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Science controversies past and present. They are an exotic variant of la politique du pire : if capitalism generates its own forces of dissolution then the necessity is to radicalise capitalism itself: the worse the better. We can call this tendency accelerationism. But what is of interest to us is not so much questions of conceptual genealogy but the resurgence of the idea: What is accelerationism today?
At present we find a swarm of new ideas operating under this rubric, ranging from post-capitalist techno-political theory, to sci-fi speculative cosmist design, to universal rationalist epistemologies. It is to be suggested that this return to ideas of acceleration must be indexed to our present condition of political, economic, and cultural decay. In this, the role of the aesthetic must similarly shift. Nick Land was amongst the most prescient thinkers of the capitalism emerging in the mids. His work combined the cybernetics of Norbert Weiner with emerging Deleuzo-Guattarian libidinal philosophy, complexity science, UK rave culture, and cyberpunk pulp fiction, to generate a kind of pitch-black psychedelic reductio ad absurdum of neoliberal ideology.
Land hijacked this schematization, bringing out an implicit inhuman pro-capitalism. Deleuze and Guattari asked:. Which is the revolutionary path? To go still further, that is, in the movement of the market? To this question, Land answered in the affirmative. Where Deleuze and Guattari ultimately counseled caution, to accelerate with care to avoid total destruction, Land favored an absolute process of acceleration and deterritorialization, identifying capitalism as the ultimate agent of history. Politics and all morality, particularly of the leftist variety, are a blockage to this fundamental historical process.
Land had a hypnotizing belief that capitalist speed alone could generate a global transition towards unparalleled technological singularity. In this visioning of capital, even the human itself can eventually be discarded as mere drag to an abstract planetary intelligence rapidly constructing itself from the bricolaged fragments of former civilizations. As Land has it, through the acceleration of global capitalism the human will be dissolved in a technological apotheosis, effectively experiencing a species-wide suicide as the ultimate stimulant head rush.
As bizarre as it may sound to the ears of the present day, this brand of thinking made a twisted kind of sense in the s. And while much of culture was already mired in retrograde maneuverings, underground dance music fully embodied the inhuman science-fictional vision of Land, suffused with alien sonic innovations, contorted into an apocalyptic paranoid euphoria. This was an alienation that was enjoyable , to be perversely desired. But as Deleuze and Guattari recognized, what capitalist speed deterritorializes with one hand, it reterritorializes with the other. Social modernization becomes caked in the kitsch remainders of our communal past, as Thatcherite-Reaganite deregulation sits comfortably beside pseudo-Victorian family and religious values.
A deep tension exists within neoliberal capitalism, between its self-image as the singular vehicle of modernity, and the somewhat paltry reality it is in fact capable of providing. Far from dissolving the social in the universal acid of hyper-technological acceleration, today the best we can hope for is marginally improved consumer gadgetry, against a background of political inertia, cultural hyperstasis, ecological collapse, and a growing resource crisis. Technological progress, rather than erasing the personal, has become almost entirely Oedipalized, ever more focused on supporting the liberal individual subject.
The very agent which Land identified as the engine of untold innovation has run dry. This is alienation of an all-too familiar, ennui-inducing kind, rather than a coldly thrilling succession of future-shocks.
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All of this opens up a space for the political again: if we desire a radically innovative social formation, capital alone will not deliver. Moreover, from a philosophical perspective, Landian accelerationism flattens real distinctions in the world into a crudely univocal system. The key consequences of this is an inability to demarcate the differences between thinking and being, reducing the rational to the ontological.
In this regard, Land follows Deleuze and numerous other process philosophers. As Ray Brassier has argued, this leads to a scenario where, since difference is what ultimately undergirds the reality of being, and thought is merely a difference in being, everything which is , to some extent, thinks.
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In this fashion, a pre-critical panpsychism emerges, unable to properly account for the status of logical or normative rational thought. At the level of the mechanics of acceleration, Reza Negarestani has prosecuted the critique that the Landian position, grounded in a conception of machinic efficacy, is constitutively unable to generate the kind of apocalyptic teleological dynamics he envisions. Following the critique of the philosopher of science Giuseppe Longo, all computational systems function according to an operative architecture which is discrete, built from individual instructions, akin to the stages of a recipe, and this discrete, finitized conception of time is distinctly inadequate to match the continuous processes we find in nature.
In complex systems, nonlinear feedback processes lead even infinitesimally small differences in initial conditions to generate vastly divergent results over time. One final line of problematization for the Landian program of accelerationism concerns its presumptions relating to the meaning of freedom. In common with much liberal and neoliberal thought, Land conceives of a primary freedom which various forms of structure inhibit.
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This is, however, to entirely ignore the richer and more suggestive domain of positive freedom. It is in this sense that Land confuses speed with acceleration. We may be moving fast today, but only within a strictly defined set of capitalist parameters that themselves never waver. To begin with the last and most significant of these criticisms, what must bind together otherwise divergent new accelerationist approaches is an overriding project of freedom.
In contradistinction to libertarian and purely negative conceptions of freedom, the tyranny of drive, impulse, emotion, and affectivity can be supplanted only to the extent that such libidinal phenomena are held in check by the formalized workings of reason, a non-natural, synthetic edifice, a positive construction developed in the face of a universe which would otherwise leave us the slaves of baser instinct. What distinguishes this position from a mere regurgitation of familiar Enlightenment tropes is a maximal yet rigorously inhuman Prometheanism.
It is this inhumanized Promethean account of freedom which threads together the disparate fabrics of epistemic, political, and cosmist accelerationism.follow site
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As epistemic accelerationism engenders new modes of thinking and new bodies of knowledge, so political accelerationism generates new social and economic systems to embody, express, and capitalize upon these rationalist gains. Our epistemic and causal capacities are expanded in tandem, in the fashion of a ratchet.
The twin thinkers of epistemic accelerationism are Ray Brassier and Reza Negarestani. Accelerationism in this guise is the project of maximizing rational capacity—the contents of knowledge about the world—and enabling the ramification of the conceptual space of reason. For both Brassier and Negarestani, this process is one which proceeds via alienation.
For Brassier, this is due to a direct identification of the processes of scientific discovery with nihilism. For Negarestani, epistemic acceleration rests in generating new ways to navigate conceptually. This spatialized, geometric understanding of conceptual behavior emphasizes the creative aspects of thought, focusing on conceptual discovery and abductive transition, over and above analytic parsimony.
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This modern system of knowledge, much inspired by recent work in the synthetic philosophy of mathematics, 11 is driven by opportunities to build connections, bootstrapping out of local horizons of knowledge and tracing the pathways which exist towards more globalized conceptual horizons. Considered from the perspective of an epistemological account of conceptual space, this is to operate under the rational injunction towards exploration , albeit of a necessarily traumatic kind.
Epistemic acceleration then consists in the expansion and exploration of conceptual capacity, fed by new techno-scientific knowledges, resulting in the continual turning-inside-out of the humanist subject in a perpetual Copernican revolution. In so doing, epistemic accelerationisms preserve the crucial distinctions between thought and being, and hence are capable of undergirding a rationalist picture of the world and its operations.
As Nick Srnicek has argued, one significant pinion point between epistemic and political acceleration is the potential for the transformation of economics. Here, epistemological gains directly interface with technological, social, and political ones. Srnicek reasons that economic models effectively operate as navigational systems for particular social and ideological infrastructures, and as such we can distinguish between those models which provide orientation and strategic support for the current capitalist system, and those which might provide resources by which we could navigate towards a future post-capitalist society.
The post-capitalist order which political accelerationism takes as its immediate goal necessarily depends on the ability to transform the discipline of economics and the body of knowledge it supports and instantiates. The transformation of economics can be seen as one important element within a broader process of transition, with the development of new models and cognitive maps of the existing system leading towards the development of a speculative image of the future economic system. Beyond the economic, political accelerationism seeks to revolutionize the contemporary political Left.
Holding that capitalism now constrains the productive forces of technology, directing them towards narrow and often fruitless ends, accelerationism as a political project proposes identifying latent productive forces which must be unleashed against neoliberalism. Rather than working to smash the current capitalist system, the existing infrastructure is here identified as a platform requiring repurposing towards post-capitalist, collective ends.
Technology, from this standpoint, is enslaved to myopic capitalist purposes, with the wager being that the real transformative potentials of much scientific and technical research remain untapped. These pre-adaptations may become decisive, but only sociopolitical action is capable of activating them, meaning that technological change alone will remain entirely insufficient to radically alter our world.
What ought to be aimed towards, this tendency suggests, is a sociotechnical hegemony, with the goal of repurposing the present material platforms of finance, production, logistics, and consumption towards post-capitalist ends.
What accelerationist politics proposes is that only a future that is more modern —an alternative future that neoliberalism is inherently unable to generate—will be sufficient to motivate a genuinely transformative and coherent politics. Such a future is only going to be possible with significant transformations in the radical Left.
What is therefore necessary is the constitution of a Left comfortable with globality, complexity, mediation, quantification, and technology, rather than sentimentalized modes of action and organization more suited to generating an affective sensation of feeling good in pious defeat, rather than efficacious action.
The fetishization of localized horizons of direct democracy must be replaced by a more substantive conception of collective self-mastery, wherein the more we are able to harness our knowledge of the social and technical world, the better we will be able to effectively rule ourselves. This Promethean politics of maximal mastery over society and its environment will necessarily be highly experimental in nature.
The older forms of mastery more traditionally associated with Enlightenment thinking stressed a Laplacian absolute knowledge, fit for a clockwork Newtonian universe. Today, our knowledge of non-trivial complex systems means that any attempts at mastering our world entail developing a mode of action which is more capable of metabolizing contingency, able to use the technical tools at its disposal to model the range of possible outcomes to any interventions.
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Finally, it is only a post-capitalist sociopolitical model which is likely to be capable of launching a robust cosmist imperative.