An Analytical Sketch
A. The Inception of Meta-Technology
B. Superseding Scientific Civilization
C. The Framework of Objectivity
D. Contesting Survival Constraints
E. Cognitive Nihilism as an Orientation
F. Unstable Cultural Structures as Resources
G. The Shape of Meta-Technology's Results
I. Meta-Technology and the Self
J. Personhood Theory in the Light of Meta-Technology
Appendix. 1980 Sketches of Meta-Technology
Appendix. Cognitive Nihilism
Appendix. Positivism's Bias Against the Self
A. The Inception of Meta-Technology
I first expounded meta-technology in a talk in Stockholm in October 1979. I completed that talk as an essay in December 1979. This text, together with several of my texts from 1980, provided a rather substantial prospect of meta-technology. I list the unpublished 1980 titles in an Appendix.
The early definition of meta-technology ran as follows:
Meta-technology is a technology whose field of action is the determination of reality. It proceeds by unbelief-by decrease in credulity relative to the prevailing culture. It employs
- decreases in credulity relative to "the evaluational processing of experience"
- contradictions possessing experiential content; and contradictions in socially necessary conceptual systems
- processes at the undisplaced, unreduced interface of awareness and objectivity.
In 1984, I offered the following elaboration:
Meta-technology selects already-recognized phenomena-often inter-personally comparable subjective phenomena like the perceptual illusions, the fact of dreaming, etc.-utilizing these phenomena in constructs which break the framework of objectivity.
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B. Superseding Scientific Civilization
It is out of the question to characterize meta-technology exhaustively in a few pages. That is because it stems from, or is enabled by, several prior trains of insights which are original with me (so that they themselves require generous expositions). I can only assume the availability of the rest of my writings, and devote the present essay to reviewing some of meta-technology's distinguishing features.
My very reasons for borrowing the word technology derive from the just-mentioned trains of insights and are not understandable otherwise. While the term meta-technology is fully appropriate to my purposes, it may suggest something to the unprepared reader which is far from my intentions. The term may suggest that I am in a hurry for pragmatically implemented knowledge. But my choice of the term meta-technology has nothing to do with quick pragmatic results. (Meta-technology might be centuries away from the shop floor-and actually, there wouldn't be any shop floors.)
I use the word technology because I prefer not to call my new intellectual modalities "science." This disinclination for the word science reflects original, basic philosophical positions. I prefer not to call my investigations "science" because my goal is not a stable affirmative creed. (I will elaborate this observation thoroughly as I proceed.)
I have long insisted that esthetic postures cannot overmaster the objectification and depersonalization of scientific civilization. The Romantic revolt, Surrealism, and their successors-the poet's refusal, the plunge into irrationalism, the affirmation of defeat-were limited to compensation. Indeed, the esthetic of delirium ended by importing technological depersonalization into the "humanities." (MTV, cyberpunk, etc.).
The question for me is the transition to a different, post-scientific civilization-or perhaps I should say a mode of life beyond the series of civilizations. For me, that requires new approaches concerning
- factual reality,
- integration of the life-world, and
- technology (instrumental activity).
The new modalities I am concerned with here are called meta-technology because they provide (primarily) not a manipulation of matter, but a manipulation of conceptual paths, "rotating" the manipulation of matter. Meanwhile, my aim is not a stable affirmative creed. Rather, it is to metamorphose factual reality, integration of the life-world, and instrumental practice.
Whether the series of civilizations will be superseded depends primarily on how we address the way in which the mode of instrumental efficacy defines civilization. In 1980, replying in an essay to Heidegger's "existential phenomenology," I called for using the "configurations or junctures of humanness" to challenge the monopoly of thing-centeredness on instrumental cognition.
I could imagine a willfully ignorant approach to my work which seized on my U.S. nationality and my use of the word technology and said that my choice of technology as the central issue was typical American pragmatism. Such a judgment would thoughtlessly repeat a cliché about the U.S.-ignoring every substantive feature of my perspective. This attitude would make it impossible to notice a single meta-technological solution.
Formally, meta-technology consists of instrumental procedures whose field of action is (not matter, but) the cultural determination of reality. Meta-technology has the character of a series of inventions (sometimes in the realm of conceptualization)-inventions which exploit the instabilities in the prevailing culture's framework of objectivity.
For clarity, I should say that meta-technology is only at a rudimentary stage today-or even at a less than rudimentary stage. I have a series of individual studies or solutions. Each is a proximate, tangible phenomenon which provides a defeat of principle to the framework of objectivity, a defeat which the framework cannot co-opt. These solutions are not of a uniform sort: some derive from critiques of advanced scientific theories; some derive from critiques of vernacular "knowledge"; some invoke perceptions and build on perceptual anomalies; some concern the entirety of interpersonally comparable private experience and the socially mandatory hierarchical distinctions imposed on such experience. None of these individual solutions has pragmatic value yet. Only in the course of a long period of cross-potentiation and "social" change would the rudimentary procedures become pragmatically significant.
If one wanted an analogue of meta-technology from the scientific culture which meta-technology seeks to overmaster, one might choose Leibniz's anticipation of mathematical logic-or Descartes' invention of coordinate geometry. Coordinate geometry had the form of a specific, problem-solving invention-which, however, was cross-potentiated with the rest of mathematics and with physics. Human instrumental capability was advanced by a new way of conceiving.
Meta-technology has nothing to to with literary theses, or with commentaries on the humanistic classics. What this means is that one cannot appreciate meta-technology by learning literary positions. One must peruse the long and diverse inventory of specific meta-technological studies and solutions.
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C. The Framework of Objectivity
I use the phrase framework of objectivity heuristically. It cannot be my task to define it precisely, because that would require me to defend an outlook which I consider to be incoherent. In all fairness, though, I must hint at what this inherited outlook comprises.
- Claims that meanings are established objectively.
- Claims to provide consistent, stable affirmative theories-or certainties.
- Claims to establish the existence of objectivities.
- The ranking of subjective experiences by their degree of "realism" (their degree of correspondence to the common-sense world). (And relative to which an individual's different "states of consciousness" can be organized into the objective career of an individual, a linear "life.")
- Claims to define and cognize a universe without subjectivity, a universe with the reality-type of an external object or totality of external objects. In particular,
Mathematics: a self-subsistent universe of abstractions with the reality-type of objects.
Physics: a universe with the reality-type of an external object.
Elaborating on the universe without subjectivity, I don't want to begin writing a history of natural philosophy, mathematics, and science here, but there are landmarks in objectification which should be mentioned.
- The positing by various pre-Socratics that the universe is a self-subsistent external substance, such as water.
- Archimedes' investigation of a universe packed full of sand.
- The law of inertia's fantasy of an infinite empty universe.
- Gödel's arithmetization of syntax: becomes a claim of the self-subsistent reality of arithmetic.
- Tarski on the infinite number of linguistic expressions:
the class of all expressions is infinite ... From the intuitive standpoint this may seem doubtful and hardly evident ... Normally expressions are regarded as the products of human activity (or as classes of such products). From this standpoint the supposition that there are infinitely many expressions appears to be obviously nonsensical. But another possible interpretation of the term 'expression' presents itself: we could consider all physical bodies of a particular form and size as expressions. The kernel of the problem is then transferred to the domain of physics. The assertion of the infinity of the number of expressions is then no longer senseless and even forms a special consequence of the hypotheses which are normally adopted in physics or in geometry.
A. Tarski, Logic, Semantics, Metamathematics, p. 174
- J.A. Wheeler on the physical world:
Physics is by definition that which does go on its eternal way despite all the shadowy changes in the surface appearance of reality.
Misner, Thorne, Wheeler Gravitation (1973), pp. 1196-7
- Marvin Minsky's vehement rejection of the notion of (subjective) choice in The Society of Mind (1986), p. 307.
In no way did Brouwer's "solipsism," or quantum mechanics' enthroning of "the observer," dilute the framework of objectivity. (Brouwer and quantum mechanics, however, may hint at interesting vulnerabilities.)
The meta-technological inventions break the framework: they provide defeats of principle to the framework, defeats which the framework cannot co-opt. They do so without deceptions of credulity and suggestibility; that is, without any additions to the prevailing culture's credulity.
In 1984, I explicated breaking the framework as producing a juncture which cannot be assimilated to the ontology of science and logicism. But that explication was far too weak, since such junctures always existed: human consciousness, human choice, natural language, historical relativism of approaches to mathematics. (Cf. Spengler's counterposition of Greek and modern mathematics.) These junctures do not break the framework: somehow, they are too familiar. They have been rendered invisible by centuries of denial and attempted co-optation.
It is also inadequate to suppose that every defeat for the framework has meta-technological significance. An attempt to rebut mathematics by deriving unwanted results from accredited premises discovers that mathematics arose by co-opting such unwanted results. That was the theme of my "Anti-Mathematics" (which analyzed a historical course already recorded in e.g. Morris Kline, Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times). When it comes to Hilbert's Second Problem, the distinction is crucial. A professionally legitimate negative solution to Hilbert's Second Problem would be co-opted. In order to "kill" mathematics, one has to initiate a discourse more embracing than a professional inconsistency proof. I had said that in 1980 in the projected Chapter II of "Anti-Mathematics."
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D. Contesting Survival Constraints
Meta-technology is probably most understandable to the contemporary reader if I explain it by counterposing to the prevailing culture. However, this approach requires some major qualifications. In the first place, there are opinions and theories which are espoused only by gullible minorities, and which the larger society dispenses with. Astrology; Existentialism. These theories are not worth elaborate rebuttals; and are not what I mean by the prevailing culture. Moreover, by "the prevailing culture" I do not mean literary fads, or the classics of humanism. It is not by quibbling with literary icons that meta-technology develops.
The prevailing culture, as I mean it, consists of
The survival constraints which one continually reconstructs in lived experience. Manifest causal lore: if I drop this drinking glass it will shatter. Such lore involves both habituated perceptual interpretations and the socially necessary world-picture called common sense. (The relation between the perceptual realm and common sense is tortured and ideologically denied.)
Common sense posits tenets about external objects, "palpable" space, "palpable" time, causation, other minds, natural language. (Common sense is inescapable in everyday existence and ordinary social interaction. Not only that; it codifies the reality cognized by the social sciences. Not only that, it is the "operational world" on which the physical sciences build.)
A crucial survival skill or competence is the practice of ranking subjective experiences according to the degree to which they represent the common-sense world. (Dream, illusion, hallucination, etc.)
Actually, this is the place to explain my phrase "grading of experience" rigorously. One has a pre-learned reality-hierarchy, and continually assigns one's particular experiences to this hierarchy to validate the hierarchy. Dreams are assigned as sleeping hallucinations (low in the hierarchy) which may echo previous waking experience (high in the hierarchy). Hypnagogic imagery is assigned as a hallucination of drowsiness. Perceptions during a psychedelic episode are hallucinations of intoxication. Perceptual illusions, already stigmatized by being called illusions, are ascribed to design flaws in one's organs of perception. Shadows, which give visible cues of objects without being objects, require an external explanation and a visual method for discounting them. Everything which seemingly belies the reality-picture is given an explanation which validates the picture.
Not to bow to Husserl, but he expressed this very idea from the standpoint of an apologist of conventional reality. Paraphrasing Ideas, §49:
By putting perceptual incongruities in their proper
place, more widely connected systems are always
enabled to maintain the harmony of the whole.
The interconnections among private experience, normative perceptual comprehension, common sense, and scientific ontology are tortured and are ideologically denied in the prevailing culture.
The socially unavoidable "cognitive" competences: natural language; elementary arithmetic and geometry (carpentry, surveying); the vernacular logic coded in natural-language connectives. These competences are highly interconnected with the survival constraints; yet the prevailing ideology denies the
The advanced sciences enter because their results establish survival constraints at the common-sense level: X-rays; atomic bombs; new viral infections; synthetic psychotropic drugs. (Let me emphasize that the relation between the advanced sciences and common sense is tortured and ideologically denied.) So it is that meta-technology takes the theoretical superstructures of the sciences seriously as target doctrines-while it ignores astrology, for example.
Counterposing to these conceptual structures, then, is not a matter of counterposing to a fad of the salons, or to a celebrity, but to one's learned skills of survival, of perception, and of social interaction. To dethrone one or another intellectual celebrity is a trivial ambition. If all of the superstitious cliques and all of the fads in the contemporary world could be discarded as boring-as Existentialism has been-that would not contribute a single result to meta-technology.
Suppose a detractor says that meta-technology is not important because one or another of
pragmatic causality in the life-world
elementary arithmetic and geometry
the socially inescapable world-picture called common sense
is plebeian and has already been invalidated by a recherché fad.
Or suppose that a detractor says that advanced scientific ideas have already been disproved by a recherché theory.
The detractor, then, might say that meta-technology is trivial because
- we have already transcended the world in which drinking glasses shatter when they are dropped; or in which one flips a switch if one wants to light an overhead electric bulb
- nobody believes in mundane objects such as loaves of bread or indoor plumbing any more
- visual illusions of length etc. are too pedestrian to worry about
- nobody believes 1+1 = 2 any more
- Einstein's theory of relativity is obviously false
- we are already beyond atomic bombs, which are an obvious hoax
I want to make an object-lesson of this dismissiveness. A person who says any of the preceding things in order to set aside meta-technology is either claiming that a cataclysmic intellectual revolution has just now taken place-or else is an unforgivable fool.
Einstein's theory of relativity is not obviously false in contemporary civilization. To have the authority to say that it is false at all, one would have to have just now promulgated a cataclysmic revolution in physics. To have the authority to say that 1+1 = 2 has been disproved, one would have to have already made a towering contribution to the very meta-technology which I envision. (None of my detractors has done any such thing.) To have the authority to say that drinking glasses never shatter when they are dropped, one would have to have exited from the known universe. To have the authority to say that Einstein's theory is obviously false, one would have to live in a community in which the average person could disable atomic bombs at will by mental operations.
When the scientistic superciliousness of an Ayer, Tarski, or Popper (or the literary snideness of a Derrida) is deployed to dismiss meta-technology, cocktail-party ploys are being used to stifle genuinely transformative inquiry. My detractors' goals concern personal encounters at cocktail parties; one seeks to humiliate one's conversational partner by bluffing. It does not matter to them that it will all be forgotten a day later.
Again, meta-technology doesn't joust with cocktail-party guests or intellectual celebrities. It "jousts with" the survival skills and cognitive competences which you have internalized from the prevailing culture. Culturally correlated survival constraints of the life-world are the issue. These are solutions which you continually reproduce or re-derive in lived experience.
The foregoing needs to be stated in another way for its full import to be evident. Scientific cognition accepts the operational world (accepts it as impenetrably obscure, actually) and builds experimental-theoretical superstructures on it. Once science has a tradition, "scientific revolutions" conserve that tradition-recombining inherited solutions, or embroidering the theoretical superstructure.
Meta-technology addresses the prevailing culture in a comprehensively different way-proposing to metamorphose the operational world. Meta-technology metamorphoses lived experience or factual reality directly at the level of perceptual comprehension and common sense. Anything less than that could not deliver us from objectifying civilization. To tinker with perceptual comprehension and common sense comes into conflict with the prevailing definition of sanity. But again, anything less could not deliver us from objectifying civilization. I will mention the issue of sanity again in §H below.
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E. Cognitive Nihilism as an Orientation
Having sketched the ambient structures which meta-technology counterposes to, let me speak now of the insights which meta-technology derives from. Meta-technology is an expressing of cognitive nihilism. Insofar as it proceeds by implanting in the prevailing culture, it constitutes principled hypocracy.
Meta-technology expresses cognitive nihilism by viewing the structures of an advanced civilization in the perspective of the negative universal result on cognition.
Proceeding via principled hypocracy, the negative universal result furnishes the following hints:
impossibility of a consistent affirmative theory
impossibility of establishing the existence of an objectivity
[impossibility of totalizing objectification]
Vertical contradictions, in particular, offer the prospect of undercutting quasi-consistent theories. There is a vertical contradiction through a proposition if it is inconsistent at the level of how it is known to be true. One seeks to undercut a quasi-consistent theory as follows. Retract one's perspective on the theory from the "horizontal plane" (object-level derivability)-or from a compass which shields the theory's context. Expose a knowing self-deception-or a vertical contradiction through a central proposition. (E.g. "There is at least one utterance." ) Then code the vertical contradiction in a horizontal inconsistency derivation. Admittedly, this scheme is only science fiction today. Also, it might depend on results from my critique of the Carnap-Montague Diagonalization Lemma, also unfinished.
Another avenue is radical empiricism: narrowing of the frame to immediate experience; a "flattening" of experience by decrease of credulity. Such a flattening of experience admits psychedelic hallucinations, hypnagogic imagery, dreams, etc. on the same basis as "alert waking life"; that is, it suspends the culturally imposed differentiations of realism in apparition.
But this liberality carries important provisos:
- The mode of experience must be interpersonally comparable. I do not have your dreams; but we both dream.
- Intersubjective consequentiality may not be claimed for the experience. If I meet you in a dream, that is not binding on you.
- The experience may not be inflated by culturally supplied hyperbole. Hypnagogic hallucination is not "astral projection."
- Imputations of contexts of objectivity in experience may not be invoked as proofs of objectivities. I may see a facade in a dream, and my perceptual interpretation may impute an unseen interior to the facade; this does not establish the unseen interior as real.
There are also opportunities not directly stemming from cognitive nihilism. One is the undisplaced, unreduced interface of awareness and objectivity. Elementary instances, which the research organizes and potentiates, are:
i) perceptual illusions;
ii) the role of suggestibility in perception;
iii) in dreaming, consciously overcoming apparitionally material resistances (e.g. flying through a solid wall).
In this context, it can be said that the world-mirage arises "in the middle" between personal awareness and the object-zone.
Further avenues. Codification of grammars which the prevailing culture denies. Common sense; everyday logic; blocking of common-sense inference.
The use of accredited history to compose parables whose lessons can then be formulated ahistorically: history of logical norms; co-optation of failure theorems.
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F. Unstable Cultural Structures as Resources
Meta-technology counterposes to survival skills and cognitive competences internalized from the culture. At the same time, it seizes on instabilities in the prevailing determination of reality and reconfigures them. Let me list the given or inherited structures from the standpoint of their role as resources for meta-technology.
standard perceptual illusions
interpersonally comparable modes of private experience
out-of-compartment experiences: the room is swimming; ringing in the ears (hypnagogic hallucinations; psychedelic effects; narcotic drugs)
non-deceitful use of suggestibility and trance
perceptual comprehension and its relation to elementary scientific conceptualization
common-sense as a theory codifying the life-world
theoretical superstructures: physics; mathematics
In this respect, meta-technology proceeds by reconfiguring the culturally given. Let me take the example of rule-governed activities. Cognitive nihilism, as such, precludes rule-governed activities. When meta-technology is expressing cognitive nihilism (through principled hypocracy), it may posit a rule-governed activity. If it does so, it is because that rule-governed activity is already present in the survival constraints-or their theoretically codified correlates such as vernacular logic.
Let me comment on how invocation of given structures works out in the case of my logic of contradictions. It might be asked: "Don't you use, and need, a logic of consistency to expound your logic of contradictions? Don't you need a logic of identity for abstractions with the reality-type of objects?"
I don't want to concede my need for a logic of consistency in advance. It is not my approach to have a straightforward bedrock (of "certainties") and to build curiosities on it; that's what conventional mathematics purports to do. My position is that the theory in which the contradictions are heralded is like a scaffolding (it doesn't have to be pretty, because it's not the part you live in). It gets discarded when the target building is complete. Another approach: to formalize biased inconsistent theories; then expound the logic of contradictions as a biased inconsistent theory. Then all levels are envisioned to be biased inconsistent (in particular, the first unformalized level). The reconfiguration "propagates upward."
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G. The Shape of Meta-Technology's Results
Meta-technology constitutes principled hypocracy. The results of meta-technology are at the level of relative plausibilities-or of imputation of contexts of objectivity in experience. (The devolution of the framework of objectivity occurs in the realm of relative plausibilities.)
Within the general guidelines already stated, there is no imposed preference as to which structures are invoked or which fields the results lie in. As an example of a topic on which the prevailing culture does not have a consensus, I may mention the nature of the consciousness of the higher animals (mammals, apes).
To illustrate, meta-technological studies accept the following tenets:
- There is a plurality of minds.
- There are interpersonally replicable subjective experiences and interpersonally comparable private experiences.
- Some of the interpersonally replicable subjective experiences are classified as perceptual illusions in psychology because they are incongruities.
- I can adapt natural language to report my "sense-contents" or apparitions.
- I can remember episodes in my life.
- I can verbalize episodic memories in natural language, i.e. record them.
- I can compare recorded dreams.
- I can communicate dream reports.
- It is possible in the waking state to knowingly falsify a communicated report, i.e. to lie, about what I perceive or remember.
- Vernacular thought admits codification in grammars.
Meta-technology expands and becomes more powerful by cross-potentiating elementary meta-technological solutions. Meta-technology does not seek to go "beneath" the structures it invokes, to codify a reality in elemental affirmations.
Meta-technology is a "no-foundation" approach. It never seeks a dogmatic bedrock. It seizes on inherited structures (as already listed); and turns them against the framework of objectivity.
To elaborate on this strategy, expositions of meta-technological procedures rely on apparitional meaning. The text addresses "you the reader," and invokes the shared culture in which you are presumably competent. So the generic "reader" obtains meaning by imputing it. Every meta-technological procedure has to be interpersonally replicable; or to employ interpersonally comparable subjective resources. The achieved conditions or junctures alter the boundary of the conceptually possible; in other words, a new mental ability is attained. This makes dogmatic claims of realism superfluous.
In the course of being cross-potentiated, meta-technology will break the framework of objectivity again and again-while never adding deceptions of credulity and suggestibility to the prevailing culture. The proximate effect is to accede to a richer and more refined spectrum. In my utopian projections, the framework of objectivity gets discarded by a community which gains the power to vary the determination of reality kaleidoscopically.
It is not a mission of meta-technology to propound a cognitive module, or modular theory, which is genuinely ontologically self-contained. It is not a mission of meta-technology to provide an axiomatic perspective-of-totality, or a bedrock of cognition.
The very phraseology of "bedrock," indeed, implies a theory which dogmatizes about a thingist cosmos. But apart from that, meta-technology would not seek to make a new integrative creed out of an existential vantage-point on the universe either.
Meta-technology's meager "global perspective" is literal empiricism. But I realized from the beginning that literal empiricism as a dogma is trivially self-defeating. It can only be a heuristic device.
Where does the analysis of perceptual comprehension which I made in later personhood theory belong? Between "un-comprehended" sensation and common sense?
Common sense is a theoretical codification of the life-world as common objective world; such that subjectivities-the plurality of minds, the place of choice in a causal world-are glued on at the end. E.g. the doctrine of objective space is established relative to translations of material bodies; the question of the location of people's minds in space is only allowed to be asked later, and does not dictate the conception of space. A recent phrase of mine for the totality codified by common sense is The-World-(including-Ourselves).
Meta-technology proceeds directly from cognitive nihilism through radical empiricism to the unstable structures of an advanced civilization-and starts acting to metamorphose the determination of reality. It does this without expressing any interest in who is the doer, or how the doer comes to be in a world, what it means to be in a world.
Meta-technology realizes its defeat of the framework of objectivity in praxis. It does not inquire into the motives of the knower/doer.
Meta-technology is a family of specialized, technical results. It does not aim to provide personal happiness. It is not a creed; to assent to it perfunctorily is meaningless. In that sense, it resembles impersonal knowledge.
Meta-technology does not have a mission to make an issue of the knower's motivation. Note, however, that the problem of the knower's motivation is not more mysterious than common sense's treatment of the plurality of minds or free will; or the inventory of personalistic subjectivities; or comparable but private experience-worlds such as dreams or whole psychedelic episodes. The issue of the knower's motivation is not intellectually less legitimate than issues addressed by meta-technology.
In July 1980 I wrote a meta-technological study which was crucial in addressing personalistic subjectivities and motivation, strongly prefiguring personhood theory. ("Problems of Subjective Immediate Phenomena.") I classified this study in the branch of meta-technology which treats the undisplaced, unreduced interface of awareness and objectivity. One may legitimately ask why my "empiricist" inquiries did not begin with personalistic subjectivities. I return to this question in §I and in an appendix.
Meta-technology may conceptually split off a personal experience-world from common sense. (The academic term is "prescind.") However, this is not to posit the
personal experience-world as a primary totality. To illustrate, both "Dreams and Reality" and "The Choice Chronology Project" address experience-worlds. Biographic time; the succession of "states of consciousnes"; the longitudinal unity of the person.
What the investigations do not do is to conceive thematic identity relative to personal action, self and objectivities, morale, esteem, "sanity" as a unified subject-matter. The individuated, continual, motivated, thematic, imaginative integration of a regular self/objectivities configuration. (A process which is introspectively palpable.) One reason, evidently, is that the latter topic strongly requires a reality-hierarchy. But that reality-hierarchy is utterly different from those accredited by contemporary rationalism (e.g. the "common objective world"), because it takes personalistic subjectivities not only as palpable but as central.
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There will be, among the public, various resistances to entertaining meta-technology. I want to speak first of resistances which are "reasonable." Meta-technology expresses cognitive nihilism. It does not seek a creed to which one can hold fast. It cannot be surprising that this emptiness at the center would be emotionally intolerable to most people.
I addressed the question of a non-cognitive need for belief-systems in the early Seventies in "Philosophical Reflections." At that time, I said that a philosophical anthropology of primal non-cognitive needs for beliefs would be no more defensible than any other account of the mind-reality relation. (Cognitive nihilism precludes an explanation of the non-cognitive need for belief-systems.) Moreover, although I am understanding toward non-cognitive needs for beliefs, I do not want to treat these needs as undeniable.
In 1981, we asked whether culture can be abolished. In reply, one of us presented the notion of culture as a chaos-repelling delusion. From the anthropological vantage-point, this speculation makes sense, since societies are seen to cohere and survive on the basis of belief-systems which we regard as not only false, but intolerably eccentric and sectarian.
"Lack of a culture, a shared belief in a world-order, would mean that the consequences of one's actions would be incalculable. Common sense is a mirage of order which is espoused to hold conative incalculability at bay. People fear 'the world'-and attach themselves to Reality like an addiction. The individual needs the security of continuity.
"Religion provides a guarantee of the coherence of Reality. The deity is a personification of coherence. Religion, and scientific objectivity, provide an organized world which places no demands on the individual for originality. Memory, tradition, faith are the basis of Reality.
"Culture has a dependence on the idea of Reality which is self-reinforcing, and which is hobbling. The individual has a dependence on the assurance of sanity which is self-reinforcing, and which is hobbling."
This speculation must somehow be inadequate. How are the consequences of one's actions made reassuringly calculable by a specious belief-system?
People are found to chose the opposite of what is pragmatically effective. They choose to die, not to change. They treat life as an experience in esthetics or in thematic anthropocentric significance (not necessarily an exalted esthetics or significance). Ill people do not especially want cures; they want accredited attention, the rites of a shaman. They want a thematic, anthropocentric significance for their malaise and its outcome.
One could perform a cruel experiment: a physician could learn the customs of a primitive people, and then infiltrate a tribe. He could secretly offer allopathic treatment to sick individuals, picturing the procedures as something invented by him and known only to him. How would people react to a pragmatically effective medical modality which addressed disease in a completely modular and instrumental way-and which they believed to lack social validation? Would they rather die than be healed; or would they come to worship the physician as a god?
The speculation in question supposes that a delusion can deliver the reassuring order which is said to be needed; and yet that is dubious, surely. Common sense is not a solid order. It serves by offering pathways which postpone breakdowns little by little. Meanwhile, common sense allows a person to act much of the time in expectation-satisfying ways. (Given that the expectations are as much tailored as the other constituents of a situation. Here is where culture is self-reinforcing.)
The mind can compensate for a disturbing environment via rationalizations and defense mechanisms, as they are called. But how far does the mind's ability to conceal incoherence in The-World-(including-Ourselves) stretch?
A second hindrance to entertaining meta-technology is that meta-technology requires "psychological" faculties which have never before been recognized. Modern society encultures people with a dichotomy of science or superstition, science or poetry. Meta-technology requires faculties entirely between, or outside, this dichotomy.
Beyond the aversion which anybody might have to an outlook which was "empty at the center," it became clear that meta-technology specifically challenged the prevailing boundary between sanity and insanity. I can do no better than to quote from two of my schoolmates who were informed of my early work, and who subsequently became top spokesmen for academic rationalism.
the skeptical conclusion [as to whether language exists] is insane and intolerable
Saul Kripke, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Language (1982), p. 60
A correct constructive proof that 0 = 1 wold amount to a certification of the insanity of the human race.
Nicholas Goodman, in Constructive Mathematics, p. 140
Earlier, I said that meta-technology is a family of specialized results; in that sense, it is impersonal. However, meta-technological studies seek to awaken unused faculties; to activate the undisplaced, unreduced interface of awareness and objectivity; and sometimes to expose received science as a "hypnotically" instilled delusion. Such a study will challenge the definition of sanity, and may produce an intense experience of uncanniness. More formally, meta-technological praxis modulates
- mental comportment to community
- centered presence
- subjective "world-tidiness."
Then the character of the knower/doer, which is not an issue for meta-technology, surfaces anyway.
Around 1980, when I began floating the idea of meta-technology in conversations with scientists, I found that there were resistances to meta-technology which were "unreasonable." I noted this in "Study Problems in Meta-Technology" (May 1980). Scientists were telling me "I know it's false and I don't care. I just want the money." Actually, it was more emphatic than that. I met physicists who had taken LSD, and had left it behind as an adolescent fling. "Now that I have settled down to making money I don't want that kind of experience," they said. "Once you start thinking about reality you just sit around and talk about the universe and never get anywhere." Their jaded cynicism was strong enough to dominate any altered consciousness that LSD could produce. In general, meta-technology was resisted by hallucinatory malice and denial.
This was one of the considerations which induced me to turn to personhood theory. Personhood theory both was and was not a departure from my previous investigations. As I said above, key junctures of personhood theory were anticipated in "Problems of Subjective Immediate Phenomena" (July 1980). Earlier, "Determination of an Objectivity by Reciprocal Subjectivity" and "Anti-Mathematics" had been important in analyzing reality as a "hallucination" instilled "hypnotically" by a community.
From the vantage-point of personhood theory, we can say that a technology will not "count" if the knower/doer does not have a certain character. "Neutral" technology is not neutral to the user. If a technological procedure injures your esteem (or disturbs your comfort), you will react with hallucinatory denial. Similarly if you are motivated solely by social participation; or if you place no value on the discipline's doctrine of integrity. Modern science prevails because it won a popularity contest; but in the course of doing so, it had to battle many centers of resistance to scientific canons.
Again, people chose the opposite of what is pragmatically effective. The "esthetics" of life takes precedence. Or-priority goes to the seeking of recognition from other people, or to thematic, anthropocentric significance for one's life.
· · ·
I. Meta-Technology and the Self
When personhood theory was available, meta-technology could be further characterized by contrast to it. Both meta-technology and personhood theory employ the personal microcosm as a device. But the topic of personhood theory is
the individuated, continual, motivated, thematic, imaginative integration of a regular self/objectivities configuration
and the reality-hierarchy which that configuration involves.
Anticipating that personhood theory might be proposed, meta-technology had taken the position that
- self vs. object "within experience"; and
- core self vs. impersonal perception (within "experience")
are not absolutes or dichotomies of substance. When the personal microcosm called "experience" is divided into self and things, that is a mirage which should only be humored hypocritically.
When meta-technology looks at personalistic subjectivities, or the personal microcosm, it avoids committing to the reality-hierarchy called personhood. If I may be forgiven an outrageous metaphor, meta-technology's way of treating a personalistic subjectivity is like addressing the pig's squeal while disregarding the pig.
Does this posture leave meta-technology open to the objection that it accedes to crucial junctures which it cannot address? As for differentiating possibly false beliefs from whatever "self of the present" can espouse beliefs or detach from them, that is a limiting problem, an imminent problem. It does not require a longitudinally united waking self who lives a mirage. The latter self, with its social-thematic identity, is easily ascribed to belief.
Meta-technology proceeds from cognitive nihilism directly to the unstable structures of an advanced civilization-and starts acting to metamorphose the determination of reality. But who and what is the actor? Engaging the mundane world in order to rotate the determination of reality presupposes centered activation
- which is self-respecting and inwardly assured
- which admits "skeptical detachment"
- which is energized
- which is analytical
- which is persistent.
This self goes unexamined in meta-technology.
The omission is further illuminated by the psychedelic experience-and by how "Problems of Subjective Immediate Phenomena" appraised the psychedelic experience. That essay recognized the power of the psychedelic experience, but did not know what to do with it because the psychedelic experience attenuates the instrumental intention. To early meta-technology, the extraordinary modulations of the psychedelic experience were not "dynamic."
And there was an even more serious blind spot. The first exposition of meta-technology contained a statement of purpose: why we should intellectualize life. I spoke of our lives, in society: the society's praxis defines its sensibility, its "psychic" existence. My statement adopted the standpoint one takes to write personal testimony or a memoir. It was equivalent to unanalyzed common sense. There was an overhanging incongruity, given that meta-technology sought to modulate common-sense reality without limit. There was no excuse for reverting to common sense when self and purpose had to be addressed.
Evidently meta-technology inherited a bias-the bias I mentioned in §G when I asked why my "empiricist" inquiries did not begin with personalistic subjectivities. I will offer an explanation in an appendix. I must emphasize, however, that meta-technology does not propose to be, or need to be, a comprehensive creed. Meta-technology may leave an opening for a different inquiry; that is not a failing. What is more, the potentiation of meta-technology might lead the doer out from regular personhood. (Visionary though this speculation is.) That is a reason not to make an absolute of the doer who embarks on meta-technology.
· · ·
J. Personhood Theory in the Light of Meta-Technology
A careful characterization of meta-technology throws certain features of personhood theory into relief. The person-world is not any personal microcosm. Person-world analysis starts from a culturally supplied tenet: my waking episodes have the longitudinal unity of a substantial self-and-world. These episodes comprise the proper arena for motivation, morale, and striving toward thematic futures. (As opposed to the "illusory" motivation and morale in a dream.)
The topic of the individuated, continual, motivated, thematic, imaginative integration of a regular self/objectivities configuration requires a reality-hierarchy. But that reality-hierarchy had not been codified. It takes personalistic subjectivities not only as palpable but as central; while doing so without any religious allegiance.
My self counts when it is the longitudinal, thematic unity of my waking episodes. My self is my self. But I comport to "my" objects (this drinking glass in my microcosm) as everyone's objects. I comport to speaking and attending to speech as everyone's language.
Once the analysis of the person-world has begun, I may try to make the person-world serve as a picture of the whole which is ontologically self-contained. All the more, if I am convinced that most people will never be able to bear "emptiness at the center." And that a family of specialized technical inventions will never be able to serve as a perspective-of-totality. If I pursue this approach, then the circumstance that the person-world is a personal microcosm becomes the most unreasonable or refractory feature of the proposal. After the first round of analysis, one indulges a higher level of credulity, and uses personhood theory's undermining analysis of an "illusory" structure to modulate the common notion of the structure. The goal cannot be coherence; it is to achieve a more authentically descriptive incoherence.
Personhood theory has made a number of contributions to meta-technology. Personhood theory has gone deeply into perceptual comprehension and into longitudinal constitution of the self. Personhood theory has identified meta-technologically significant phenomena of dreams. Personhood theory has been the key to learning from the psychedelic experience. Personhood theory has greatly enhanced the unmasking of science as a hypnotically instilled delusion. And personhood theory provides a framework to reflect on sanity as meta-technology impinges on it.
· · ·
A.J. Ayer in Problems in the Philosophy of Science, ed. Lakatos & Musgrave (1968), p. 164
I have great sympathy and admiration for anyone who will come right out and say that the common sense view of the world is just untrue. [Ayer was responding to Grover Maxwell.]
Paul Davies, Other Worlds (1980), p. 199: temporality is an illusion which better beings than ourselves will have discarded.
Alfred Tarski in "The Semantic Conception of Truth," Philosophy and Phenomenological Research, Vol. 4, pp. 347, 349: natural language is inconsistent and science may hope to dispense with it.
Marvin Minsky, The Society of Mind (1986).
B. T. Wilkins, Has History Any Meaning?-A Critique of Popper's Philosophy of History (1978).
Misner, Thorne, Wheeler, Gravitation (1973).
Edmund Husserl, Ideas
Alfred Tarski, Logic, Semantics, Metamathematics (1956)
Noam Chomsky, Reflections on Language (1975)
Morris Kline, Mathematical Thought from Ancient to Modern Times (1972)
Saul Kripke, Wittgenstein on Rules and Private Languages (1982)
Nicholas Goodman in Constructive Mathematics, ed. Fred Richman (1981)
Henry Flynt, key publications:
Blueprint for a Higher Civilization (Milan, 1975)
"Personhood's Self-Cancellation," in Art Journal (Summer 1982)
"The Radicalism of Unbelief," in Ikon magazine (Fall-Winter 1982-3)
"The Apprehension of Plurality," in Io #41: Being = Space X Action (l989)
Appendix. 1980 Sketches of Meta-Technology
From Fundamental Philosophy to Meta-Technology (Dec. 1979)
Anti-Mathematics (March 1980)
Preface: Naivete and the Critique of Mathematics
I. Co-optation of Failure Theorems as the Sustaining Strategy of Mathematics
II. Overview of the Trans-Mathematical Critique of Mathematics
Determination of an Objectivity by Reciprocal Subjectivity ((May 1980)
Study Problems in Meta-Technology (May 1980)
Is Incredulity Self-Defeating? (June 1980)
outline: Manipulating the Determination of Reality (1980)
The Historical Perspective of Instrumental Cognition (July 1980)
Problems of Subjective Immediate Phenomena (July 1980)
Appendix. Cognitive Nihilism
My texts which present a negative universal result on cognition must be formulated so as to escape merely defeating themselves. The source of the text is in principle unimportant. The text proceeds by engaging the purported faculties of "the reader" (whoever that may be). (Alternatively: the purported shared culture.) The text appeals to the knowledge which "the reader" would be supposed to have to be a prospective reader. Instantiating that which is at issue, the text manifests the juncture at which language short-circuits. Additionally, what is exhibited is a vertical contradiction. The central proposition must be synthetic and true "a priori." (Inconsistency at the level of how the proposition is known to be true.)
Like all complications for the sake of rigor, these maneuvers make the texts unwieldy.
The import of the rigorously positioned insight cannot be altered by hypocracy in my discourses or actions.
Appendix. Positivism's Bias Against the Self
I don't want to slight the originality which my thinking evinced from 1960 onward. However, my philosophy did not squarely face personalistic subjectivities-or the longitudinally united waking, thematic self-until late (around 1980). Perhaps a source of this omission can be found in the empiricist and positivist tradition. A.J. Ayer's Language, Truth, and Logic (1952) is representative as a primer of positivism-and its Chapter VII serves as a case in point.
Ayer tumbles into a ditch epistemologically at the outset. A sensation-protocol such as "I see red" is not identically true, but is a hypothesis which could be false. Ayer allows no way of reporting apparition. For Ayer, sensations are impressions, reports about external arrangements-and as such they can be deceptions. (One reason for this premise is that sensation-protocols have to be synthetic propositions.) Ayer elaborates in The Problem of Knowledge. Indeed there are issues of perceptual self-estrangement; and there is a mismatch between apparition and natural language. But Ayer wields these issues in a way which shows him to be temperamentally a realist. The upshot is that Ayer's empiricism is already ruined; but it would take me too far afield to dwell on that.
What is germane here is Ayer's very different treatment of tables (which might also be stones, or human bodies) and the self. Ayer's empiricism will let you have tables if you concede their hypothetical translation into sense-ensembles. But when it comes to the self, Ayer quotes as incontestable Hume's famous line that when he looked within, he could not find his self. In that passage, Hume was narrowing the frame to the degree that (as he said) he found no reason to believe in the existence of a table as soon as he glanced away from it. Ayer's realism does not permit him to entertain such extremism. (And one has to marvel at Hume's legerdemain: finding in this extremism a rationale for modern physical and "social" science. I knew that that was preposterous by 1960.)
For Ayer to make the self the issue is a diversionary tactic. The prior issue, for an empiricist, should be personalistic subjectivities: emotion, intent, will, wish, attitude, mood. Both Hume and Ayer use the substantial self as a bugbear to mask their restriction of experience to "impersonal" sensations. (In turn, if intersubjectivity is not pre-established, how can any sensation be less personal than any other? All of Hume's and Ayer's examples come from one branch of a dichotomy-when their premises do not even allow them to differentiate the branch they embrace. Then, once the realm of personalistic subjectivities has been entered, what becomes of Ayer's thesis that sense-reports are synthetic propositions? Can my impression that I am sad be false?)
Returning to the longitudinal thematic self, when Ayer comes to this self as a common-sense phenomenon, rather than agreeing to it on the basis of its translation into sense-ensembles, he wants to eradicate it. The criterion of personal identity cannot be psychological; it must be the body. But there you are: the common-sense body is something, whereas the self is nothing. Skeptical extremism is selectively invoked to eradicate a longitudinally united waking, thematic self-even though that self is not only palpable, but is the key to producing science, or to producing a successful college text such as Language, Truth, and Logic.
It seems that positivism cannot bear selves even as convenient fictions.