TRENDS IN PHILOSOPHY OF TECHNOLOGY

 

 

Commented book review of Daniel Cérézuelle's

La Technique et la Chair: Essais de Philosophie de la Technique

Lyon: Parangon/Vs, 2011

 

 

 

by Kristo Ivanov, Umeå University, (April 2012, version 160320-2035)

(A short version of this paper was published by Amazon.ca, Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk)

 

 

 

TABLE OF CONTENTS

 

Introduction - Publisher's summary (translated from the French)

About this review

Part 1: Approaches to the spirit of technicism

Part 2: The onslaught of technology and its disruptive effects

Part 3: The flesh, technology, time

The book's conclusion

The book's appendix: Details about the notion of flesh

The reviewer's final comments

Facts, and theoretical background

Conclusions and anti-climax

The shortcomings of flesh

Flesh as theology without God

Symbolism: Cassirer and Jung

Religion as producer of symbolism

Computerization and theology of mathematics-logic

A Case Study: engagement, involvement, embodiment

The Case Study illustrated: a dissertation on embodiment

 

Introduction - Publisher's summary (my translation from the French)

The publisher's and the author's joint presentation of the French book reviewed here, with the translated title Technology and the Flesh: Essays on Philosophy of Technology, states that one cannot understand the technological dynamics of our civilization without taking into account a spirit of technicism that has nothing to do with utilitarian reason. That is why the field of the technological imaginary is of crucial political importance. The pace of expansion of our technological system is increasingly unsustainable. Many signs suggest it is already reaching its limits and that if we are to avoid ecological and social chaos it will be necessary to make wrenching revisions; a radical rethink of our consumerist and technicist lifestyle seems inevitable. Such a policy will face a formidable obstacle: beliefs and the collective imaginary. Mobilizing the notion of flesh as a thread, the essays in this volume offer an exploration of this technological imaginary. The relation of man to modern techniques is necessarily mediated by an imagination that is organized in sensory myths as much as in abstract ideas. Similarly it is because man is a being of flesh that the rapid deployment of technological power can have disruptive effects, even dehumanizing ones, individually and collectively. But to mention the idea of a renunciation to certain forms of power, it is to suggest to the "man-of-the society-of-development" to tear off his skin; he does not know how to respond except by a call for more technology. Yet it is because that man is a being of flesh that it is vital to impose a slower rate of technological change: a difficult task for which we are poorly prepared and for which one of the first conditions is to proceed towards demythologization of our technological imaginary.

 

About this review

To dwell in the issues considered in this demanding book is, to use its own words (p. 9), to risk to commit a political or professional suicide; unless it is done after retirement, that is. I feel qualified to confirm this on the basis of my own experience from the computer industry and the university world. And it is probable that the author himself, Daniel Cérézuelle, has had to pay a considerable price for passionately having pursued such studies in the philosophy of technology. The book is so far available only in French, targeting mainly French-speaking countries like France and Canada. The author, who we will refer to as "the author", presents himself as a student of philosophy and social sciences, having taught in France and the United States. Currently he is engaged in areas related to sustainable development and conducts research in philosophy of technology and the socializing role of non-monetary economy.

In the spirit of the book I will use the term "
technology" for the French "technique". One main message of the book is that the ongoing expansion of technology and its applications is the result of a technological spirit or frame of mind that is not utilitarian and consciously goal-directed but rather culturally conditioned. Indeed, while I was writing these lines I read about what undergraduate students of informatics at a Swedish university are concluding in an assignment on "future studies" in a course on the future digital media. Their vision is: "Touchscreens in tables and on walls, cameras in the lens of the eye, fingerprints instead of credit cards, the TV becomes a computer and digital games are controlled by bodily movements in large rooms..." Not a single word about essence of, or research on creativity, or about the difference between is and ought, between will be and should be, about whether it is foreseen to be good or bad and for whom, or for that matter who will pay and who may at least profit of it. Imagination is childishly let free at somebody's or taxpayers', or consumers' expenses, as in typical imaginative and playful advertising for futuristic levitating cars and whatnot. Forget about old style serious university research or investigative journalism: universities often prefer to keep surfing on the possible applications of available commercial and industrial products whose prior development is left to industrial laboratories. Goals and culture? If there are any goals they are the market's, whatever that is. Or, as a friend expresses it: the "objectives" end at the point of sale. Or at the point of the researchers cashing their research grants. Or at the point of the students receiving their passing grade.

 

According to the book's the driving cause of this state of affairs is the culturally conditioned technological imaginary (in Gilbert Durand's meaning) that is illustrated in the first of the three parts of the book in terms of history of theology and philosophy. They are seen to relate to the spirit of technology by means of analysis and commentaries of literature and films. The second part builds up an image of consequences of technology beyond questionable profits, while the third part is directed toward a sort of conclusion in terms of unacceptability or impossibility of long term consequences, and of what should be done.

In what follows, for stylistic reasons, I will refer to myself as (representing) "the reader", and thereby I will differentiate between the author's statements, and my own personal comments that will gradually increase in number along the course of the chapters. The next five sectionf below, including the "Appendix: Details about the notion of flesh" are an account of the book itself. The following "Some final comments" about the whole, with its subsections are mine. All translations from the French original text are mine. For the rest I wish to alert the readers that my intentional profusion of references and links in the text only aims at supporting further investigations including my own as related to my earlier work. For this I make extensive albeit not exclusive use of Wikipedia-references because of their comprehensiveness, and easy overview in terms of standardized layout, with full knowledge and evaluation of their possible shortcomings. All this explains the volume of text of my review that is expanded from the idea of a simple book review to a survey of its context as platform for research.



Part 1: Approaches to the spirit of technicism

The first part of the book in its chapter I is dedicated to illustrate how human thought, or "reason", or "spirit", from its known beginning long before the rise of science in the 16th and 17th centuries has been trying to "divinize" man. He has been being unconsciously seduced by a "desire for power" to transcend the limits of presumed human condition in the "reality", in terms of materiality, time, and space. This enterprise is illustrated by history: magic, myths embodied in literature or media, philosophy, and ultimately by repeated reforms and final abandonment of theological interpretations. The dream was early expressed also in the attempt to liberate the energy or spirit hidden inside nature and matter in order to trespass the ontological limits of human existence and to offset its perceived incompleteness. That is, it is a desire for power that has nothing to do with usefulness, and explains why the "vocation of the tool" is to transform itself sooner or later in weapon, and contribute to the "progressive production of God via evolution" (p.28). The technological striving for power and its characterization of deepest layers of modern Western thought is the recurrent theme of the book. The reader may note that this criticism recalls the classic notion of hubris, considered the greatest crime of ancient Greek society, something that is not recalled in its text.

 

Chapter II illustrates how the attempts were initially made by means of magic and the presumed understanding of divine intentions through knowledge of the system of forces or powers in nature. Cabbalism and Lullism are examples of conceptions that systematized the play of divine cause in combinatorial and numerical terms, opening the way towards a later mathematization of the understanding of nature. By means of mathematics one would be able to acquire further knowledge of the divine secrets of nature without the need of a particular virtue, mainly by means of "mechanical" (mathematical) operations. In this sense our modern solutions are analog to those of magic, gnosis, and hermeticism (p. 47). Even if the reference is not mentioned in the book the reader may note that this aspect of technology has been well noted by scholars like Frances Yates, and Richard Stivers in his book Technology as Magic, where Stivers is heavily influenced by Jacques Ellul, known as French philosopher, law professor, sociologist, lay theologian, and Christian anarchist. Stivers' book explains symbolism in language still better than our reviewed book and recalls questions that are common to the Toronto School of media theorists including Marshall McLuhan, Walter Ong, Neil Postman and related Douglas Rushkoff. It deals with "magic" in the crisis of language vs the rise of visualization and aestheticism, the dominion of statistical information through computers, mass media and public opinion, therapies and self-help ideologies, management fads, and education in universities in decline. Furthermore, we have the related Religion of Technology by David Noble and more contemporary studies relating these issues to trends in computer science, such as a PhD dissertation by Erik Persson (2002), partly summarized in an article in the Ellul Forum (Spring 2009) betitled (and available in pdf-format) as "Cybergnosticism Triumphant?" Most users including researchers of interaction between man and machine in the IT/ICT-field (information and communication technologyl) handle the products just by pressing keys in keyboards, without any idea about what happens "inside" or why it works. They may be seen as perceiving and acting as in a magic world: it "works" but one does not know why. Magic will work the more so when people in they "everyday life" have no views about what is good or bad, and for whom, but are content with their salary while fostering the "aesthetic" or aestheticist design of edutainement, interaction, engagement, involvement, presence or whatever.

 

The first part of the book includes also (chapter III) a review of the role of the relation between technique as crafts, and science for power or mastery over nature. This recalls in the mind of the reader the relation between the much advertised and little reflected-upon concept of tool, vs. machine or instrument where the book makes important distinctions between a tool that stays under the control of the human agent, and machine, inaugurated with the steam engine. This is done by dwelling on the implications that the Euclidean apodictic method had for mathematization or formalization of the sciences, and for the consequent partial divorce between science and experience, contrasted to experimentation. In this context appears the famous quotation from Descartes that in true science "We must deal only with objects about which our minds seem to suffice to acquire a certain and indubitable knowledge" [Il faut s'occuper seulement des objets dont nos esprits semblent suffire à acquérir un connaissance certaine et indubitable]. It prompts the author to recall that the "revolution in reason" was not a revolution of reason (p.60). That is: "This was a decision to limit the ontological horizon of reason. Objects of thought that are too difficult are excluded. The revolution in reason cannot be explained logically, it is posited as a new requirement that the human will must assume and carry out." The reader may ask: "carry out successfully?", whatever that means or should mean.

 

A chapter (IV) is dedicated to "technological violence" and deals with risk and danger as conceived in film and literature. Examples are given of how catastrophes are depicted as unavoidable or caused by incompetence, ill-willed villains or terrorists, all under the assumption that goodwill shall prevail under the aegis of democratic technology. Risks justify the taking of risks through the idea of insurance, furthering the "insurance industry". The reader is led to wonder whether this conception may also explain the ongoing emphasis on preventing and combating terrorism that seems to feed upon certain forms of technological power. The author's analysis goes on identifying features of the narratives such as fantasies on transgressions of moral and physical limits of reality, including infantile yearnings of omnipotence and transgender behavior or asexuality. This is a hidden ideology of "no consequences" (cf. "polymorphous perversity") or irresponsible behavior where no consequences of actions have to be reckoned with. It becomes obvious for the reader that such a scenario recalls a possible staging of aestheticism as in today's emphasis on "design", ludic behavior as in computer games, as well as present GLTQ-trends in Western societies that are associated with branches of feminism. The natural reality of biological diversity is downplayed or outright denied in favor of a technologically supported idea of gender's social construction in a world where, for instance, biological functions are artificialized.

 

Chapter V on "virtual existences" considers the ongoing technologically supported process of desincarnation (and therefore dehumanization, in the book's frame of mind of emphasis on "flesh"), and violence, with its implicit deconstruction of sexual gender identities and denial of biological-social constraints, as well as of consequences of human actions and risks in physical-biological reality. It is illustrated through commentaries on better known films and pieces of literature. Examples are Screamers by Christian Duguay; Crash, The Fly and EXistensZ by David Cronenberg; The Matrix, by Andy and Larry Wachowski, Avalon, by Mamoru Oshii. The reader may notice some parallel insights are contained in other studies such as the earlier mentioned PhD dissertation by Erik Persson, summarized in the article (pdf-format) on Cybergnosticism Triumphant? The book's theoretical framework purports to offer a description of the "soul's anatomy" and of the socio-ethical disorientation of the addict to computer games such as World of Warcraft whatever else is suggested by a novel like Ursula Poznanski's Erebos and its ethically neutral reviewers, e.g. for Swedish readers in the newspaper Dagens Nyheter. No lack of "engagement-involvement" here (see more below, at the end of this review). The reader may also notice that the mentioned plots have a deal in common with the core of the Swedish success cast figure Lisbeth Salander, as well as complications in contemporary sexual relations, emphasis on radical feminism, gender-wars, homosexuality, bisexuality, transgender, cisgender, and euphemisms for promiscuity. They may be summarized by the abuses of feminism, of the so called LGBT and polyamory movements, and illustrated by some of the ultimate behaviors described scientifically as early as in 1886 by Richard von Krafft-Ebing in his Psychopathia Sexualis, and as late as in the afterwar's weird art like The Ballad of Genesis and Lady Jaye, or filmic environments related to the Church of Satan and their influence on present computer-game settings. The reader, however, will usually not go to such extremes in the reflections upon the chapter. It may be enough to perceive subtle syntheses of the messages in both chapters IV and V by interpreting the content of teen-age oriented best-sellers like the Swedish Cirkeln, in a trilogy by Mats Strandberg and Sara Bergmark Elfgren, 2012), that has been described as a "Harry Potter pastiche", obviously exploiting the Harry Potter successful pattern. It was unsuspectingly reviewed in the main newspaper Dagens Nyheter (18 April 2011) with the naive comment that the more powerless a group of people (read: teenagers) feel (or are pretended to be) in society, the greater the need for them to invoke omnipotent and romanticized incarnations as vampires and magicians. And the publisher's choice of an appreciative quotations from writer John Ajvide Lindqvist claims that it deals with group dynamics, identity, understanding one's place in the world, and on how to become a human.

The first part ends with chapter VI on the "metaphysics of accident" and its purpose is to give a sort of historical, phenomenological and psychological insight  into the development of human attitudes to risks and accidents, with emphasis on the fascination of speed and the "disparity in nature between human and technical time" (p. 112). It starts from reflections upon traditional philosophy's differentiation between accident and essence, it goes further to early perceptions of bureaucratic
depersonalization, and to early accidents with what we today see as an antiquated technological system such as described in Thomas de Quincey's The English Mail Coach (1849). The text is interspersed by challenging reflections. One of them is on the "perverse inversion between the essential and the accidental" whereby we come to see increased rates of accidents as both inevitable, normal and perfectly acceptable. So arise "technical fatalities" that in fact imply a willful renounce to know the context and consequences of our actions. Earlier in the book (p. 67f.) this is exemplified by the estimate that by the year 2020 traffic accidents will be the third most common cause of deaths and invalidity in the world, after cardiovascular diseases but before wars and AIDS. Another series of reflections deals with the downplaying of dangers in the name of rejected or denied "improbable possibilities" while paradoxically praising technology's proud capability to make possible what seemed to be impossible. Several related expressions find their place in the text, such as "the unlikely possibility can become real", or "the real is no more necessary than the possible" (quoted from Sören Kierkegaard's Philosophical fragments).

 

At this point the reader will readily recall the Fukushima nuclear disaster, as well as its relation to the Chernobyl nuclear accident. One thoughtful concluding reflection is that "the real is more complex than we know" or imagine (p. 101). While re-reading this chapter (VI) ("Métaphysique de l'accident") as part of my obstinate struggle for this review it occurred to me that I must include a reference to a genial video-sketch Om sannolikhet [On probability] by the late Swedish author, actor, poet and film director Tage Danielsson. It is a video with English subtitles, referring to the famous Three Mile Island accident, south of Pennsylvania's capital Harrisburg in the USA in 1979 (there is on the net also an alternative video source and the translated written text). The kind of reflections raised in the book regarding the concept of probability would have allowed the construction of a bridge over to a systems theory on the base of critical analysis of probability such as the one advanced by West Churchman in his Prediction and Optimal Decision. That kind of systems theory would have answered many of those questions that, as we shall see later in the book, appear to be left unanswered by the phenomenological approach espoused by the author.

 

Part 2: The onslaught of technology and its disruptive effects

The second part of the book starting with chapter VII (p. 119) deals with consequences of the technical imaginary, mainly in "case studies" in the fields of biotechnologies and informatics. Especially biotechnologies put into evidence that technology in not simply "transitive" in the sense of a tool obeying voluntary actions of a human subject upon an inanimate object. Reflexivity comes into play when a subject' or agent's technologically supported power of action affects subjects or agents including himself, and their own subsequent will. This is most visible in techniques affecting births and reproduction, transplantation, and such, including then e.g. redefinitions of death. So called bioethics, in the name of good-willed intentions risks to mask the risks. It assumes a free will, free from social constraints, with full consciousness and freedom of choice in a liberal pluralist society living up to an Anglo-Saxon democratic ideology. It assumes this for well defined professionals, working with a statute in a transparent institutional context. This disregards that technology eventually becomes banalized and is practiced outside a narrows professional context, and is submitted to sociological pressures that challenge the image of ideal independent moral agents. Socialist reformers of the past at least acknowledged the need for a "social reorganization" to meet this type of challenges. Besides this, rational ethical imperatives such as in "codes of conduct" presume a feeling of responsibility that, in turn, is grounded in a individuality or "who am I?". Such an individuality is today shaken by concrete organ transplantation, prosthesis, sex change or transgender practices, but especially by the parallel questioning of individuation including the related filiation and sperm donation. Ultimately the question becomes "who is the subject of ethical life" when it turns out that ethical voluntarism does not work. Means are created in view of ends but on the other hand they impose their own constraints. Even those who do not endorse the claim that technological progress is autonomous will agree that it cannot be stopped, despite of the absence of total overview and goals. The author concludes the need for a moratorium and an ethics of "non-power" in the shadow of Jacques Ellul's pessimistic quotation "the supreme luxury of this civilization of necessity [of unavoidable progress] is to grant me the superfluity of a sterile revolt, and a willing smile". Symptomatically the same feeling arised in me upon meeting the Swedish judicial system in a matter related to the "Society for Cutting Up Men", S.C.U.M. and to the political correctness of militant radical feminism that is also supported by "masculine" power technology.

 

Similar conclusions are draw from a following chapter (VIII, p. 151ff.) on "ethics and informatics" where the latter is structured as the storage, processing and transmission of information. In historical contrast to other techniques, computer and information science are noted for being inextricably both science and technology, or theoretical technology, rather than applied science. For those who like me are familiar with this field it is easy to verify (and extrapolate into other chapters) the trustworthiness of the book's analysis of various issues. Examples are the abuse of citizens' data bases that rely on de-individualizing personal identification numbers (PIN), the impotence of a professional codes of ethics, the limitations of the efficacy of the formal requirement of the registered people's informed consent, the overconfidence in state regulatory organs corresponding to the Swedish Data Inspection Board compared with the need of public morality, the misunderstanding of privacy in typically individualist and liberal approaches that ignore the realities of public life and the ongoing gradual merge between private and public life (cf. individuation), the increased centralized control of citizens by the state in general, and by the police in particular under the pretext of preventing accidents and terrorism as related to powerful and sensitive technology, the automation and degradation of personal skills and consequent unemployment in computerized work environments, and so on. It is easy to agree with the author that such developments characterized by piecemeal, incrementalist approaches require much more than "deontological recommendations" (p. 152ff.).

 

But it will not help that the author complains about "our dependence upon the incomprehensible" of excessively complex technology, and that he consequently calls for an ethics-based on debate and politicization of technical choices, prudence, slowness, or "respect for the Kantian principle of humanness that requires abstention from total objectivation of the subjects social life". Ethical voluntarism, as acknowledged in earlier parts of the book, will not do when available technology conditions human will and does not encourage or even permit choices. Finally the author acknowledges that the politicization of ethics (that the reader may equate to overconfidence in democracy) does not eliminate the risk of incontinence or wantonness, i.e. willing evil despite of knowing the good. Nevertheless, the chapter remarkably ends in an appeal to renunciation to certain technological possibilities and to a call for an "ethics of non-power", a kind of paradox that the reader notes, and will appear more and more often in the rest of the book. It may recall in the reader's mind Carl Jung's statement (in his On the Psychology of the Unconscious, Collected Works, CW 7, §78) that logically, the opposite of love is hate, and of Eros, Phobos (fear); but psychologically it is the will to power. One can then easily draw the conclusion, about what has been forgotten in the calls for non-power, moratorium, and such, and why I do not look for, say, the psychoanalyst of power Alfred Adler despite power being a central issue in our book, as I do not look for Hannah Arendt with her insightful writings on power and violence. Ultimately it may not be a question of power but, rather, love in its particular meaning of charity.

 

The following chapter IX (p. 159ff.) deals with technology related to breakdown of civilization or culture at the daily life's "street-level" that could be included in what today in the English language is associated with "local-informal-manual-ecological-sustainable". The reader may realize that in the academic world some aspects of this have been acknowledged under the label of civil society, but more closely to the capability approach related in knowledge-information terms to tacit knowledge and to knowledge management, raising particular problems in the computer-related field of knowledge engineering. The whole point of the chapter, however, is to emphasize that modern technology and especially what in France is called "techno-science" tends to oppress and destroy street-level culture or the basic cultural texture of daily life. For this purpose the author refers to, among others, to his own earlier book (in French, 1996 For a Different Social Development),  and Amartya Sen's (only in French, L'économie est Une Science Morale (Economics is a Moral Science, with comments in English by Angus Sibley).

 

It in this chapter that the reader will note that author starts referring in increasing scale to the concept of symbolism that progressively, in the later text appears associated to (mainly) Ernst Cassirer, and, further to Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and  André Leroi-Gourhan (Gesture and Speech, 1964-65, cf. ritual and myth) close to the field of symbolic anthropology. Consequently the chapter abounds in references to how to counter the de-symbolization effect of technology, akin to the same effect of money. There are further references to need to offset the loss of educational symbolic-mythical processes and systems. Beyond processes and systems the text is full with the adjective "symbolic" or the lexeme symbol applied to mediations, capital, schemes, creation, forms, relations, order, culture, world, universe, constructions, dimensions, register, religious, and production. One vivid example is given by the symbolic loss of initiation and ritual for sexual approach, leading to rape behavior. The reader may note that rape in our society is widely and ritually condemned but seldom related to a search for why.

 

Human participation in symbolic systems and the necessary internalization of values is seen as achieved in narrow combination among the sensitive, the social, the technical, and the religious, mutually consolidated by a narrow interaction between gesture and speech (p. 160). Later on the author quotes Thomas Robert Malthus concerning what wealth is or should be in political economy: religion, morals, political and civil freedom, eloquence, educative and pleasant conversations, music, dance, theater, and other services  and qualities (p. 164) He also criticizes Karl Marx for considering "in the rationalist tradition" only formal and intellectual dimensions of the "symbolic capital": law, political ideas, art, religion, while neglecting the "social symbolic capital" and non-monetary practices for the construction of social bonds and economic life (p. 171f.). In other words, the reader gets the impression that the author regards "symbolism" as encompassing everything and all grounds, in an analog totalizing way as earlier undefined "systems" and later "design" seems to encompass all human activity according to trends in academia. For instance religion or, rather, theology that in history of universities was considered the queen of sciences, becomes only one dimension among dozens of others. So, the question that arises in this chapter may be seen as how to design or redesign and implement symbolisms, well distinct from the present proliferation of discourse and signs mediated by information and communication technology that is, rather, a symptom of crisis of symbolism. The reader hopes that all this will not result in a "postmodernist" turn towards aestheticism and design where aesthetics, often mentioned in a conjuring gratuitous combination with "ethics") ultimately is supposed to replace theology as the queen of sciences and everything else. It will turn out that book's author suggests that his approach relies on Cassirer but also on Merleau-Ponty, while his passion for the concept of "imaginary" that powers technology is understood in the same sense as by Gilbert Durand. The reader may note that the latter's "symbolic anthropology" is said to have been influenced by Carl Jung but the controversies in which he has been involved as thesis advisor of the militant anarchist Michel Gaucher, and as teacher of the postmodern sociologist Michel Maffesoli, in turn advisor of the famous Élizabeth Tissier's thesis, indicate important complications for the reader's judgment of the nature of the actual influence of Jungian thought on postmodern "fringe" beliefs. As Paul Bishop expresses it "Jung's intention was, however, to explain the psychology behind such 'fringe' beliefs, not propagate them." (New Humanist, 123:1, 2008.)

 

The breakdown of the symbolic texture is further exemplified in the book's chapter X on politics vs. civilization. It considers the social context and reactions to the hurricane Katarina in the USA in 2005, as related to the 1900 Galveston hurricane considered to be to date the deadliest natural disaster ever to strike the United States. The message is to point out the breakdown of the political and social (symbolical?) texture of society as evidenced by the incapability of taking preventive measures or confessing the impotence of technology. Despite the relatively minor impact of Katarina in terms of human lives, the denial of the sociopolitical and technical incapability to face improbable but evidently possible disasters, i.e. to acknowledge that "nature exists, indeed" (p. 185, cf. the "social construction of gender") results in the search and appointment of scapegoats, in this case "government". In this context the reader may appreciate some of the debate among ecologists with reference to environmental forecasting, as in Daniel Borkin's article on "Science and Soothsaying" and its comments, which raise in the reader the suspicion that there are also other scapegoats around: to pity all humanity (and incidentally our children) for the long term effects of global warming and environmental degradation while many people are suffering and dying now of poverty, starvation and wars. Our book's author continues with other well known cases of "ill-intentioned" people, terrorists and such, justifying the increased police control and brutal treatment of brutalized citizens, plus obviously brutal military international violence by, yes, the very same government. At this point arises in the reader the thought that one of the main drives of technology, to begin with historically, is for weapons and war. The book does not touch upon the question of how to ensure peace, beyond the obscure suggestion of producing new symbolic systems (see below) and beyond seeing aggression as supported by scapegoat ideology, suggesting that war itself is the result of the technological search for power. What is ignored is the main mythical-symbolic, if not religious and Christian, scapegoat of Jesus Christ, himself an icon for the "non-power" called for earlier in the book.

 

Part 3: The flesh, technology, time

In the following third part of the book, however, it turns out that Christianity is not ignored. A massive amount of the text of chapter XI (p. 189ff.) is dedicated to the incarnation of the abstract logos, in theological terms that paradoxically follow the partly secularized thought of three of the book's ideologically dominating scholars of industry and technology: Jacques Ellul, Bernard Charbonneau and Ivan Illich. Paradoxically, the author acknowledges here and in another place of the book (p. 191, 254) that he, like the agnostic "postchristian" (but hopefully not "postmodern"?) Charbonneau (p. 196) is neither theologian nor believer, only aiming at understanding those three authors. He rejects those expressions of Christianity and other religions that regard man's aim as being to approach God in the sense of their own deification by means of the liberation of the thinking rational spirit from the constrains of material reality in general and the body or, rather, human flesh in particular. The author's references to the unprecedented desincarnation of the word and thought that is going on awakens in the reader an association to information technology and virtual reality. It is this perverse dream that is seen to drive technology to supposedly save or redeem man from the biblical fall from paradise.

 

As mentioned earlier this problematization corresponds to the classical hubris which, symptomatically meant abuse of power and concomitant overconfidence, equivalent to self-deification, also illustrated in the Catholic newspaper The Remnant on Line under the title "Deus ex Machina (Soul of Technology, Sanctify Me)", a satyre on the godly technology. The author goes on problematizing the important concept of freedom with the purpose of showing that as in the example of Christ incarnated it is not a question of acquiring power for the purpose of doing whatever one happens to want, but rather to struggle in this earthly life following the example of Christ (cf. the non mentioned Imitation of Christ). At a certain point both liberally and socialistically oriented institutional organizations, specialized technological knowledge, and industry, prevent the incarnation of man leading to a moral and ecological degradation of our lives. Resistance is only possible by means of the "love for life and the striving for all forms of happiness offered by sensitive life" as well as a by a kind of rural "carnal attachment to beauty" (p. 199f.). The reader, as well as outright hedonists, may intuit here a tempting theoretical bridge over to aestheticist postmodernism, a step that, for instance, is clearly indicated by Michel Maffesoli's ambiguous "ethical aesthetics", e.g. in his "In the Hollow of Appearances", but still more explicitly in "In Praise of Sensitive Reason" (translated titles) where description merges treacherously with prescription. It may be suggestive to compare the imaginary of "the hollow" with its probable source in Heidegger's own "empty" and "nothing" in his essay "The Origin of the Work of Art" (found e.g. in his Basic Writings) versus T.S Eliot's poem The Hollow Men. Ultimately it all recalls in my mind a (paradoxically godless) version of negative theology and a sort of Jungian collective unconscious without its empirical ground.

 

The book's descriptions of postmodern society then merge with apparent prescriptions that are spiced with a criticisms of a choice of catholically influenced, uncritical apologies of faith in technological progress (p. 212f.). If nothing else this approach serves as a tacit justification for the author's agnosticism, but in its conjunction with the postmodern turns it tends to become a postmodern message. The appeals to "incarnation" when divorced from Catholic teaching risk to turn into an appeal to idolatry. "Flesh" is indeed a highly sensitive issue in the Christian context of dangers of idolatry and the more so in text written by an outspokenly unbelieving agnostic who paradoxically theologizes about Jesus Christ through the whole chapter. The question arises whether the "flesh" itself does not incur the danger of "false concreteness of pseudo-percepts" (p. 203) as it eventually appears in a sort of phenomenological apotheosis of the flesh in the appendix at the end of the book (p. 253). And this is just after the anti-climax of the book's final words, consisting of an imperative for man to cultivate what Friedrich Nietzsche's superman called "the sense of the earth" (p. 252, cf. Zarathustra's Prologue). It would take too far indeed to develop here the hypothesis that the Christian solution of the question of the flesh as related to incarnation is represented by the theological and psychological interpretations of the "concrete" sacrament of Eucharist: Swedish readers may notice especially the statements by Anders Piltz in Radio Sweden's program "Teologiska Rummet" 22 April 2012. Other readers can read about sacrament, and about "fleshy" ritual in the context of myth vs. ritual, without implying that religions are myths, whatever one should understand as myth.

 

Some legitimate Christian and catholic messages in the text, however, remain in the form of genuine appeals against any dissociation between means and ends. The ends must be incorporated not only in its effects but also in the agent and its means. The means must also be purposeful, all this amounting to a primacy of life with respect to action (p. 205f.) Several such thoughts are borrowed from the ("anarchist") catholic Jacques Ellul, but the reader may ponder further, upon the fact that they are an integrated part of the official Catholic Catechism, esp. ¤ 1752 ff. They are also founded in scientifically developed form in West Churchman's The Design of Inquiring Systems (chap. 3 on "the anatomy of goal seeking"). This conception of systems including its "pragmatist" appeal to act has nothing to do with the Ivan Illich's criticized "age of systems" or "professionalized design" that refers to the banal, sense-based "design turn" that succeeded the banal versions of the "systems turn" of the fifties, while ignoring the core meaning of design as addressed by Edmund Husserl in The Crisis of European Sciences (second part, ¤ 9). In this context it becomes important to understand the "Churchmanian" preferred orientation inspired by William James's pragmatism (contrasted to John Dewey's, common in design-circles, and Charles S. Peirce, in their relation to phenomenology, ref. Études Phénoménologiques 1989, No. 9-10). Unfortunately such a relation to pragmatism is neither hinted nor explored in the book. It would indicate alternative ways for phenomenology and the integration of the book's criticism of modern science with new approaches to the problems of modernity, and postmodernity. It would avoid the recourse to what some readers of the book may perceive as a pseudo-Christian "mysticism of the flesh" permeating the conclusion and the appendix that follow the last chapter XII.

 

The last chapter XII of the book is in part a summary of earlier insights, starting with the observation of the dynamics of speedy growth and sprawling of new interrelated branches of technology, which require continuous and unpredictable needs for innovation and change. The author presents also some by now "classical" findings about the enormous "information explosion" of numbers of scientific journals and articles all over the world. Reality gets always more complicated than foreseen, requiring societal changes at an increasing rate,  with actions and organizational structures that are continuously left "unfinished". The desperate call for predictability is accompanied by repeated denial of "the real" (and a plunge into the "virtual", the reader may think) This requires increasingly severe "democratically lawful" guarantees for public order (cf. Alexis de Tocqueville's problematization of democracy, the reader also may think), and security measures that are supposed to prevent disastrous global accidents or sabotages by creating (an artificial, virtual) predictability. This includes computer-supported policing and digital surveillance of the general public who willingly and gradually surrenders its privacy, seen to carry negligible weight in the context. Unpredictability feeds irresponsibility and haphazard behavior in face of harnessed but dangerous, technologically created and accumulated, natural energy. This is exemplified by the terrorism of the Oklahoma City bombing, followed by the September 11 attacks. All these processes cause a cultural disorganization and a perversion of values and spiritual traditions, as they are called in the book. In the middle of all this, researchers in general and university researchers in particular are described as driven by the expectation of profits but also by the mirage of career, exchange of favors, prestige, influence, and will to power, while their sense of responsibility is gradually weakened.

 

What to do? Starting with this chapter begin to appear the author's increasingly explicit suggestions and prescriptions about what to do, often if now always in the form of statements or Kantian-like tacit categorical imperatives that initially may pass unperceived with respect to their quality of imperatives. "It takes much time to evaluate the consequences of our actions", "it takes time to learn to use any technology advisedly", "it must take the time" (to evaluate and learn), "it is vital to impose a slower rate of technological change." Or more specifically: "facing the impossibility of suspending technological innovation, if taking our time is a duty, then we must instrumentalize it in the form of law, a moratorium, in order for us to have the time to produce the symbolic cultural resources and the adoption of strong ethical guidelines" (my italics). Or, "more urgent than technical innovation is to resolve on moral and political bases the social and environmental problems by two centuries of techno-scientific and industrial progress" (my free translation and emphasis, pp. 240ff.) For a reader it may seem obvious what a Marxist versus a liberal or a libertarian, versus a pious (not "fundamentalist") Christian would start objecting to in such a program, and the question would pass to deal with what it means, and what are the limitations of, the process of producing symbolic cultural capital. This is the focus of the final conclusions and the appendix that consequently terminate the book.

 

In the concluding chapter the author dwells upon the possibility to invent new venues for a non dehumanizing development of technology, after he has found that political projects have failed, such as socialisms, communisms, fascisms, nationalisms, and religious fundamentalisms (that seem to be equated to religions). To begin with, for every innovation it should be required to proceed to a careful examination of long term costs including futurely foreclosed choices that are often underestimated, and the short term benefits that are often presented as necessities and are overestimated. To provide oneself with the means to choose requires much knowledge but also "political and institutional inventions" (the reader may think about Karl Marx). But this is difficult because modern man is unconsciously fascinated by the values of power, novelness, and quickness. Furthermore, technological modernity is seen to stand in unsuspected harmony with religion and metaphysics despite the apparent ruptures declared by positivists and progressivists. This is so since technology is often considered by certain theology to be a legitimate way offered by God (the godly spirit of reason) to repair consequences of the original human fall and ascend by transcending the limits of low materiality. A reader may note that theology's position in this respect as in fact ambiguous was noted long ago in a book edited by Carl Mitcham and Jim Grote, Theology and Technology. Curiously it turns out that in his conclusion the author's language makes recourse to the concept of power that he per se condemns, in order "to provide oneself with the means to choose", depending upon who is oneself and whose choices. It becomes a matter of "mastering technical innovation", "submit it to choices", or "regain self-control". The reader ponders: it is indeed difficult for man, especially Western man, to renounce to the language of power as much as to renounce to power itself. Possibly this is one of the reasons why secularized man does not like Christianity, as little as he likes to follow the apparently absurd non-power recipe of the already mentioned Imitation of Christ, or why he prefers to talk about power to subdue power into non-power, or as in Scandinavian countries to paradoxically and "Protestantly" counter the so called Law of Jante, rather than to talk about Christian love or charity. Or, then, Westerners look for attractive foreign religions or Buddhism, which in their misunderstood and oversimplified form apparently preach a sort of easy salvation without painful sacrifices or final judgements.

 

The book's conclusion

At this point the author finds the indispensable need for what he calls a demythologization of technology (p. 249). The reader may note that the loosely defined demythologization has a standing in the theology of (the unmentioned) Rudolf Bultmann, or perhaps in other unclear sources, but the statement is rather paradoxical in view of the book's initial commitment to the necessary role of the imaginary in all human thought. The paradoxical question then arises in the reader, about which (non mythological?) imaginary would direct the process of demythologization that for many religious people of the world, and for Christians in particular is the domain of religion itself. In another context of analysis of so called political correctness I did write a review of a book by Howard Schwartz on organizational psychology that includes a suggestion of how one can see Christianity as performing a synthesis of myths that correspond to what our book here calls production of a new symbolic system, addressing phenomena of "virtual existences" in chapter IV of our book reviewed here. Our author continues, however, with a gradual increase of emphasis of references to "symbolization". Man's relation to the world is not only intellectual and operative but also sensitive and symbolic. There are not only technical and intellectual dimensions of freedom but also symbolic. The relation to the world is not only technical and intellectual but also affective (undefined, but assumedly related to the symbolic and the sensitive). There are sensitive and aesthetic dimensions in our relation to the world. The use of tools and power have always been humanized, integrated into the human world by means of symbolic production, in a symbolic order. In a couple of pages (p. 250f.) we find the previously mentioned further reference to symbolic world, symbolic universe, symbolic constructions, unconsciously symbolic production, symbolic culture, symbolic capital, symbolic schemata, symbolic creation and, again, symbolic production for a new symbolic universe. Without going to the multiple implicit sources of thought about symbolism and phenomenological carnalism the reader may not even able to try to grasp what all this symbolism is and how it will solve the technological problem. But the author categorically states that its taking into consideration the carnal dimension of human existence can ground the concern for imposing another slower temporality, or a moratorium to technical change.

 

The book's appendix: Details about the notion of flesh

In the final Appendix, the author seemingly offers an apology for his approach as a defense against the criticism he expect will be directed towards his emphasis on theological interpretations of incarnation as an introduction to the flesh. He fears "that such notion of flesh smells too much of sacristy". Indeed, one may wonder why the reader of the book is expected to respect the argument of Christ's incarnation when the author himself, once again in this appendix (p. 254) repeats that he is not a (Christian) believer. In the apparently unconscious impasse of bypassing this paradox the author suddenly endorses some quotations from Edmund Husserl and Maurice Merleau-Ponty who consequently must be supposed to bear the burden of the whole theoretical framework of the book with respect to what-to-do.¬ For the systems-oriented reader of our reviewed book "what-to-do" is mainly the question of implementation that West Churchman long ago had conceived in terms of mutual understanding and later developed in terms of the confluence of the roles of researcher-decisionmaker-client in the so called Singerian inquiring systems (see my homepage's Index of "Inquiring Systems", keyword "implementation"), or what today, as we saw above, corresponds to the aims of the capability approach mentioned earlier. This has been the object of an article of mine on the Systems Approach to Design, and Inquiring Systems. But the book launches instead a Husserlian philosophical differentiation between body and flesh. The flesh is further defined as suggested by Merleau-Ponty as the "animated body" and the author boldly claims (in my free edited translation): "The flesh is the indestructible foundation that feeds our thoughts, up to the most abstract. It is a founding and paradoxical reality that is characterized by moral metaphors. Thus the flesh interacts with a primordial symbolism as understood by Ernst Cassirer, i.e. forms that are developed through language, religion, myth, art and science."

 

The author then writes the following last words in the appendix, which indicate that he seems to have had a foreboding that he must preventively counter the reader's perception that there is much of a "mystical irrationalism". The question is what will the effect be upon the reader of what may appear to him more of a disclaimer: the author claims namely that the above references in his appendix are sufficient "to show, without tipping over to a mystical irrationalism, that human reason can build upon the fruitful notion of flesh."

The reviewer's final comments

Facts, and theoretical background

In my view the main valuable message of this rich book about the essence of technological thinking and its consequences is contained in the first two parts and in its relating the subject matter to the European, and especially French cultural sphere. The book is a veritable tour de force. It is saturated with many names that are not sufficiently known in the Anglo-Saxon world, and are not completely covered by bibliographic data in the references scattered through the notes of the book which, as in the French publishing tradition, unfortunately lacks both a word-index. The realm of English language is all too often presumed by Anglo-Saxon researchers to be auto-sufficient but it would profit of more translations from foreign languages. The author seems to have been most strongly influenced by known and less known French names like Jacques Ellul, Jean Brun, Bernard Charbonneau. Gilbert Hottois, Dominique Janicaud, and Michel Henry, (Incarnation: A Philosophy of the Flesh) complete the list of French personalities who appear often referenced in the book, besides other Europeans who are more common in Anglo-Saxon literature, like Martin Heidegger, Hans Jonas, Alexandre KoyrŽ, and Ivan Illich. This does not mean that Anglo-Saxon and especially American research is ignored. For instance, a tribute is given to such research: from a theoretical standpoint by Carl Mitcham who co-edited the impressive book on Theology and Technology, and from the practical standpoint by several authors who have studied high risk technologies and disasters (p. 65f, 179). The philosophical basis of the book seems to stand ultimately on the phenomenology of the (for me) problematically elusive Maurice Merleau-Ponty (The Visible and the Invisible), and the related Ernst Cassirer (his Philosophy of Symbolic Forms), while an American philosopher of technology like Albert Borgmann is not considered, possibly because he thinks along the same philosophical "Heideggerian" lines as other referenced French authors by whom the author is indeed influenced. The American reader is also kept wondering what relation the work has, if any, with other similar approaches in terms of "flesh", "body", and possibly phenomenology, such as by Mark Johnson (e.g. The Body in the Mind), his co-author George Lakoff ( in Philosophy in the Flesh), and Francisco Varela, Evan Thompson and Eleanor Rosch (The Embodied Mind), or the Italian Giulio Angioni (in Il sapere della Mano, i.e. The Hand's Knowledge).

 

Conclusions and anti-climax

The last chapters of the book regarding a supposed conclusion or implementation culminate with what I perceived as an anti-climax. I concede, however, that this may testify my incapability to grasp the inherent implications of Cassirer's work on symbolism and the conceptualization of the phenomenology of the flesh by Merleau-Ponty's, and of phenomenology in general. I did not see clear theoretical connections either to the similar works in the European or in the Anglo-Saxon sphere as mentioned above, works that I have been skeptical about all the same. Even when I see theoretical connections, like with the phenomenology of Giulio Angioni's, I wonder about the absent role, there, of Cassirer's symbolism. The credibility of our reviewed book's theoretical approach is undermined to begin with by the use of weird imperatives that by far do not seem to be grounded as well as the famous Kantian categorical imperative, which in a theological perspective is by itself very controversial. As a one-time detailed account I share here my annotations about (besides many pages with uses of the socio-politically sensitive use of the pronoun "we" all over the text) the pages of the book containing a-political and a-religious, more and less tacit imperatives in various semantic forms: pages 7, 11, 104, 138, 157, 227, 236, 240-242, 245, 250, 252. Their proliferation is only, and vastly, exceeded by the use of words with the lexeme symbol. Obviously such vocabulary of imperatives does not take into account what the author himself quotes (p. 158) from Carl Mitcham regarding the risk of incontinence understood as willing evil despite of knowing the good, while Mitcham probably had in mind "For I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate" (Romans 7:15 ESV). And how about that? What or who would be of help, in the middle of today' confusion about human will and ethics?

 

The shortcomings of flesh

This leads to what I think is most important: that despite the book's emphasis on the Christian doctrine of the incarnation as well as on life and flesh, the famous teachings of the Christian philosophy of the body (controversial among traditionalist catholics) are ignored. What is also ignored is also their integration in the encyclical Evangelium Vitae (1995) on the value and inviolability of human life. It may turn out that Merleau-Ponty's phenomenological differentiation between body and flesh has much to do with the theological (and Carl Jung's) differentiation between body, soul and spirit (cf. another essay on this). And Carl Jung's relation to Paul Tillich's Heideggerian existentialism as it appears in J.P Dourley's Trinitarian Models and Human Integration also offers problematic insights, as they are offered also by studies of relation between Cartesian philosophy and the flesh, from analytic-psychological perspective of "incarnation". Scholars of Rudolf Steiner point out that even his anthroposophical work with its very special interpretation of Christianity has a refined analysis of the issue as in his Christianity as a Mystical Fact (GA 8) and The Gospel of St. Luke (GA 114) as related to the resurrection of Jesus, with a core text found as the The Meaning of Easter. Valdemar Setzer has written a comprehensive anthroposophical essay on the subject. That, if anything, would at least acknowledge the strife that with Christianity has being going for at least two thousand years for the upgrade and rescue of flesh and life, something that does not seem to be acknowledged in the book's endorsed philosophy of the flesh.

When this is said I must emphasize that all references to religion and especially Christianity in this review, including occasional references to the Bible, do not imply a doctrinaire preaching. My position is that an intellectually honest analysis of the problems considered here cannot be pursued on the basis of only Heidegger or Cassirer, explaining away as crazy, irrational or irrelevant the historical and present intellectual debates about the religious commitments of the clear majority of humanity that did not and does not subscribe to a complex, problematic atheism, or a simpler agnosticism. As an amusingly significant curiosity I will mention that a childhood friend of mine who in his teenage had begun to express atheistic thoughts was told by his Italian father that no objections would be raised by the family so long he espoused atheism only after having read and understood the Summa Theologica by Thomas Aquinas. An alternative later text that illustrates neglected complexities is La Querelle de l'Athéisme [The Dispute of Atheism], a French collection of translated German texts by J.-G. Fichte (from Werke; Band V, Berlin, 1971) in consideration of relations between Fichte and Husserl (cf. Denis Fisette, pdf-download) and the Heidegger of our reviewed book (cf. Alfred Denker, "Der junge Heidegger und Fichte", from Fichte-Studien, 13, 1997, pdf-download).

 

Flesh as theology without God

And this brings us back to both phenomenology and symbolism. Regarding phenomenology I adduce Karl Lšwith's portrait at the Goethe Institute written by Berndt Mayerhofer, and Lšwith's famous statements quoted by John Macquarrie in Heidegger and Christianity (p. 6) taken from Lšwith's From Hegel to Nietzsche (trans. by D.E. Green, 1967, p. 207). I will never forget my reading it many years ago, namely that Heidegger's philosophy "is in its very essence a theology without God". And, as Macquarrie observes (p.70f.) "we might blame Heidegger himself for never having developed an ethical side to his philosophy...he consistently avoided ethical questions...the ethical question is passed by."  (I think it is really so, except for some inconsequential statements in his Letter on Humanism, found in Basic Writings, and see below about "values" and blasphemy against Being.) Or, as Mayerhofer expresses it for the Goethe Institute: Lšwith (a contemporary student of Heidegger) at least noted that "modernity, oriented to a this-worldly goal [cf. our book's flesh, my note] and a philosophy of history obsessed with the idea of a successive approximation of this goal [even if framed as survival or peace, my note], depends upon theology or the theological view of history as a redemptive process. This idea originates in the biblical belief in salvation and ends with the Òsecularizing of its eschatological modelÓ. And I would say that despite Husserl, and Martin Heidegger, it is Friedrich Nietzsche behind them who is the representative philosophical "father" of it all about flesh and earth. In this sense the book is an outpost for Nietzschean thought and it explains its seemingly paradoxical pulling ahead of this sort of Christianity.

A better understanding of the book's theology of the flesh revealed as a theology without God beyond or behind wholesale superficial references to Merleau-Ponty would also have dampened the final anti-climax at reader's meeting the flesh as a sort of conclusion at the end of the text. Such an understanding is offered if one collates the book's terminology against phenomenological vocabulary as related to Heidegger. It turns out that the book's flesh corresponds to what Michel Henry in his work on barbarism calls simply "life". Life corresponds
in turn to Heidegger's famous "Being", also sometimes referred to as "Presence", recalling the likewise obscurely conceived presence that is (in the light of our reviewed book) paradoxically adduced in the "post-literate future of body-based communication" of high-tech human-computer interaction such as in the essay (pdf-download) "Presence as a Dimension of Communications". That is: Flesh=Life=Presence=Being. (For being as presence see D.F. Krell's introduction to Martin Heidegger: Basic Writings, 1978, and Henry, p. 125). That it is a matter of theology without God becomes evident in the awkward treatment of the central question of ethics, or the outright disappearance of ethical discourse in even more ambitious approaches to philosophy of flesh as medium, such as Helena Dahlberg's book (2013, in Swedish) Vad är Kött? [What is Flesh?] that was preceded by her PhD dissertation The Weight of the Body: The Question of Flesh and Human Being (2011, pdf-English summary here.) The book has been for me the best explanation, better than in Cérézuelle's book reviewed here, of the emphasis on flesh: it is seen as the limit, transition or medium between the subject and object as originated in Cartesian dualism. Those who do not read Swedish may consult the list of related works listed among the references that appear on Dahlberg's home page. Otherwise there are some valuable book reviews, which summarize and clarify that author's conception of flesh as related to Merleau-Ponty, such as one review in the Swedish magazine Tidningen Kulturen (23 dec. 2013) and one in the periodical Arbetaren (7/ 15 Feb. 2014, p. 10.) In the latter, the initiated author of the review, Axel Andersson, observes that "the flesh" becomes almost a magical and undefined substance such as humanism's desintegrating "human being", not to mention the indefiniteness of what the "medium" and "communication" (and ethics) is about and by whom in the context of such desintegrating human being. That is an indefiniteness I already had met in an early essay of mine (1991) on Humanistic computer science.

Because of reasons of space and focus I have moved the more detailed treatment of this issue into a separate text betitled: Ethics in Technology, and Theology of the Flesh, which includes references to feminist mysticism of flesh-related "touching" (reference to the strange terminology by Karen Barad), and Michel Henry's approach based on the philosophy of Heidegger who together with Ernst Cassirer (see below) influenced the author of our book, Daniel Cérézuelle.
The conclusion is that the application of Martin Heidegger's phenomenological thought and its vocabulary contributes to a hidden, systematic neglect of ethics in both technological research and in research on technology.

Symbolism: Cassirer and Jung

The question of symbolism in its relation to flesh may be the most important one raised in the book. If one still does not want or dare to relate committedly to theology and religion, an alternative would be to start considering seriously the "imaginary" emphasized in the book by means of in-depth studies of the Greek myth of Daedalus as master craftsman such as the one published in 1975 by the Hellenist Franoise Frontisi-Ducroux, Daedalus: Mythology of the craftsman in ancient Greece (translated title.) This is, however part of another major question about the psychological, and still more the sociopsychological aspect of mythology that in our book is subsumed under or reduced to "the imaginary". My own bias leads me to follow further this path towards Carl Jung who historically has already been researched in his relation to Cassirer. Before addressing this question I wish to note that the relation between our reviewed book's Cassirer and Heidegger as one main origin of it all is mentioned in Mark Lilla's review considered above. He recalls (in his part 1, Ménage à Trois, p. 13) that in 1929 Heidegger was invited to Davos, Switzerland, to debate the respected neo-Kantian Cassirer, "and so successfully trounced him in the eyes of young people in the audience that the mantle of leading German philosopher was unofficially bestowed upon him there." For me this shows first of all Heidegger's rhetorical power among those who a few years later would likewise appreciate the rhetorical power of nazist leaders.

Jung's relation to Cassirer is considered in Paul Bishop's essay noted earlier (
Thinker: Carl Jung). Works like the ones by Joy Schaverien and Petteri Pietikainen or Paul Bishop can be, symptomatically in respect to the religious issue, misunderstood to reduce Jung to Cassirer, something that is the core of our problem, since what Jung did was to take both religion and the psychological in social psychology in an extremely serious way, far from regarding religion as only one item in a list of human activities. This is so even if Jung was not theologically approved by the Catholic establishment, probably because suspected of reducing religion to mythology and archetypes, as Cassirer reduces religion to foundational symbolic forms. I do not agree that Jung does this, based on my own studies of Jung's collected works, with his careful distinction between religion and psychology, his archetypal God in the human "Self" that others programmatically have tried to reduce to "socialization", and his own profession of knowledge of God that today is in turn controversially secularized, if yet in anthroposophical terms. See for instance what Jung writes in the context of Christianity (CW 5, § 106f., p. 75f.): "To the degree that the modern mind is passionately concerned with anything and everything rather than religion, religion and its prime object - original sin - have mostly vanished into the unconscious. That is why, today, nobody believes in either. People accuse psychology of dealing in squalid fantasies, and yet even a cursory glance at ancient religions and the history of morals should be sufficient to convince them of the demons hidden in the human soul. This disbelief in the devilishness of human nature goes hand in hand with the blank incomprehension of religion and its meaning [...] Through centuries of educational training, Christianity subdued the animal instincts of antiquity and of the ensuing ages of barbarism to the point where a large amount of instinctual energy could be set free for the building of civilization." In view of Cassirer I would add "building of civilization and so called construction of symbolic worlds", symbolic worlds that, however, contrary to Cassirer, do not include or substitute Christianity, and there lies the great misunderstanding in the application of Cassirer. Whoever wants to appreciate Jung's approach to religion and Christianity, constrasting it to Cassirer's, may consult, for instance, the word index of his Two Essays in Analytical Psychology (Collected Works, vol. 7) for entries such as religion, religious, God/god(s), Christ, Christian, Christianity, and church.

A hint about the "imaginary" of Cassirer in this respect may be obtained from encyclopedic reviews more easily than from his demanding works. The Blackwell Encyclopedia of Modern Christian Thought states e.g. that
Cassirer describes religion as one among several modes of human self-definition (whatever that definition means, apart from unnecessary gods) including art, language and science, which use symbols to form experience, and that he sees the relationship between myth and religion as inextricable: they both originate in the "feeling of the indestructible unity of life" and in the fear of death as a threat to that unity. Please note: life and life again. The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy notes that Cassirer's philosophy of symbolic forms is concerned above all with the mythical view of the world lying at the most primitive level of all cultural forms. These forms are supposed to have an independent status and foundational role (whatever a foundational role is, apart from unnecessary gods). They lie at a deeper, autonomous level of spiritual life which then, by a "dialectical development process" gives rise to the more sophisticated forms like religion, art, language and theoretical sciences. That is, once again a "theology without God" related to the Lebensphilosophie and Heidegger where religion, thanks to philosophy becomes just one item among various possible human activities. As pointed out by C.S Lewis in Mere Christianity (chap. 24), the impersonal, non-anthropomorphic god that is substituted by some other smart word other than God becomes less than a person, and recalls Nietzsche's superman.

I perceive that "life" in the traditions close to our reviewed book becomes a supreme concept, as in our reviewed book where the author seemingly further equates it to flesh. These "notions" of life, flesh, earth or rather the strife between earth and world, and such, usurp the place of God himself and most theologians would call it idolatry. Religion suddenly finds itself as one item of a list of "modes of human self-definition" besides art, language, and science. In the above text of my review of the book we also saw unproblematized quotations like "religion, morals, political and civil freedom, eloquence, educative and pleasant conversations, music, dance, theater, and other services  and qualities". Or "only formal and intellectual dimensions of the "symbolic capital": law, political ideas, art, religion, while neglecting the 'social symbolic capital'". Or, again "the flesh interacts with a primordial symbolism as understood by Ernst Cassirer, i.e. forms that are developed through language, religion, myth, art and science." These excerpts uncover the real problem of religion being relegated to a service or quality, or to a formal-intellectual dimension of the social symbolic capital, and it is consistent with how Cassirer, in the previous paragraph, is said to consider religion. And, for that matter, it is consistent with our whole modern or postmodern secularized philosophy divorced from religion in general and from Christianity in particular.

 

Religion as producer of symbolism

It is possible that the project of the book to harness technology in the Western setting can only be pursued by means of a revival of Christianity and that there is no shortcut like, in the book's language, producing or manufacturing new "symbolic systems". It will be more of a maintenance of the Christian symbolic system. Earlier it was called evangelization and missionary work. Today it is being done by the second or third world that send their own catholic priests in mission to Western countries, e.g. from India to Sweden. The alternative would be to launch new religions, to be compared with, say Marxism, Kant's religion of reason, positivism's religion of humanity, Heidegger's religion without god, some "-isms, and such. And some would now like to claim: also a phenomenological religion of the flesh. But it will not help to reject summarily God's ten commandments, replacing them with home-made imperatives or exclaiming, like Heidegger, that only a god can still save us. Consider the rhetorically yielding, and inconsequentially passivating quotation of Heidegger's passus:

 

"Philosophy will not be able to bring about a direct change of the present state of the world. This is true not only of philosophy but of all merely human meditations and endeavors. Only a god can still save us [my italics]. I think the only possibility of salvation left to us is to prepare readiness, through thinking and poetry, for the appearance of the god or for the absence of the god during the decline; so that we do not, simply put, die meaningless deaths, but that when we decline, we decline in the face of the absent god... We cannot get him to come by thinking. At best we can prepare the readiness of expectation." (From Der Spiegel interview, but there are alternative translations).

 

Disregarding that (if the transcription and translation are faithful) it is matter of "a god" and not God, in theological terms it is symptomatic that Heidegger speaks indeed like a prophet, and does not mention prayer, and does not seem to be aware of the problem implied by the Bible ending indeed with the Apocalypse.

 

Computerization and theology of mathematics-logic

Since my own field of research has been information science I conclude by following the theological thread of the possible place of religion in it. I mean that information science in the age of computers has synthesized classical logic, mathematics and statistics, and has come to merge with computer science and capitalistic economy in various modes that are supposed to match the field of informatics. At the same time we have already seen that modern technology is inextricably tied to science supported by modern mathematics and logic. For our purposes we can merge logic and mathematics since their relation has been object of dispute that remain obscure for most non specialists. My point here is to emphasize the fundamental importance of understanding the meaning of mathematization of science and technology, in general and the increasing computerization of society in particular.

 

I am not sure that today's most popular approach, such as Husserl's concerning Galilei in philosophy of logic and mathematics developed in the second part of his earlier mentioned The Crisis of European Sciences (¤¤ 8-9), or an analog approach by Rudolf Steiner in Origins of Natural Science (GA 326), is the most fortunate one. I like to suggest that such an investigation should not start with a natural-science framework such as the one presented by Eugene Wigner in The unreasonable effectiveness of mathematics in the natural sciences (in Communications in Pure and Applied Mathematics, vol. 13, No. 1, February 1960). A less detailed but broader framework is suggested by a French sociologist of technology working close to the tradition of the author of our book: Alain Gras, founder of a Center for Studies of Technology, Knowledge and Practices CETCOPRA, in chapter IV of his Fragility of Power (my translation of the title) where he discusses the "enigma of the false Galilean liberation". Let's be more specific. He notes tragic misunderstandings regarding the position of the Catholic church with respect to Galilei: "Galilei innovates also in an area previously reserved for theology and ethics" (p. 129f). But the most ambitious approach I know is that by the French "dean" of philosophers of science Alexandre KoyrŽ who, for instance, in his Studies of the History of Philosophical Thought (my translation of the title) writes that in the Newtonian world, it is not man, but God who is the measure of things. Newton's successors were able to forget this, they thought that they did not need the God hypothesis, but hey were wrong. Deprived of its divine support, the Newtonian world proved to be unstable and precarious. He recalls that positivist historians are accustomed to insist on Galileo's and Newton's experimental, empiricist, phenomenalist sides. But this implies a waiver of the search for causes, in favor of the search for laws. This means the removal of the question: why? and its replacement by the question: how? (p.264). As reader, my intuition is that it is not strange that in the absence of a why and of the top of it, given by God, it becomes man's increased temptation to use the mathematically described laws or hows in order to reach his own whys, in their new sense of his own goals. Similar complementing insights are suggested by KoyrŽ in his Studies of the History of Scientific Thought (e.g. p. 322) and a professional mathematical treatment of the problem is summarized in Walter P. Van Stigt's account of "The rejected parts of Brouwer's dissertation on the foundations of mathematics" (Historia Mathematica, vol. 6, 1979.) But as for the previous studies mentioned here there is no place for a relation to God or ethics and religion in our reviewed book, except for reducing God to his incarnation, leading into an opaque metaphysics of the flesh. And Heidegger's own contribution in this area (Modern Science, Metaphysics and Mathematics, in his Basic Writings) does not add anything substantial to the above.

 

In  accord with the criticism contained in our reviewed book, the idea is to understand what is lost in a mathematical-logical approach to reality, given that nowadays it is all too clear what is gained, or supposed to be gained by means of technology in general and information technology in particular. In a poetic fashion this loss is described with great rhetoric power by mathematical physicist Helena Granström in her article in Svenska Dagbladet (in Swedish, 23 March 2014) about the latest evidence of gravitational waves in the infant universe. Her phenomenological approach does not allow, however, an inquiry into the "why" of the loss of ethics in modern science such as informatics as depicted in chapter VIII. Indeed, what happens with the computerization of society may be analog, if not in principle the same as with the mathematization of nature, where the malleable part of "reality" if forced into a logical-mathematical frame while the rest is ignored for the purpose of "efficacy". The phenomenon overlaps with what in Churchman's dialectical systems theory is sometimes called efficiency in contrast to effectiveness and with what the French philosopher-sinologist Franois Jullien studied in his Treatise on Efficacy. I studied the relation between the two approaches in an article that was eventually co-edited and published under the title East and West of Information Systems (1998). The efficacy of the general computerization of human interactions in a social environment is apparently increasing since they are still more malleable than the "given" physical nature. So, even disadvantaged, sick and old people are forced to push buttons, touch screens or handle keypads if they are to communicate (via mobile phones? Facebook?, Twitter?) with absent younger relatives or with medical emergency services. This just one example to give the idea of what is being achieved by means of the new social order and of coercive policing measures that gradually dismantle the texture of daily life, privacy, human rights and democratic freedom under the per se reasonable "pretext" of cost reduction, economic prevention of accidents, sabotages, and terrorism, as explained and expanded in our reviewed book.

 

A Case Study: engagement, involvement, embodiment

And finally let's perform a light "test" and apply our insights to the following "case study", a research project in informatics aimed at increasing the level of human engagement and involvement in the use of electronic computer products. In March 2012 a Swedish university announced two fellowships for PhD graduate study in the area of Human-Computer Interaction/Interaction Design. The text explained among other things that the special DEIT project presented on an early occasion dealt with "design of engaging information technology" (DEIT), implying that information technology (IT) is typically designed to do things for its users: to make life more convenient, to automate or ease tasks, to allow us to carry out tasks more efficiently, to free us from geographical constraints, and to save time. Rooted in contemporary thinking from the philosophy of technology, DEIT however argues that a common denominator among successful IT today is the tendency to do the exact opposite. Successful technologies, instead, tend to engage rather than disengage both mind and body; they require effort, patience, and skill; and they help shape new relations between humans, artifacts, and the world. They are designed to increase, not decrease, the level of human engagement and involvement. The larger goal of the DEIT research program is said to be the development of a new design philosophy for information technology around the concepts of human engagement, involvement, and embodiment. It is remarkable how the semantics of salesmanship, both in business and research, can suddenly launch the term involvement, as a better substitute and renewal of the earlier worn out interaction, which in turn had seldom if ever been defined as in "action" vs. "response" (cf. R.L. Ackoff & F.E. Emery, On Purposeful Systems, p. 25 ff., 160 ff.) A later video-complement describing the project specified that it would foster "pleasant digital ecology" shifting the focus of product development from the pure functionality and efficiency valued in working places to the needs and desires of its users in everyday life, i.e. that which, for instance, "makes grown up men play silly games on their mobile phones." All this may recall in some reader's mind analog trends announced by some other researcher in "socio-cultural computing" and "user engagement", expressed as follows: emphasis on emotional, intimate, and embodied experiences that contribute to the broader agenda of feminist human-computer interaction; focusing on intimate interactions, designing for emotion, embodied collaboration in virtual spaces, and the application of critical and cultural theories for developing concept-driven strategies. Let us test whether the book reviewed here helps to evaluate such trends in research claims.

 

What is engagement and involvement, or, for that matter the alternative, academically more sophisticated presence, (once that apparently the earlier fashion word interaction is no longer the main issue), put against our background? Yes, it would foster "pleasant digital ecology" shifting the focus of product development from the pure functionality and efficiency valued in working places to the needs and desires of its users in everyday life, i.e. that which, for instance, "makes grown up men play silly games on their mobile phones." A test-run on Google indicates that motivation and engagement are most often found as synonyms in psychology of education, and in business contexts such as human resources and leadership or marketing, both possibly merged in studies such as on digital computer games. Long time ago, studying for my major in psychology (at Lund university) I perceived motivation psychology, not to mention "emotions", as saturated with a chaos of ambiguous ethical questions, something that I could confirm recently in the context of my review of Philip Zimbardo's acclaimed book The Lucifer Effect: How Good People turn Evil, on the social psychology of evil. But against the background of the book reviewed here I must conclude that the research I am considering here gets its impetus, especially its funds, from marketing concerns. The framing of the question in this project recalls many of the problems regarding the motivational "imaginary" for the increasing use of computer technology by an increasing number of children and adults. It certainly aims at profits but mostly at increasing speeds and power with no reference to economics, politics, and ethics. And all based on a problematic psychology or vague phenomenology. It does not help that the project leader announces that he bases his own thinking on Albert Borgmann's notion of the device paradigm and Don Ihde's notion of the inherent non-neutrality of technology. Regarding Don Ihde I had already to express my comments in a research draft in 2004. And does not help that Borgmann claims that "if we are to challenge the rule of technology, we can only do so through the practice of engagement" or "to respond through an enduring commitment" (in Technology and the Character of Contemporary Life, p. 207, 210) if "we" do not know what we should be engaged in or committed to, and are able to do so. And it does not help to read learned third-hand interpretations of Heidegger ang Borgmann as by Hubert L. Dreyfus on their "How to affirm technology". Such utterances may be psychologically understood as analog to the Bible's "to speak in tongues" or "ecstatic utterances" but then under the necessity to "distinguish true spirits from false" (Mat 24:24, 1 Cor. 13:1, 14:26, 12:10), since we are summoned: "do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world" (1 John 4:1; New American Standard Bible ASB). All this is consistent with a draft of mine of a critical review of latest tendencies in informatic theorizing about "design" as contrasted to systems thinking, and related to postromantic and postmodern tendencies suggested by pre-Socratic sophistry and post-Kantian aestheticizing (on the basis of the Third Critique, of "Judgment", and philosophies of Fichte, Schelling, Nietzsche, Bergson, Heidegger, Merleau-Ponty, Lyotard). Both Borgmann and Idhe are close to the tradition represented in the book that is reviewed here and incur into the same problems.

 

My explanation for the apparent success of this tradition in certain academic circles is based on the earlier mentioned Lšwith's statement that Heidegger's philosophy is in its very essence a theology without God. People with intellectual or, rather, academic ambitions live in circles which, contrary to Isaac Newton and many other scientific luminaries like Werner Heisenberg and others, as well as contrary to university traditions, do not admit theology. They may therefore look for the psychological consolation of abreacting like I myself did with my writing an essay on Belief and Reason, or ultimately by attempting to benefit from the intellectual prestige of endorsing a theology without God. It is not for nothing that a seriously committed man like Francisco Varela looked for a Buddhistic ethics in his A Know-How for Ethics, (my translation of the Italian title), which today in the West is reduced to inconsequential goodwilled or feelgood imperatives. And it is remarkable to note that this attitude to research and ethics is consistent with its banalization in postmodern trends, if yet not so extreme as cyberpunk. This attitude programmatically declares its purpose to shift the focus of product development from the pure functionality and efficiency valued in working places to the needs and desires of its users in everyday life. But the reader may think that if functionality and efficiency aim at needs, it is probable that changed focus shifts towards "desires", which are most emphasized in "everyday life" outside the working sphere. All this is further consistent with ongoing trends that go from the old, classical, serious, absurd Technocracy and the American Dream, towards what has been categorized as techno-progressivism, postcyberpunk, steampunk, and others that are linked from "viridian design", linked in turn from ludic playfulness, while ludic researchers certainly prefer to be seen as applying a (postmodern version of a paradoxically serious) philosophy of play. It is also consistent with the idea of "the sibling society", adults playing or remaining children while children possibly play adults, often in addictive behavior with "silly games", that I have had reasons to ponder on in my blog. As such, it is only an additional, late illustrative example of the object of the book's criticism, particularly illustrative because it represents university-based research.

The case study illustrated: a dissertation on embodiment

There are, however, very deep-going and legitimate strivings embedded in the the above research project, similar to those in the book that was reviewed here. They may be seen as represented more clearly by a PhD dissertation by Kei Hoshi on a trend in human-computer interaction, with the title Here and now: Foundations and practice of human-experiential design (available in electronic pdf-format). This research builds mainly upon some of the American exponents of the "embodied mind" and "philosophy in the flesh" that I named above, Mark Johnson and George Lakoff, related to, but not referenced in our reviewed book. The dissertation refers further to a couple of quite famous books by the American anthropologist and cross-cultural researcher Edward T. Hall. When browsing my copy of his The Silent Language (1959) that I bought and read in March 1970 together with his The Hidden Dimension (1966) I realize how attractive that work is, especially to me, probably because of my own multi-cultural background. Hall explicitly relates his work to the adapted psychoanalytical framework by Harry Stack Sullivan that is at strong variance from both the earlier mentioned Jung and Cassirer, while the dissertation's has an occasional reference to "symbolic forms" (p. 44.) Symptomatically, despite one focus on "successful aging in a networked society" the dissertation ignores literature that can counters its basic hypotheses, like, say, Sherry Turkle's Alone Together. It also ignores, in its evaluations (as on p. 144), the Hawthorne Effect or Novelty Effect that may be especially likely to take place when dealing with rehabilitation and support of disadvantaged children, elderly, and others with "special needs" on whom the whole dissertation is focused.

The dissertation raises the reader's sympathy because it repeatedly addresses the difficulties of the disabled, elderly people and children (pp. 48, 106, 123, 130, 133-5, 129-140, 171, 175, 199) whom, however, the subject of the dissertation is not limited to. The conclusions are disconcerting in their embedded disclaimer, that the approach "does promise the possibility of the scientific design of everyday life" (p. 167.) Promise the possibility? This promise of (or) possibility is combined with the claim that design has to ensure that humans can "fulfill themselves" in the world of things or technology (p. 26), "improving a mature consciousness of higher aesthetic and cultural life" (p. 39) by means of design resources like "feelings, aesthetic sensibilities, moral practice, and spiritual awareness" (p. 40) or, more generally "art, music and poetry" (p. 49.) Recurring words that recall engagement-motivation as in the project surveyed in the previous section above are: pleasurable, enjoyable, enjoyment, immersive, involvement, harmony, fun, aesthetic experience, natural flow of action, pleasant, invigorating, and such (pp. 85, 108, 110, 141, 151-3, 156-8, 161-2, 173, 176), i.e. qualities that happen to be often appreciated even in (addiction to) computer games as already observed in the above review of chapter IV of our book.

In the afterword (p. 175 ff.) the dissertation finally starts to resemble more significantly to our reviewed book in that its author expresses what "it maybe a romantic and nostalgic idea to imagine that designing for the essential true nature of our aesthetic life" can survive commercial globalism. The author does not specify the meaning of "romantic" (but see e.g. its use in the context of political correctness) while he repeatedly regrets the speed of consumption and production in our reckless industrial era when we get conscientized when something goes wrong. He starts using the imperatives that we noticed in our book review, in that we "should no longer tolerate" and that we "should slow down", etc. Surprisingly, however (in view of what was adduced above about the Cartesian mathematizing nature of the computer), he concludes that the solution according to the message of the dissertation is that "tangible interaction, unconsciously executed" through the computer itself will restore "the primacy of action and re-integrates the mind and the body". He states that here should be no conscious effort in the behaviors, because experience has already made possible the series of right actions, but unconsciously, in that it uses the memory that our bodies know, erasing the awareness of people as "users" but not as humans, and the need of willpower to act. "To be pleasant and invigorating, life should be free of the need to always be conscious of the environment in which we exist."

Please compare these latest conceptions with what the earlier mentioned Richard Stivers writes
in his Technology as Magic (p. 67) about television programs, different as they are from computer programs: "The subjectivization (sterilization) of symbols and their objectification in visual images effectively reduces meaning to instinctual power. Visual images hit us at an emotional level. When visual images are subordinate to language and symbolic meaning, as in traditional art, then the emotions unleashed are integrated by normative reason and made meaningful. When, on the other hand, visual images become autonomous, reified symbols, they leave the emotions under the control of the instincts: survival, aggression, sexuality, and so forth. For the individual (a spectacular reality creates a radical individualism) reality is emotional and meaning is instinctual. The implications are astounding. Technology is first and foremost an efficient or powerful means of acting, visual images are images of power and possessions, and the 'meaning' of autonomous visual images is instinctual power. The circle is now complete: a reality of power, a reality without meaning. - Even when one allows for the discourse accompanying the visual images of television and the movies to provide meaning for the action, the primary mode of human interaction is domination/submission."


These quotations should be enough for giving the reader a taste of where a philosophy and mind in the flesh can carry such kind of research. The dissertation has clear difficulties in structuring its eclectic cluster of terms, especially psychological ones, taken from many different sources, which evolves in the text through a maze of apparent synonyms that ultimately appeals to the readers' obscure intuition. And this is done while ignoring economic realities that motivate the financing of such research in the hope of increasing the profitability or at least cutting costs in the care of disabled, elderly, and children. Therefore the reader may suspect the rightness of Sherry Turkle's Alone Together instead of the dissertation's envisaged harmonious blending of realities (virtual and whatever). For instance, human experiential design may end in pleasurable, enjoyable, immersive involvement and invigorating natural flow of action with a sort of "true companions", i.e. better experientially designed products with better blended reality than their forerunners "real dolls". The dissertation's final appeal to the "unconscious" that earlier in the the text is merged with the term "presence", and to the relinquishing of human will (p. 176) is a serious matter. A glance at Edward Hall's The Silent Language indicates that the dissertation's reference to presence, along with claims that most humans are largely living in a state of unconsciousness, in an "unconscious cultural grip" (p. 172), also is a dangerous claim. The statement that humans are becomes positivistically equivalent to that they should be. See the earlier reference to Maffesoli on description vs. prescription.

The claim appears to be the more dangerous when Hall reminds us (p. 65, chap. 4 of my Fawcett 1959 ed.) that the term awareness or rather presence and immersion most used in the dissertation seems to portray Sullivan's and others' translation of the psychoanalytical unconscious into social psychology and neurology, which explains the neglect of the deep psychological and the religious-theological dimensions. And the bipolarity (the dissertation's dichotomy) between subjective and objective that the dissertation purports to dissolve by means of experiential design is envisaged by Hall (p. 126, chap. 8) as being composed of a triad (formal, informal, and technical, not considered in the dissertation) to be synthesized by means of the congruence in art (corresponding to the dissertation's experiential design.) This should be compared with Carl Jung's conception of the process of individuation where the "self" instead of (as in the dissertation, undefined, p. 173) disappearing, indeed appears. In an analog way, the dissertation's paradoxical ideal of a "blended reality space" (p. 64) characterized by a "natural flow of action" (p. 157) and recalling other trends like "digital materiality" (cf. Google search) would escape the risk of being confounded with quasi-psychotic phenomena, up to the extreme of addiction to computer games. It should be compared with the approach of the ideal to the real and evaluation of simulation in the dialectic pragmatist "sweeping-in" process of West Churchman's Singerian Inquiring Systems. This conception, eventually incorporated into The Design of Inquiring Systems (abbreviated here as DIS, published in 1971), both explains the blending of the real and ideal (DIS pp. 178, 199, 201, 204) under the aegis of progress (cf. individuation), and the dissertation's insistence (pp. 45, 58, 176) on the merging of the terms customers, users, persons and humans, corresponding to DIS' (p. 201, 204) ideal of a unified decision maker, client, and designer.

A further discussion of the dissertation in its relation to the "flesh" would take us too far but I intend to review it in more detail elsewhere, including the insight that much talk about motivation, engagement, natural flow of action, less self-consciousness, and the like corresponds to classic insights into the meaning of habitude, as exposed by French philosophers Félix Ravaisson in his Of Habit (1838). Well, he did influence both the earlier mentioned Merleau-Ponty and Janicaud but the path to the late phenomenology of flesh is tortuous indeed, as indicated, for instance in Jacques Derrida's book On Touching: much ethical content has been corrupted on the way from the sources of phenomenology such as in Johann Georg Hamann. On the basis of a salutary sharp discussion of fundamental philosophical and psychological terms, Ravaisson cleans up the present terminological mess and concludes, as summarized in the Wikipedia overview (cf. part II, chap. IV of Of Habit, pp. 97ff. in my French original De l'Habitude, ed. by Payot et Rivages, 1997): "The act of consciousness, according to him, is the basis of all knowledge. Acts of consciousness are manifestations of will, which is the motive and creative power of the intellectual life. The idea of God is a cumulative intuition given by all the various faculties of the mind, in its observation of harmony in nature and in man."


It sound more like a Christian interpretation of Carl Jung's individuation process. No further comments seem to be necessary regarding the differences exposed here about the place of consciousness and will, and consequently of ethics. In the spirit of Heidegger (cf. above) ethics tends to vanish as in the most challenging phenomenological approaches to information science that started as early as with Hubert Dreyfus' struggle with What Computers Can't Do: The Limits to Artificial Intelligence (1979) and William Barrett's Death of the Soul: From Descartes to the Computer (1987). It would be naive to believe that later advances of computer and communication technology could have automatically bootstrapped these technologies from their own Cartesian grounds, making these works obsolete. It recalls the technological belief, countered in our reviewed book and much philosophy of technology, that the problems of technology can and must be solved by means of more technology, that is, more is tautologically better because of presumed progress.

The question arises of whether the supposedly integrative function of the "bodily flesh" is a tacit, creative revival of the "myth" or (in terms of this book review) of the "technological imaginary" of artificial intelligence that now is being turned into a computer-supported artificially embodied intelligence. All this while the soul indeed dies together with ethics and religion, in the illusion that it all will be synthesized and replaced by art or some of its aberrations in computer games.