced in the form of a disruption or an irruption occasioned by the suppression of alternatives. It is in this sense that both the Landian technocapitalist singularity and Meillassoux’s absolute contingency and scientific messianism are the same expressions of an exceptionally impoverished or unipathic account of history. Since both the mind and philosophy essentially have histories, the impoverishment of history translates into nothing other than the destitution of thought and the retardation of the mind’s evolution as the unity of its meaning and realization.
Crisis only befalls essentially self-conscious creatures endowed with history. What these creatures take themselves to be, their self-conception, is an essential component of what they are in themselves – that is, their self-transformation. Although self-conception and self-transformation have their respective know-hows, constraints and special practices, any positive or negative difference in self-conception translates into a corresponding effect in self-transformation. Once the dynamic link between self-conception and self-transformation is compromised for any reason either because of a wrong self-conception or the lack of coordination between conception and transformation, pathologies of history set in. However, since creatures endowed with history are entangled within the environment through which they conceive and transform themselves, their pathological history – if they have given rise to one – express themselves in the very environment they engage in understanding and action. The planetary crises from climate deterioration to regional concentrations of human misery are in essence the results of pathologies of history stemmed from the corrupted link between self-conception and self-transformation. The solutions to these quandaries lie neither in giving up self-conception and doing away with an amplified understanding nor in dispensing with the interventive conduct of self-transformation.
Strategy 2 (adapting to new configurations of temporality):
Rather than bringing to an end what it has already acquired and putting it to rest, philosophy attempts to–by any means possible–prevent its acquired knowledge-bases from settling. In other words, it fashions a new model of knowledge in which knowledge is far from being settled, not only because there is a future knowledge to be acquired but also because the past knowledge must perpetually undergo transition without ever being concluded. In other words, the perpetual and permanent state of agitation necessary to the navigational paradigm of knowledge requires a new abstraction of time according to which knowledge should remain inconclusive both in the past and in the future.
Time is edgeless, so is the edifice of knowledge. Just as time does not privilege temporal density – since such privileging is a metaphysical bias–so does knowledge refuse to endorse any specific temporal density of information for to do otherwise is to commit the crime of faith in the name of knowledge.
The philosophical diagnosis is roughly like this: The structure of knowledge as decided by unipathicity and monotonicity is determined at its base by a specific abstraction of time as characterized by uniqueness and chronological orientation from the past qua the origin toward the future. If the accumulation and production of knowledge is spatially structured according to the abstraction of temporal ordering, then abstraction of time has a direct and decisive role in how knowledge-bases can be organized, accessed or updated. Biased or restrictive abstractions of time respectively distort the epistemic activities of the mind, limit the manipulability and access to knowledge-bases and abnormally constrain the space of possibilities for actions.
Deficit of ignorance-awareness, canonicity of truth and navigational blind spots stem from distortions implicit in metaphysically biased abstractions of time. Now in order to mitigate these disabling conditions in the production of knowledge and the evolution of the mind, the abstraction of time specific to the structure of unipathicity and the logic of monotonicity must be countered with a new abstraction of time.
Philosophy has a solution for this: it integrates this new abstraction of time directly into the procedure of commitment-making that drives it, the revisionary stance that cultivates it and the principle of deep skepticism that allows it to corrode any absolute metaphysical or logical foundation even that of its own. In order to enter the game of navigation in earnest, an abstraction of time compatible with the revisionary compulsion of the navigational paradigm, its non-monotonicity, multipathicity (ramified paths) and the asymmetry between the content of commitments and their initial premises must be developed. In its commitment to expand the functional evolution of the mind in the broadest possible sense and to fulfill the criteria of the game of navigation, philosophy thinks time backwards. This is the abstraction of time that philosophy endorses.
But in order to think time backwards, it is necessary to break the structure of reflectivity provided by the unipathic structure of the time from the past qua origin toward the future. Reflection in this sense is the backward thinking of time, not thinking time backwards. It still employs a reverse arrow of time but through a conception of the present that preserves the past, either under the heading of empirical-causal priorities (first come, more real) or a reflexively recuperated history. Philosophy on the other hand think times backwards not from the present looking back at the past, but from multiple destinations in the future arriving in the past. If the reality of time is freely expressed by the asymmetry and excess of future destinations over the origin and its discontinuity to what has already taken place, then in thinking time backwards from the future to the past philosophy mimics the very structure of time.
The mimicking of time allows philosophy to show itself as a thought procedure fully adapted to the reality of time. It sees every concept from the perspective of its ramified paths, every commitment from the revisionary viewpoint of its future ramifications, the functional space of ought as a force that reconstitutes and interferes with its causal space or ‘what it is’. In this fashion, philosophy more than just proposes history should be explored according to ‘what things ought to be’ rather than ‘what they are’. By suggesting that the order of ought has the capacity to alter the order of is, philosophy offers an interventive account of history. It is in the light of the latter that philosophy recognizes history as the proper environment for the emergence of functional autonomy and a self-realizing account of intelligence as the link between reason and freedom consolidated in the game of navigation.
The knowledge of history–as trivial as it may sound–pairs the evolution of the mind with the expansion of knowledge through the social domain. By making it possible for the social to know what to think and what to do and by coupling the social mind with (the) recognitive-cognitive knowledge, the knowledge of history points toward the advent of social intelligence as a new epoch in the evolution of intelligence. Social intelligence is the ultimate phase for mobilization of knowledge where knowing and intervening, intelligence and emancipation are essentially linked. It is a form of intelligence that liberates new demands and opportunities of ‘what to think’ and ‘what to do’ by theoretically and practically engaging with the question of what it means to have a history, what it means to reorient, reconstitute and repurpose that history through the social’s present recognitive attitudes toward the past and the future.
A history that is incapable of altering its contingent constitution is not history; it is only nature replete with the order of ‘is’. It is according to such a distinction that philosophy sees the mind as that which has a history rather than a nature because it is capable of reconstituting its causal natural order. The mind, thus, realizes itself outside of mere teleology or causal optimization prevalent in nature. History begins with the gesticulation of a disequilibrium that enables a deviation from nature’s order of patterns. In this sense, history’s order of ends is not simply the extension of patterns in nature.
If possession of a self-constituting history is the yardstick of freedom, by bequeathing the mind a history rather than a nature, philosophy sets out for the most consequential event in the history of thought. This is the self-realization of the mind as the organon of freedom. But once the mind is furnished with a history capable of reconstituting itself and interfering with its own contingently posited settings, its freedom takes shape as its multiple realizability–that is, the possibility of the realization of ‘what counts as the mind’ in different contexts, by different means and for different purposes. This is the characteristics of creatures-endowed-with-history: what they will be is not the extension of what they currently are or what they have been, for what they will be is conceived from what they take themselves as what they ought to be and not what they are. They are parts of a future that writes its own past.
The mind–as a set of practices whose parallel execution and functional integration count as ‘what the mind is’–can be implemented not only by different physical substrates but also by different modes of organization and communities of rational agencies. But this is not an unconstrained account of multiple realizability that (erroneously) suggests infinite functional equivalents of the mind or its thoroughgoing diffusion in everything. Simply put, it does not suggest that the mind can be realized by everything or any material-organizational substrate. Here the multiple realizability is constrained by the realism of history. In other words, the realizability of the mind as a practical project is under constraints and specificities set by history in the context of contingencies, local exigencies, how social practices can be organized or what they consist in, etc. Succinctly speaking, it is multiply realizable to the extent that it is multiply constrained by the realism of history and social realizability.
To think time backwards from the future to the past is to think the mind as having a self-constituting history rather than a nature. To furnish mind with a history that can simultaneously be cultivated and revised is to envisage the mind as the very implement of freedom. This is freedom as the ability to design and adapt to new regimes of purpose constructed through oughts of action and understanding where freedom is formulated as freedom to do something (an obligation). Yet even more, to think the mind as the organon of freedom is to explore the possibilities of realizing the mind by different modes of organization and for different purposes, or more precisely, for different oughts. A mind capable of exploring the possibilities of its own reconstruction and multiple realizability is indeed a self-realizing mind. The evolution of a self-realizing mind suggests its functional expansion and organizational diversification. This is a mind that at different times and with different emphases has been introduced under different names: the nous, the spirit’s odyssey, the augmented intellect or the self-apprehending general intelligence.