50/ Transcript of Negarestani, "Frontiers of Manipulation" from Speculations on Anonymous Materials Symposium MMXIV

Speculations on Anonymous Materials Symposium
Reza Negarestani, “Frontiers of Manipulation,” (2014)
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Fg0lMebGt9I (accessed January 23, 2014).

Frontiers of Manipulation

What are the limits and conditions of material manipulability? More importantly, is there a connection between the concept of the material and the function of manipulation in the sense that the latter decides the former? Drawing on some of the recent discussions in the field of engineering with regard to models, cross-level causal intervention, renormalization groups, morphogenetic analysis (the science of forms) and non-extendable explanatory and functional levels, this presentation aims at providing a concept of material organization beyond but reconcilable with the level of appearances. Whilst claiming that (1) material descriptions are blind to explanations and (2) only causal and functional explanations are capable of rendering the material intelligible and making material intervention possible, a robust concept of construction and manipulation cannot dispense with descriptive resources of appearances and macro-level domains. Once approached through local possibility spaces opened up by deep explanatory levels or the scientific image, the powers of abductive inference implicit in the manipulation conditionals at the level of ordinary descriptions enable a mode of construction that expands its frontiers from the top and from the bottom. This marks an encounter with the material that is neither quite speculative nor quite empirical while it is both abductive/non-monotonic and under real constraints.

Lecture Transcript
What I'm going to talk about is continuation of Ian’s paper that manipulation actually is able to account for materiality. What I want to do is by way of introducing a formalism of manipulation and for this purpose I have to restrict the scope of, for example, the kind of reality that we are talking about. I don't go to very cosmological ramifications of this. So we started this idea that one of the most revolutionary ideas in the field of modeling and intervention (scientific intervention) and also different tools of intervention and what they call engineering epistemology (which I will get back to later) is the revolution in the definition of the system. So in the last, I would say 30 years, we have this kind of ‘rigid system theory’ that starts from gestalt systems in the 19th century and comes to a fairly straightforward system theory of for example ?? what system engineering is about. But nevertheless in the last thirty years the understanding on what system is has fundamentally changed and that has allowed for unfolding of completely different understanding of what epistemology matter is and how can you really render the material intelligible. I would introduce definition and then briefly refer to this idea that is not very new ideas but it has been the case since probably the beginning of Greek philosophy from Socratic understanding, to classic philosophy, Renaissance and then the modern times. So very straightforwardly the new understanding of the system is that the system is not about the intrinsic architecture. System does not have input and output. It has input and output but you do not need to interpret understand the system in order to act on it by way of factoring in ideas such as input and output, intrinsic architecture, foundational dynamics, certain form of essence, analytical constitution, etc. All you need is two things: the behavior and functional integration, or what they call functional organization. This becomes important because functions… systematic or technical understanding of function is that functions are abstractly a realizable entities meaning that they can be abstracted from the content of their constitution. So a functional organization can emerge, it can be manipulated, it can get automated and it can actually gain a form of autonomy that developed not because of the constitution in which it was embedded but in spite of it. Hence, functions allows for an understanding of the system that is no longer tethered or chained to an idea of constitution. This is the functional organization in the sense that system is understood not in the sense rigid systematicity but as a functional integration. System has stabilized causal components that are inferentially linked by way of, for example, these functions. And this allows for a certain form of going back and forth or navigation between this causally stabilized components, namely mechanisms of the system in order to escape from the straitjacket of whatever constitution it was supposed to belong to.
The second thing was the behavior and understand the behavior of the system is directly connected to the understanding of what function is in a technical sense. Behavior is basically also connected to a notion of tendency in systems. Systems are sets of tendencies where tendencies are abstract properties that are responsible for the behavior of the system. You cannot interact with these tendencies unless you single them out, you identify them. But you cannot identify them unless you amplify them. So, there is a certain form of intervention in both.
This identification of the system according to function and behavior allows for two things. One, understanding of system as a project self-realization. As I said, this is not a new idea The origin of this idea is basically the classical program of ethics in the sense that the self is a material, for example for Socrates and for Seneca - Cynics and Stoics, and in order to know this material you need to manipulate it, you need to construct it. Hence it becomes classical Socratic dictum that constitutes the origin of the ancient Greek ethical program. A philosopher cannot influence others unless he knows himself, hence Delphi Oracle – know thyself. But you cannot know yourself unless you construct yourself. Hence, self becomes hypothesis, an object of understanding by way of construction, by way of manipulating. Hence ethics becomes the program of design of conduct that allows for the constructability of self that is no longer bound to some sort of identitarian understanding of self, certain form of constitution. It's no longer moral, no longer contractual but it is rational and destinal. Destinal in the sense of its self-realization because once you understand it by way of functions and as these autonomous entities that cannot escape this straitjacket of constitution than it actually starts to self-realize. We extend this program of ethics as a very initial germ of this understanding of system by way of manipulation. Once you extend it you actually arrive at, for example, Chinese modern philosophy – Neo-Confucianism (Confucianism + Kant + Cynicism +Stoicism combined). “The totality of the system is illusion.” All there is is the integration of functions and this is really a revolutionary insight which is the fundamental definition of modern account of the system, what the system is.
This is understanding of the system. You cannot understand a system unless you act on it, manipulate it. Because the behavior of the system is coupled with a concept of tendencies or the abstract properties that need to be amplified but also functions are manipulable entities. The functional organization is about manipulation and you can't really identify these functions unless you intervene in the causal fabric.
I will discuss how engineering which has been synchronized with this modern definition of the system approaches this problem.
But before that I would like to give a very brief introduction of what materiality here is. Materiality is about a certain form of organization, a certain form of hierarchy. I understand that hierarchy in today's context is a negative word but hierarchy is really the register of complexity in material systems. It has something to do with stochastic understanding of how accumulation of functions and accumulation of structures works. So it creates this nested organization of different hierarchies. For example in a biological organism you have traces of inorganic that are not totally biological (this is nested within a biological organism). And a biological organism is not physical. It is not reducible to the laws of physics. It has its own exclusive explanatory and rules of governance. You cannot basically reduce biological domain to the physical domain. Unification should be made but we do not have that unifying field tool that allows for this kind of reduction to be done. Because it just doesn't work because physics, for example, as an organization of materiality at the level of proper physics, is about optimisation or wtat they call a geodetic principle (the law of the least action). For example, a river always runs along the shortest path (geodetic curvature toward the sea). But you do not have this kind of optimization in biological organisms because evolution is not about this kind of optimizations, simple geodetic optimization. It is bout optimization according to a certain form of ecological fitness. That renders the understanding of the effective optimization of the laws of physics obsolete. Life is not effective. Evolution is not effective in the sense of effectivity of geodesic principles of physics. This creates a certain form of organization and this organization has different strata that cannot be reduced to one another in this straightforward leap between different explanatory and organizational levels. The same thing applies to physical materiality. You basically have different strata of structural elements and functional organizations. These functional organizations (what materiality is all about) have their own specific rules of manipulation. They have their specific rules of conception. They have their own specific conceptual behaviors. That is why eliminativism is usually quite misguided because you are trying to overextend the conceptual resources of surface phenomena or macroscopic levels to the microscopic atomic scale level. But by doing so you are simply overextending one conceptual resource to another, one function or one rule of manipulation to another. But there is actually a discontinuity between these strata that does not allow you to make these overextensions. Hence, it requires a certain form of intraction with this causal stratification or this causal fabric, or this organization and functional hierarchy.
The understanding starts with this… the way that you can gain traction upon these various levels without overextending the conceptual resources. So how does this work? You see, in the classical modeling, in the classical understanding of materiality or material organization, models are constructed in the sense of infinite idealization. What is this infinite idealization? You have a physical materiality, you have a steel beam. You endow, you get the surface phenomena which is the ‘grains’ of the steel beam and then you zoom in on it. This is that functional infinite idealization. Once you zoom in on it you are, in the mathematical sense, you endowing this zooming effect with a limited function that allows you to create a cross level navigation between all these levels of strata in the steel beam. But in reality this has proved worrisome for engineering. Why is that? Because the steel beam or any kind of phenomenon usually fits in three domains of hierarchy, what they call a ‘scale length’: 1) Macroscopic level, which is usually associated with surface phenomena, affordances, like a solid. It is descriptive. You can describe it by ordinary language; 2) Middle level or a meso-scale and 3) Microscopic phenomena, for example a steel beam is a crystal structure. Beneath this crystal structure what you have is an atomic-scale. the thing is that in all of these the descriptive resources, the functions, the forms of intervention and the rules that govern them are completely discontinuous to one another. You cannot overextend the microscopic grain to the atomic scale because behavior of the material will completely change. Because even the concepts that are associated with surface phenomena are different from the concepts that are associated with atomic scale. So you cannot really make a conclusion by way of conception at the level of surface phenomena and ramify its conclusions downward to the microscopic. So it rules out so many bad modeling such as bottom-up hierarchies whereby you try to supervene atomic scale or elementary particles of a particular phenomenon to the level of upper scale phenomenon. For example, understanding of the brain phenomenon just by way of its plastic structure of neural transmitters. Or in the case of steel beam, you cannot just overextend the conceptual resources of the atomic scale in order to explain the phenomena or the behavior of this steel beam at the macroscopic level. The same thing, conversely, applies top-down reduction. So bottom-up and top-down, by themselves independently, are just bad models. They are basically overextending certain properties and that creates different weak or bad interpretations of what materiality is and how you can intervene it is and how you can explain it, render it intelligible.
The engineers do not want to just get a picture of a steel beam and zoom in on it and then they say that as we zoom in on it every property that was conserved as surface phenomena is going to hold up as we zoomed in. They don’t want to say that. So what they do is they need perspectives. Perspectives that are capable of disassociating stratifying these different causal fabrics or structural functional fabrics. And then appropriately associate specific functions and specific concepts to these strata. What are these perspectives? When I said perspective people might misunderstand it as ‘subjective’ perspective but no. These are special tools. They are forms of manipulation or intervention. How does this work?  What you need to go from one level to another is to understand how one level explains another level. This is what they call causal and functional explanation. A rudimentary example of causal and functional explanation - the shadow on the wall. You are trying to explain it. If you do not have a manipulation on account of intervention - that I'm going to explain what it is - all you do is just describing this shadow. You are not explaining it. In order to explain this shadow you need to intervene with what creates the shadow. For example this chair. What they do - and this has become the standard understanding of what (causal) explanation is – is to define explanation by way of intervention. They say that that X explains Y. Had we intervened with X, Y would not have been produced. How do they define this idea of explanation or causal explanations or functional explanation is by way of intervening with an account of invariance. Invariance is what allows this continuity between different strata that holds stuff together. If you intervene with something under certain criteria and invariance doesn't hold up then this is not explaining that. Then you need to look for another form of explanation, probably on another level. So what day need I this kind of crosscutting perspectives, namely tools of manipulation and intervention that treat invariances as certain forms information required for rendering material intelligible and also rendering its manipulationist constructive dimension coherent.
It is interesting that manipulation at the level of, for example, atomic scale or the deep lower levels doesn’t essentially translate to the effects on macroscopic level. So you can even overextend manipulation from one reality domain to another. You need a specific form of manipulations that target a specific strata of a material organization. This is where engineering comes into play. What is really engineering? Engineering, in this sense, becomes armamentarium of heuristics. And what are heuristics? Not just a trial and error. Heuristics are basically devices of manipulation. Manipulation as a form of inference. What is this inference? It is not really deductive or inductive inference. It is what they call ‘material inference’. Material in the sense that it is not abode by logical norms. It is basically non-formal. Peirce calls it abductive manipulation. How this works is that… what you need is a form of intervention or manipulation that is error tolerant, i.e. fallible. That treats the material as a hypothesis so you can intervene with a certain patch of causal fabric to see what is really there in a conceptual behavior from this level to that level. What is the specific function of this and how this specific function explains the functions on another level without creating a rigid designation. The way the heuristic works… the heuristics are about non- entailment. They don't entail something and that's why they can turn the system or turn the material into a living hypothesis. You understand the material, you understand intelligible constitution of the material by way of asymptotically infinite manipulation. And once you manipulate something our - which is the case of heuristics or these perspectives – it implies two things. One, heuristics are about non-entailment. What this means is that they do not preserve foundations. They do not truth. They do not preserve axiomatic assumptions about what the constitution of, for example, this book is. (Reza pointing at a book) What they do is to turn the book into a fallible hypothesis in the sense that in order to render it intelligible you just need to deepen the scope of your manipulation. You need to expand the scope of your manipulation techniques. The constructability then becomes isomorphic to understanding what this is. Because they do not transfer or axiomatic understanding of what these materialities are constituted of. They don’t preserve that, instead they transform them. They are synthetic operators. Heuristics are not analytical devices. They are synthetic operators. They treat material as a problem. But they don’t break this problem into pieces. They transform this problem into new problem. And this is what the preservation of invariance is. Once you transform a problem by way of heuristics to a new problem, you basically eliminate so much of the fog around this problem that initially didn't allow us to solve it. If the problem has been preserved – n.b. the (constructability/intelligibility) problem, not truth – that means that the problem now can be approached and solved on a simpler more optimal level. Because all of this conflate stuff that happened between different levels and made problem difficult is solved. Now they have gone away. Because we apply a form of heuristics that dissociated this content of conflation into different strata. And now we can approach this problem in a new way that allows us to tackle it. This is another implication of how synthetic operators or heuristic manipulation works. Heuristic manipulation removes the lower bound of the materiality. And what is this lower bound - the understanding of constitution and understanding of fundamental assumptions or axiomatic conceptual behaviors. And also by virtue that it is hypothetical, its manipulability can be expanded further and further. This means that it also removes the upper bound of materiality. It basically turns materiality into living hypothesis and its behavior can be expanded. Its evolution, i.e. its constructability becomes part of the project of its self-realization. Hence, the understanding that the system is nothing but its behavior and behavior is a register of constructability – the same thing about materiality and how engineers approach materiality by way of heuristics – which is rooted in this new understanding of systematicity by way of understanding in in the sense of functions and behaviors.
So what one needs for manipulation is information about invariant relationships and one can identify invariant relationships even in cases in which one doesn’t know laws, cannot trace spatio-temporally continuous processes or unify and systematize. So in order to manipulate a system you do not need an a priori understanding of systematicity. As I said, the new understanding of the system according to the manipulability doesn’t need an intrinsic understanding of what the system is, so called systematic structure. You don’t need that architecture in order to understand what the system is.
How does engineering work? Engineering usually uses just macroscopic level phenomena and uses descriptive resources. E.g. this table is solid. All that I know is that this table is solid. It’s the level of ordinary language, description at the level of ordinary language. It uses manipulation conditionals: if-then, antecedent-consequence. If I push this (table) hard, it might break under certain form of intervention. You see, an engineer doesn't need the atomic scale level in order to make things and things still function. Descriptive resources of surface phenomena are stabilized, are the ramification of stabilization of those macroscopic levels. And that allows you up levels and that allows you to construct out of nature, of what materiality is. And science – in the sense for engineering - does not really change what materiality is but the scientific conception of matter. Engineering uses scientific conception of matter in terms of fine tuning its structure. But he doesn't use this in order to construct something. Engineering does go to the atomic scale and crystal level in order to fine-tune its manipulability. But it starts its manipulation conditionals by way of the surface phenomena. And then if the manipulable conditional that can be extended to the manipulation conditional of the microscopic; then if it is good manipulation conditionals; and then if the manipulation conditional or the descriptive resources of this bridging microscopic can be extended to the manipulation conditionals of the atomic scale, then it is the really good engineering. But it always starts from the surface phenomena. And navigates across levels by way of extending of: given my manipulation conditionals (techniques) how much they can be extended to possible manipulations at a different level. That is, what is the space of possibility for an engineer. That is interpreted completely based on what manipulation is and how it can be extended from one level to another.


Q1: Ontology vs. Epistemology.
Engineering is a form of transcendental realism where epistemology makes sense of ontology. But for engineering, making sense of ontology is basically tampering with what ontology is. So, the epistemological engineering becomes co-constituted with ontology. The manipulation becomes the very understanding of constitution in a sense.

Q2: Ethical Remarks – Foucauldian aesthetics of existence
Based on epistemology at the level of ethics, the understanding of “know thyself” is an act of epistemology. You need to know your intelligible constitution. Self program for ethics is not phenomenal self. It is intelligible constitution. In order to understand this intelligible constitution you basically construct it, you organize it. This is what really project of ethics is. Design of a conduct that manipulates what the self is, what intelligible constitutions is. It constructs it and this is the price of self-realization. For example ramification of the Kantian project in the sense of ethics and then goes to the new Confucianism and certain programs of ethics.

Q3: Universality of the approach (beyond ethics to aesthetics)
The reason that I went for ethics is that I just wanted to emphasizes this idea engineering in that engineering epistemology becomes cool co-constitutive and integral part of making sense of ontology and making it The main kernel of this idea is actually a philosophical idea. This is initial trigger of the project of ethics as a design of conduct that cross cuts between ontology, between epistemology, between manipulation, between design…

Q4: Abduction
Abductive inference is the form of material inference. And material inference doesn’t have an explicit account of norms and that's why it is that is called material inference because it is non-formal. It's not classical logic. It is fallible, error tolerant. As you manipulate, you gather information.[Gibson]. As you manipulate, you construct and render intelligible.

Q5: Art
In art you do not have intelligibility but you have material inferences. You experiment and refine your methods. There’s a form of refinement and tweaking. It's not pure experimentation for the sake of experimentation? Constructing the beholder makes it even more complex. Art has a form of multi-modality that brings affect, brings stimulation of cognitive system, brings design brings design, whereas those things actually very much so connected to function of what design is, engineering and also ethics. Art is multimodal friction upon material. That entails certain modes of emotion, material inferences, and that makes the problem complex.

Round Table

Q6: Self
This is a kind of SELF as being an object of construction. It’s not really a form of the traditional understanding of intentional state self or even – going a little bit forward – a phenomenological self model. What I (Reza) calls ‘self’, what ethics or Confucianism calls self, is not the modern understanding of self. It can sometimes be translated as a person, but it is really a constructive account of the self. It has nothing to do with the understanding of ‘self’ as a priori constitutive position upon everything is compared, self as a benchmark for intelligibility or for knowledge.

Q7: Ian/Reza Misunderstanding
The risk is that if we overemphasize hypothetical element and de-emphasize the constructive, then what we get is an epistemically governed ontology such that what is known in effect produces what is.
When I refer to hypothesis I specifically have in mind a very narrow, conservative definition according to Peirce. Peirce has different ramifications for different forms of hypotheses. Some of them produce knowledge. Some of them are just manipulative devices that push back the limits of action and understanding without actually explaining anything, so that they do not have retroactive force. It is ‘manipulative abduction.’ These are not classical form of hypothesis. We ought to prioritise manipulation over the classical program of hypothesis generation.

Q8: Matteo on Cyclonopedia
Complicity with Anonymous Materials. ‘Complicity’ comes from Johann Malfatti, Beethoven’s doctor and one of the first inspirations for Deleuze. The notion of complicity is the understanding that there’s no team work because there’s no commonality between different participation of material instances or constructive vectors. But nevertheless they follow a common task. Like criminals for example. Different syndicates do participate without actually having any commonality. This very understanding allows for a different form of universality that is not grounded on communality.
The problem that it creates, once you say that anonymous material very metaphorically... e.g. oil is a sentient entity and then you try to explain everything according to it is a week form of panpsychism. By virtue that you overstretched the levels of continuity. This is the myth of the young Peirce who came up with this bad account of continuity. That bad account of continuity between different strata of materiality gave him the illusion that there is actually an integral mind. [Bateson] That everything thinks. And then only later, in his later life, he tried to stratify this continuity [AO>ATP] to different multivalent forms of continuity that are asymptotically discontinuous which allows you to make distinctions but also it requires you to not overextend the conceptual resources of one to another.

Q9: Art/Form
Traditionally understood art is dealing with certain patch of the causal fabric, a certain level of materiality and that’s forms. And forms have physics. They are morphogenetically stabilised causal fabrics. You can explain physically what a form is. Rene Thom does. It is a scalar measure of information that once is geometrically or topologically interpreted, you can account for forms. Forms are basically memories. Forms retain memories of the past and future perturbations. Forms are perturbations applied over invariances. They are forensic fields. Things have happened and they have put certain traces over certain forms of invariances. Like a memory storage. E.g. a dent in a book, a fracture, etc. Perturbations applied to invariances. Traditionally understood, art works with this specific layer of materiality. I think that manipulability at the level of form cannot be extended to manipulability at other levels. This I think is quite obvious. The question is, can we have art that has manipulability at other levels without overextending its ambitions.
I want to pave the road, at least conceptually in terms of conceptual organisation of how this works. Art then needs models of intervention that work on those levels. Buc can art make those models?
Forms are a very specific level of materiality. They are causally stabilised. They are not dynamic systems. They have invariances and morphogenetically stabilised perturbations distributed over invariances. But one you go to the atomic scale all you have is just perturbations. You do not really have invariances in the sense that you have in forms. And that requires a completely different model pluralism.

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