Radio Rat

May 10, 2008

This article is about the remote-controlled rat that Z was talking about in Parallax…. The article is a little evasive on the point of what the ‘reward stimulus’ is for these rats as they are trained, but seeing as they’re “virtual” it may not be to far-afield to assume that they are just stimulating the ‘pleasure-centres’.

That’s confirmed in this video.

The way Z writes about it in Parallax… it’s as if the rat has no choice as to what to do: “For the first time, the ‘will’ of a living animal agent, its ‘spontaneous’ decisions about the movements it would make, were taken over by an external machine” (page 176). However, as is clear from the article and this video, the rat still has the ability to make decisions. That is, the rat must learn to respond to the stimulus that’s sent, and it’s given dope (i.e. dopamine is released from the pleasure centres) in order to make the decision that the scientists want to see. It seems to me that Z’s ‘reified’ the biological, assuming that it is in fact possible to control people via the piece of meat under one’s skull, via biology alone.

But I think that’s precisely the point of this chapter of Parallax…: to think that we could be completely controlled is part of a fantasy that protects us from our own freedom. It doesn’t matter that he’s distorted the example a bit, because we talk about scientific experiments like the remote-control rat in terms of us giving up our will, of losing our ‘freedom’. But I think if he had given a clearer description of what was going on with the Rat he would have helped his argument along. He more or less says what I’ve said above (i.e. the rat could choose to ignore the signals, but gives up his own will to get the dopamine) a little later in the chapter: “The catastrophe has already taken place: we already experience ourselves as in principle manipulable, we just freely renounce the full deployment of this potential” (page 195). That is, we’re subject to ideology, giving in to it because it regulates (rewards us with) jouissance.

In using this example (as well as that of the monkey controlling the robot-arm – page 192) what he ends up doing is endorsing science’s endless march (this comes out more explicitly in the Trotsky essay that is included in Terrorism and Communism). To try to stop it is useless because ‘the catastrophe has already happened’. Because we create the world just by interacting with it, and standards change with new ‘worlds’, we can’t moralize an end to technological creations because the ‘presuppositions’ that make the moral statements possible will cease to exist; instead, we create new ‘presuppositions’ as we go along.

The question is, of course, how this differs from relativism. The answer is, as I’ve been trying to make clear to myself, that we’re embedded in history as its actors and can never step out of it. This is just another way of saying “there is no metaposition”, that there is only ‘radical perspectivity’. And Z is very close to Deleuze and Guattari on this one: it’s also feminine logic (D&G: “becoming Woman”) and creation (D&G via Spinoza: “No one knows what a body can do; life doesn’t have to justify itself”).

The other question is what is the ‘proper leftist’ position to take on this? What does technology look like from the perspective of the excluded/Real? He takes a shot at ‘the left’ in footnote 78 (of chapter 3) for arguing that it’s only the first world that has access to this sort of technology. Is it simply that these technologies are only to be endorsed if they are used for ‘freedom’ of a non-liberal/formal sort? What does that even mean, practically speaking?

My last question is what’s the answer to the ‘to say there is no metaposition is to take a metaposition’ argument, and why doesn’t the same argument work for Foucault (who came up yesterday)?

The animal experiments are all in one documentary – seems to me that Z must have seen it on TV… but I guess they’re probably pretty famous. But doesn’t it seem a little ridiculous that the Money-scientist says that the monkey’s brain had ‘direct access’ to the outside world? In what way are radio-transmitting electrodes direct access? I guess it’s kinda like what Z talks about at the end of the chapter about the direct linking of machines (and I think it’s something of a criticism of D&G’s ‘machinic assemblages’): there is no consciousness there; a direct link is not a communication nor an interface. That can only happen between separate consciousnesses (he uses the example of 2 stock traders on either side of a computer link – computers aren’t interfacing, but making a direct exchange. It’s the traders who are separated and have to communicate via mediation…) The question for Z is why there is consciousness in a physical universe at all and why it erupts, whereas it seems to me D&G just say ‘The I is not the important thing. It just skitters about as a zone of intensity on top of the direct connections of the machines. What’s really important is increasing connections’. It seems to me that Z is trying to inspect consciousness in a way that will better enable us to make changes and be free, to open up a space where free action is possible, whereas D&G seem to say you instead just need to open yourself up to the various ‘flows’ and let them do the work…

Rambling and confused… but that’s what you get on a blog.



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