Singularity cannot keep its theological promise to redeem us from the Fall. It may so happen that in post-humanity we will move into another dimension, in which we will no longer be “fallen,” constrained to our finitude. But this does not mean that we will be redeemed in the sense of re-uniting ourselves with some dimension experienced as divine. This, however, also does not mean that the topic of theology has to be left behind. On the contrary, the notion of the Fall deserves a closer examination. So let’s begin at the beginning.
We all know the description from Genesis 3:
“The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves. Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and they hid from the Lord among the trees of the garden. But the Lord called to the man, “Where are you?” He answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid.” And he said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” The man said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.” Then the Lord God said to the woman, “What is this you have done?” The woman said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate.”
After cursing the serpent, god turns to the woman:
“To the woman he said, ‘I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you.’ To Adam he said, ‘Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, “You must not eat from it,” cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.’”
Enough has been written about the paradoxes contained in these lines, especially about the most obvious one: why did god submit Adam and Eve to what is effectively a forced choice? Here is Stephen Greenblatt version of this paradox which even mentions Musk:
“Ancient commentators repeatedly asked why the God in the story, having commanded Adam and Eve not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, did not do more to prevent them from the disastrous act of disobedience. To be sure, the Creator warned them that death would follow any violation of his prohibition, but how could the first humans have possibly understood what it meant to die? Why was the tree rooted in the very midst of the garden and not locked away, the way we lock away poison (or nuclear waste)? And how, before they had acquired knowledge of good and evil, could humans in their Edenic innocence have ever grasped the moral significance of what they were doing? Adam and Eve manifestly had insufficient knowledge of the long-term consequences of their actions, and God, who could have implanted this knowledge in them far more easily than Elon Musk’s proposed chip, evidently chose not to do so.”[i]
More important for our purposes is the paradox of knowing: the serpent tells Eve that after eating the apple from the forbidden tree, “you will be like god, knowing good and evil,” and, as Hegel notices, the serpent doesn’t lie: god immediately confirms it, commenting that Adam and Eve are now “like one of us” (let’s ignore here the mysterious plural of “gods”). So how can eating the apple which brings knowledge and divinity throw the first humans into the misery of mortal life and ignorance?
The standard explanation is, of course, that, by way of imposing on them a hard choice, biased as it is, god is bestowing on first humans their freedom, making them aware of their responsibility to choose between good and evil. Even the limitation of knowledge serves this purpose. If our knowledge is perfect, if all the details of the situation are clearly present in our mind, the choice is easy. But what makes a moral choice hard is precisely that we have to decide in a murky situation where the full burden of the decision is upon us…
In the continuation of the quoted passage, Greenblatt provides a succinct version of this argument:
“Virtually all the early interpreters agreed that the Creator did not want to compromise the essential nature of humans by taking away their freedom to choose, even though that freedom was the source of so much trouble and misery. If Adam and Eve knew everything that would follow from their actions – if they could make the inconceivably vast calculations that would give them, in Shakespeare’s words, ‘the future in the instant’ – they might have avoided their catastrophic blunder, but it would, the Genesis story suggests, have been at the cost of their humanity. / This is not a celebration of ignorance or fecklessness. There was, after all, an explicit warning, however difficult it might have been for the first humans to interpret it correctly, and the consequences of the fateful choice were manifestly terrible. But the Bible represents humans neither as automata – the slaves of God – nor as miraculous sages, endowed with all the knowledge they need to make the inevitably correct decisions.”[ii]
However, the central enigma remains: in what way does morality (knowing the difference between good and evil and acting upon it) imply ignorance (or, at least, a radical limitation of our knowledge)? The philosopher who confronted this issue and provided the only consequent answer was Kant. When Kant says that he reduced the domain of knowledge in order to make space for religious faith, he is to be taken quite literally, in a radically anti-Spinozist way. From the Kantian perspective, Spinoza’s position appears as a nightmarish vision of subjects reduced to marionettes. What, exactly, does a marionette stand for as a subjective stance? In Kant, we find the term “marionette” in a mysterious subchapter of his Critique of Practical Reason entitled “Of the Wise Adaptation of Man’s Cognitive Faculties to His Practical Vocation,” in which he endeavors to answer the question of what would happen to us if we were to gain access to the noumenal domain, to the Ding an sich:
“Instead of the conflict which now the moral disposition has to wage with inclinations and in which, after some defeats, moral strength of mind may be gradually won, God and eternity in their awful majesty would stand unceasingly before our eyes. /…/ Thus most actions conforming to the law would be done from fear, few would be done from hope, none from duty. The moral worth of actions, on which alone the worth of the person and even of the world depends in the eyes of supreme wisdom, would not exist at all. The conduct of man, so long as his nature remained as it is now, would be changed into mere mechanism, where, as in a puppet show, everything would gesticulate well but no life would be found in the figures.”[iii]
So, for Kant, direct access to the noumenal domain would deprive us of the very “spontaneity,” which forms the kernel of transcendental freedom: it would turn us into lifeless automata, or, to put it in today’s terms, into “thinking machines.” And is this not ultimately presented as achievable in the future of Singularity? The prospect of Neuralink is not to be dismissed as yet another “ontic” scientific research project of no authentic philosophical interest, since it offers something effectively new and unheard-of that challenges our status of being-human: the prospect of the actual (empirical) overcoming of our finitude/sexuality/embeddedness-in-the-symbolic. Entering this other dimension of Singularity becomes a simple positive fact, not a matter of sublime inner experience. What does this mean, for the status of our subjectivity and for our self-experience? Can we imagine a form of self-awareness that would be at the level of self-less floating in the space of Singularity?
Insofar as I, as a singular Self, no longer exist in Singularity, one possibility is to draw a parallel between the fate of the Self in Singularity and Buddhist enlightenment, in which the Self directly-experientially assumes its own non-being. Such an enlightened awareness is no longer self-awareness: it is no longer I who experience myself as the agent of my thoughts. “My” awareness is the direct awareness of a self-less system, a self-less knowledge. However, there is a difference between Buddhist enlightenment and Singularity: in Singularity, I do not acquire a distance towards my feelings and other experiences, I don’t identify with the Void that is the truth of appearances. I, on the contrary, fully immerse myself in the shared space of feelings and other experiences.
There is a more fundamental concern with regard to the question of the fate of subjectivity in Singularity. The innermost core of subjectivity resides in a unique act of what Fichte baptized “self-positing.” Here, each subject is a point of absolute autonomy, which means that it cannot be reduce to a moment in the network of causes and effects. In an act of self-relating that Hegel called “absolute recoil,” it has to “posit” retroactively the very causes of its existence. This closed self-referential circle of the absolute recoil, in which the cause is a retroactive effect of its effects, is thus effectively a kind of realization of the famous joke about bootstrapping from the story of Baron Munchhausen who pulled himself and the horse on which he was sitting out of a swamp where he was drowning by pulling his own hair up with his hands. In natural reality, such bootstrapping is, of course, impossible, a nonsensical paradox passable only as a joke. However, not only can it happen in the domain of spirit, but it is even THE feature which defines spirit. To be sure, the material base of this loop of self-positing remains: “there is no spirit without matter”; if we destroy the body, spirit vanishes. But the self-positing of spirit is not just some kind of “user’s illusion”; it has an actuality of its own, with actual effects.
It is in this sense that Lacan claims that, at the conclusion of the analytic treatment, the subject is ready to conceive itself as causa sui, its own cause. The cause of a subject is, of course, not an object in reality but objet a, the object-cause of desire which has no substantial reality. It is a purely virtual X which merely gives body to the void of desire. In our everyday life of desire, we fetishize/reify objet a, i.e., we treat it as a real pre-existing cause of our desire. At the end of the treatment, the subject realizes that its cause is its own (presup)position, retroactively posited by the subject itself as its effect. The paradox of absolute recoil is actualized here, the circle is closed, as the effect posits its own cause. For a partisan of the so-called “materialist theory of subjectivity” (which insists on the subject as the effect of a pre-subjective material process, a process that cannot be reduced to the subject’s self-mediation), this closure of the circle is the basic idealist illusion of self-causation, the illusion that obfuscates the decentered process out of which a subject emerges. However, from a strict Lacanian-Hegelian standpoint, this self-causation is not just a speculative/idealist illusion; it designates a cut, an interruption, in the real itself. The subject’s self-positing is “idealist” only if we define reality as a complete texture of causes and effects, without any gaps or cuts.
This is why Nietzsche was doubly wrong in his dismissive reference to Munchhausen in Beyond Good and Evil:
“The desire for ‘freedom of will,’ /…/ the desire to bear the entire and ultimate responsibility for one’s actions oneself, /…/ involves nothing less than /…/ to pull oneself up into existence by the hair, out of the slough of nothingness (aus dem Sumpf des Nichts).”[iv]
What Nietzsche rejects here is the self-positing which in German Idealism defines the subject, and it is our claim that one can interpret the act of self-positing also in a materialist way, although the consequences of this act are often quite paradoxical. Let’s take a recent example: it was reported in the media that Raphael Samuel, a citizen of India, said he would sue his parents for giving birth to him. In a wonderful display of what Anders called Promethean shame — the shame of being born, thrown into the world, and not self-manufactured — Samuel is telling people, especially Indian kids, that they don’t owe their parents anything. He also claims that putting a child through institutions like school and the job market without their consent is wrong…[v] We should not reject Samuel’s complaint as ridiculous – there is a deep insight in it. We just have to avoid the confusion between the empirical and the transcendental levels. Empirically, I am of course “thrown into the world,” I don’t chose my body, the culture in which I am educated as a child, etc. However, to become a Self, there has to be a transcendental act of self-positing, i.e., I have to assume my subjectivity in a minimally active way, and the question is: can this “absolute” act survive the immersion into Singularity? I recently read a report on transgender individuals in a Slovene daily newspaper, whose title reproduces exactly the same paradox: “Finally I live in a body into which I wanted to be born” – as if, prior to my birth, I already have chosen my gender identity, and biological fate didn’t respect my choice…
This notion of unconscious reflexivity also resolves the problem of endless regress in grounding a normative order (which rules do we obey to ground our obeying the rules?) or self-consciousness (when I am conscious of my consciousness, am I also conscious of my being conscious of my consciousness etc. ad infinitum). The solution is not the Fichtean one (in the absolute I, positing and being-posited coincide, I posit myself as positing), although it is strictly homologous to it. The solution is that this act of self-positing, the act through which, as Lacan put it, the subject acts as its own cause, is unconscious, always-already presupposed by the conscious ego.
Hegel called this circle of self-positing “absolute recoil”: the effects of a cause retroactively produce their own cause. What characterizes this “materialist” self-positing is that, in contrast to the Fichtean “idealist” self-positing, it has the structure of a failure which can be best illustrated by the loop of symbolic representation: a subject endeavors to represent itself adequately, this representation fails, and the subject IS the result of this failure. Recall in this respect the “Hugh-Grant-paradox”: a hero tries to articulate his love to the beloved, stumbles and gets caught in confused repetitions, and it is this very failure to deliver his message of love in a perfect way that bears witness to its authenticity… The subject is thus not just caught in the reflexivity of absolute recoil; it IS nothing but this reflexivity.
The notion of such an act of unconscious self-positing is more than an abstract rumination: it can help us resolve a tension in the dominant form of the LGBT+ ideology. Many observers noticed a tension in LGBT+ ideology between social constructivism and (some kind of biological) determinism: if an individual biologically identified/perceived as man experiences himself in his psychic economy a man, it is considered a social construct, but if an individual biologically identified/perceived as man experiences herself as woman, this is read as an urge, not a simple arbitrary construct, but a deeper non-negotiable identity which, if the individuals demands it, the demand has to be met by sex-changing surgery. The media in Slovenia reported that in a high school in Ljubljana, a “progressive” teacher organized a trip for the pupils to a big swimming pool and asked them there to cross-dress (boys wearing bras, etc.). The obvious point of this experiment was to demonstrate to the children how gender identity is not a biological fact but a construct of social customs. However, I find it difficult to imagine a more ruthless and stupid experiment! Imagine among the pupils a (biological) boy who identifies psychically as a girl: I doubt he would feel relief at the fact that s/he can for a moment dress the way he feels appropriate to his true identity. Would the experiment not rather remind him of the fact that this identity is NOT simply the result of how he dresses etc. – a traumatic cross-dressing (a “girl” obliged to dress as a boy) is his/her daily life!
Along the same lines, kindergartens in Norway were told that, if a small boy is seen playing with girls, this orientation should be supported, he should be stimulated to play with dolls, etc., so that his eventual feminine psychic identity can articulate itself. The solution is here rather simple: yes, psychic sexual identity is a choice, not a biological fact, but it is not a conscious choice that the subject can playfully repeat and transform. It is an unconscious choice which precedes subjective constitution and which is, as such, formative of subjectivity, which means that a change of this choice entails the radical transformation of the one who makes it. In short, this choice is a case of the unconscious act of self-positing.
The “Fall” is the theological name for such an unconscious choice, and it designates the wound (of separation, of the constitutive loss) which characterizes our being-human as finite and sexed. Musk (and other proponents of Neuralink) wants to heal the wound literally: to fill in the gap, to have man united with god by way of making him god-like, i.e., by way of providing him with properties and capacities which we (till now) experienced as “divine.” What makes this option properly traumatic is that it turns around the gap that separates our ordinary daily experience from sublime speculations about our proximity to god. When someone talks about experiencing unity with god, a realist tells him to calm down: “Don’t get lost in your dreams, remember that you are still rooted in this miserable earthly reality!” But with the prospect of Singularity, the reply to this “realist” view is easy: ”We are the true realists, we can provide divine immortality in our empirical reality, and it is you, who still believes that our material mortality is the ultimate horizon of our being, that is effectively dreaming. You cling to the old notion of reality, ignoring the big breakthrough!”
Our wager is that here, at this point where Fichte and Hegel seem totally out of date and out of touch with our contemporaneity, we have to return to the two of them. More precisely, we have to circle back to Hegel’s reading of the Fall, if we want to move beyond mere fascination by the prospect of Singularity and really think what is going on here.
To Be Continued…
[i] Quoted from https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/23/elon-musk-neuralink-chip-brain-implants-humanity.
[ii] Quoted from op.cit.
[iii] Immanuel Kant, Critique of Practical Reason, London: Macmillan 1956, pp. 152–53.
[iv] Quoted from https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/nietzsche/1886/beyond-good-evil/.
[v] See https://in.mashable.com/culture/2054/indian-man-who-wants-to-sue-his-parents-for-giving-birth-to.