Friday, 24 April 2020

The Inhuman Excess



There is a biological and materiality inhumanity within which human thought is stranded.  The essence of human consciousness lies buried within a mass of materials and flows which far exceed it. In The Inhuman the French philosopher JF Lyotard speculates on this condition of humanity as stranded within the Inhuman:

what if human beings, in humanism’s sense, were in the process of, constrained into, becoming inhuman (that's the first part)? And (the second part), what if what is ‘proper’ to humankind were to be inhabited by the inhuman?”[1]

In doing so Lyotard raises the spectre of what inhuman might lurk within human experience. The Inhuman begins with the essay which asks: “Can thought go on without a body?” My speculative answer to his challenge is no. Thought without a body can never be possible but this claim comes with two qualifiers.
First there is an inhuman redundancy to every thinking body that thought is nested within but which exceeds it. Those dead things that we slough off, like fingernails and hair don’t think, but then neither do the molecules like carbon that we share with the rest of the world. All of thought needs a body, but not all of a body is doing the thinking. Parts of it are shitting, wheezing, growing and dying.
Second those bodies that think don’t necessarily have to be human; and other bodies will suggest different possibilities for thinking and experience.

To rephrase Lyotard’s question: What if Intentionality is not specific to Human thought? What if other entities exhibit an intentional relationship to the world? Further, what would it mean to say that intentionality is not even specific to biological life but, instead, emerges from instances of systemic complexity?

The horizon for this question is the attempt to consider the phenomenological notion of intentionality in relation to complex systems. My claim is that intentionality is not a feature specific to humans but a feature of all complex systems. Or, intentionality is not a feature unique to consciousness but rather one that consciousness shares with other systems.

At stake in this is the recognition that if phenomenology is the study of phenomena as they appear in experience, then this requires an expanded understanding of what experience means that extends its horizon beyond human consciousness. This would provide an account of intentionality in systems-theoretical terms that recasts phenomena in terms of terminology specific to complex systems. That is: observation, recursion and self-reference.


[1] Lyotard, JF (1991) [trans. Bennington/ Bowlby], The Inhuman, Cambridge: Polity Press pg. 2

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