Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Machines Making Gods

Back in 2007 I posted something about how, ironically, someone had made a Philip K Dick android. The android subsequently went AWOL, with the most likely explanation behind this unfortunate incident been that someone nabbed it as a souvenir during the publicity tour. I've just watched some video footage, which made me chuckle in light of the highly stilted interaction patterns with the [human] hosts.

By happy coincidence I've since come across an article which crystallises a lot of the interests on this blog. Here then is a fascinating excerpt from James Burton's "Machines Making Gods: Philip K. Dick, Henri Bergson and Saint Paul", as featured in Theory Culture & Society, 2008, 25 pp262-284. Particularly intriguing is the identification of fabulative transcendence as a means of challenging the "sacral economy" of the biopolitical. This leaves me pondering the compatibility of the article's closing quotation from Bergson, with the closing 2 paragraphs in another piece concerning the role of Intelligent Design in recent science fiction. I'm starting to think that Dick himself may have recognised a degree of concordance, if one accepts that his own opposition to "mechanization" was not premised on a rejection tout court of the technoscience he envisioned playing an increasingly central future role.

Note to self: commence literature search for comparative analysis of Dick and Charles Stross (along with Walter Jon Williams et al).

"A crucial difference between Dick’s Black Iron Prison and Weber’s iron cage is that the former bears within it a necessarily irreducible metaphysical aspect, whereas Weber addresses questions of the metaphysical or religious from a sociological and historical perspective; likewise,
fetishism for Marx is an aspect of capitalism’s mystification of the commodity, which his analysis aims to penetrate and understand in material terms.

As Milbank argues, modern capitalism is doubly religious, not only in its dependence on the belief in fetishes and the worship of the commodity, but in its apparent need ‘to buttress itself with the approval and connivance of actual religion’ (2007: 1).8 While Dick’s vision likewise points towards Empire or capitalism’s ability to draw on a quasi-religious power of deception – in maintaining the illusion of its own non-existence – the vision also attributes to the Black Iron Prison a genuine metaphysical reality.

If contemporary capitalism, paralleling the Roman Empire, maintains its biopolitical control partially in an apparently transcendent mode (with the help of what Milbank calls a ‘sacral economy’), then any hope of resisting or transforming this control must also make use of some aspect of transcendence. I noted above that, for Milbank, ‘there can only be an authentically religious route out of the biopolitical’ (2007: 25). My argument here converges with Milbank on the necessity of this transcendent element, yet differs in seeing this possible escape-route as opened up by fabulative transcendence, that is, a thought or fictionalizing of transcendence that may have effects on the immanent world. Since fabulation indicates a saving power of fiction, it may indeed take a religious form, but the use of fabulation as a means of challenging the dominance of mechanization and the hegemony of Empire need not be restricted to such a form.

Bergson concludes Two Sources thus:

Men do not sufficiently realize that their future is in their own hands. Theirs is the task of determining first of all whether they want to go on living or not. Theirs the responsibility, then, for deciding if they want merely to live, or intend to make just the extra effort required for fulfilling, even on this refractory planet, the essential function of the universe, which is a machine
for making gods. (MR: 317)19"

Milbank, J. (2007) ‘Paul Against Biopolitics’, Centre of Theology and Philosophy,
University of Nottingham, online papers, URL (consulted January 2008):

1 comment:

L. Clarke said...

G,day what is interesting is machines increasing artificial intelligence. machines, and I mean almost all machines right down to a toaster will be given new advances in artificial intelligence technology so they can make decisions. A lot of spiritual theorists claim that this advent in the concept of intelligence, whereby a machine gets to make choices, gives the machines an understanding complex enough, of course only eventually to choose between right and wrong.
Those who believe in the advent of dark forces such as evil entities claim that this intelligence means they can be chosen as targets for possession, such as in the movie the Omen. Machines whose intelligence makes them capable of having to decide between such possibilities. We use machines and teach their intelligence what good is apparently to ourselves, it is only a matter of time until they themselves with their own minds decide whether we as humans are good.
I like sci-fi writing and have a novel called Doom Of The Shem. It is a futuristic alien invasion novel. Schlock horror, easy reading fun. Though not good as seen by programmed intelligences, read open mindedly.