epistemic black markets; algorithmic governance; psychedelics; the future

Lately I’ve been reading the work of Sun-Ha Hong, a scholar whose work “examines how new media and its data become invested with ideals of precision, objectivity and truth – especially through aesthetic, speculative, and otherwise apparently non-rational means.”  That bio statement is taken from his website: sunhahong.wordpress.com.

He writes about the future as a cultural motif:

On Futures, and Epistemic Black Markets

The future does not exist: and this simple fact gives it a special epistemic function.

The future is where truths too uncertain, fears too politically incorrect, ideas too unprovable, receive unofficial license to roam… The future is a liminal zone, a margin of tolerated unorthodoxy that provides essential compensation for the rigidity of modern epistemic systems. This ‘flexibility’ is central to the perceived ruptures of traditional authorities in the contemporary moment. What we call post-fact politics (David Roberts), the age of skepticism (Siebers, Leiter), the rise of pre-emption (Massumi, Amoore), describe situations where apparently well-established infrastructures of belief and proof are disrupted by transgressive associations of words and things. The future is here conceptualised as a mode for such interventions.

This view helps us understand the present-day intersection of two contradictory fantasies: first, the quest to know and predict exhaustively, especially through new technologies and algorithms; second, heightened anxiety over uncertainties that both necessitate and elude those efforts.

So the future, as Hong conceptualizes it, is almost an episteme — an ” ‘apparatus’ which makes possible the separation, not of the true from the false, but of what may from what may not be characterized as scientific.”  (Foucault, Power/Knowledge). The possibilities of prediction now structure the research and development of all sorts of important tools. If the future, the idea of it, doesn’t strictly determine scientific knowledge, it at least assists in its production.

In a talk titled The Digital Regime of Truth: From the Algorithmic Governmentality to a New Rule of Law, philosopher Antoinette Rouvroy discusses that which defies capture by the digital:

Another remnant that escapes digitisation is the future. Spinoza said we do not know what a body can do. This conditional dimension about what a body could do, it is the conditional dimension in itself. Previously I wrote that the target of algorithmic governmentality is precisely this unrealised part of the future, the actualisation of the virtual. But of course, there is a recalcitrance of human life to any excessive organisation (Manchev 2009). I think that this unrealised in the future is effectively a source of recalcitrance, and even if we believe that we can predict everything (and this comes under the Big Data ideology: ‘crunching numbers is the new way to be smart’).

There’s a clear connection between the future and capital: we need it as a valve for production. The insights of Rouvroy comport with Sun-ha Hong’s.

The future is the eminent epistemic black market, the general category of the subject of algorithmic governmentality. Unpredictability ought to be exterminated, or at least meticulously controlled, under this program. Psychedelic experiences — which are by nature speculative and unpredictable, and whose efficacy as therapeutic tools may come from their tendency to break predictable psychological patterns — are an important point of intersection here. Psychedelic experiences are wild and unruly; they tend to dig new tunnels into the infinitesimally small, elusive spaces of their own ontological and phenomenological continuities. Thus psychedelic science is a useful case for affirming (if not articulating) the unique character of the unrealized dimension of the future — the resistance of life to digital control.

(painting by Guy Billout)