The Persistence of Belief

The elimination and ratification of belief

The problem of nihilism is also the problem of belief. If our highest values have corroded and our firmest foundations have been removed from beneath us then the question is “what is left to believe in”. Even deeper than this crisis in belief is the crisis of belief itself that issues from the ferocity of eliminativism’s dismissal of the “folk psychology” that counted belief among its terms. So we know longer know what to believe in and find even the category and phenomenal experience of believing to be illusory (at the least). In the first instance we find the possibility of taking up a belief but also the possibility of refusing to do so. This is the common horizon of theism and atheism; the territory on which the belief in God and the lack or refusal of belief in God stand. There is a long, exhausting and bloody history that has carved out the geological morphology of this territory that stretches further back than our histories record up until our questioned modernity. The acid of eliminativism is like an asteroid on collision course with the planetary of belief and unbelief, which threatens to pulverise both into the dust of history.In what follows I want to discuss how this collision perversely ensures the resurrection of a weakened form of belief, a belief that corresponds to a faith in the empty space of God.

Insofar as “belief” is taken to be a kind of element or entity in our inner mental life, eliminativist materialists like the Churchlands consider them to be false theoretical representations of what is really going on. By now we all know that eliminativist materialism reduces mental states to brain states and calls for the literal elimination of concepts like belief from our theoretical repertoire. The crux isn’t that a representation like a belief (“God is real”) doesn’t happen but that we ought not suppose that the belief is itself the whole story but instead regard such a representation as the outcome of an elaborate neurocognitive process. It is not so much the case that the experiential phenomena of having a belief is false, but that the explanation that sees the belief as the depth rather than the surface level of the engineering of such a belief.

Thus the fact of experiencing oneself as having a belief says in place but the empirical reality of the belief itself is called into question. In seeking to support the eliminativist programme that folk-psychology is false, Paul M. Churchland lists a host of phenomena that it cannot but ought to be able to explain: sleep, learning, mental illness and perceptual illusions. To take the example of mental illness we can see how the claim that a delusion is a false belief that is not amenable to rational falsification in the mind of the deluded merely describes the situation that a paranoid schizophrenic may find herself in without actually explaining it (although I’d point out that no naturalist theory has been successful either). That the deluded has a “false belief” only opens up an abyss of epistemological problems regarding the truth and falsity of belief that are associated with the deeply problematic theory that the evaluative criterion for belief is the correspondence-theory of truth.

Furthermore Churchland also claims that our folk-psychology has barely or has not developed for the past few thousand years remaining pretty much the same as that deployed by the ancients (another questionable assertion that doesn’t seem empirically compelling). In the future, rather than talking about my beliefs or what the theist believes our talk will

will appeal to such things as our neuropharmacological states, the neural activity in specialized anatomical
areas, and whatever other states are deemed relevant by the new theory [1].

To the objection that the existence of ordinary mental phenomena are obvious to us via introspection, Churchland replies that

this argument makes the same mistake that an ancient or medieval person would be making if he insisted that he could just see with his own eyes that the heavens form a turning sphere, or that witches exist. The fact is, all observation occurs within some system of concepts, and our observation judgments [sic] are only as good as the conceptual framework in which they are expressed. In all three cases–the starry sphere, witches, and the familiar mental states–precisely what is challenged is the integrity of the background conceptual frameworks in which the observation judgments [sic] are expressed [ibid].

Taken together there is a strong sense in which this eliminativism seeks to replace, rather than reduce, the self-image that human beings are supposed to carry around with them based on their phenomenological experience with the neuroscientific image. Certainly Churchland’s rebuttal of introspection is warranted given introspection’s turbulent history as a methodology for experimental psychology and in its tempting proximity to subjectivism. It would be reactionary and bourgeois to suggest that the correct response to this project is to bemoan the loss of human dignity that such a vulgar physicalism could be held to imply. The opposite path of such a response (typical of many “believers”) would be the identification with and advocacy of this scientific program in relation to the impossibility of holding to anything but a naturalist intellectual framework. On the one hand we would have the fanaticism of a Catholic sort of humanism and on the other hand the fanaticism of a sub-sect of techno-objectivism.

The problem for the believer would be that such an objectivism renders their belief in God, and therefore their experience of such a belief, into nothing more than an (eventually) entirely predictable electrochemical network of neurotransmission and patterns of partitioned neural activation.  In other words, once again, their belief in God is an illusion predicated on a biophysical mechanism that is- at least in theory- entirely explainable by natural scientists. The relation to the Sacred is dragged down and trammelled into the the dirt that it sought to separate itself from, effecting not only the embarrassment of the individual believer and the collectives of such but also collapsing any possible protective partition of the Sacred from the Profane. If belief doesn’t exist then belief in God doesn’t exist; and if there is no (possible) relationship with God then this is the same as to announce that God is dead.  Yet there is a simultaneous problem for that type of atheist that proclaims their disbelief insofar as the same techniques of techno-objectification render their lack of belief into neither an outcome of a process of rational deduction nor a “free thinking” suspension of belief in the name of a lack of evidence. There could be no evidence for whether or not it is right to believe. Thus rather than thinking of eliminativist materialism leading to an atheist conclusion we should see it as making a nonsense of the entire field in which theism/atheism debates conduct themselves. If there is no way to ascertain the existence or non-existence of God then this false antagonism of belief is really an antagonism that is immanent to the problem of belief itself rather and not related to claims regarding the existence of a deity, deities or other supernatural beings (such as Dawkin’s favoured flying spagetti monster).

The atheist techno-objectivism that forms a reciprocity with the theistic nostalgia for dignity is objectivist precisely insofar as it claims that it can (or will eventually be able to) objectively know the reality behind our currently misguided adherence to folk-psychological phenomena. This objectivism will translate phenomenological experience into technical accounts of observable materiality; a materiality that is, more over, is or can be fully accessed and understood. In this way, although we might think that evolution would be evidence otherwise, the neuroscientific image of humanity will make human beings fully transparent to themselves in a way that the veil of folk-psychology could not allow. If these accusations are true (viz. that the neuro-image allows “full access” to an exhaustive actuality that would become self-transparent) then we can already begin to see that this position is objectivist precisely to the degree that it is a return of the metaphysics of presence, albeit in a naturalist guise. This seems like a strange assertion, after all neuroscience is continually showing us our plasticity and adaptivity in a language drained of any unnecessary mytho-poetic ambiguity and that allows psychology to become, for the first time, a true science through its phagocytosis by neuro/cognitive science. But a neuroscience that replaced belief with its neurophysiological correlates and replaced desire with electrochemical activity would produce a  world without subjectivity. My problem with this is that while it is able to explain the world in terms other than subjectivity and thus can suspend or step beyond the realms of ego (or the chronic eternalisation of Man-as-Witness) it does so in a way that completely obliterates subjectivity from mattering. This is not an account that escapes correlationism but one that evades correlationism by refusing to account for and to take up a position on the subjective. By effectively eliminating much of everyday subjectivity whilst positing individual brains as radically Kantian architects responsible for constituting their experience of the world, and it is this point that leads Ray Brassier to speak of the Churchland’s materialism as a ‘thoroughgoing idealism’ [2].

In asking that we be able to include subjectivity in any account of “the real” (I’m suspicious of that singularisation) I am not attempting to reinscribe the correlationist circle but to point out that an asubjective account of the real must also be an asubjective account of subjectivity that does not explain away what it is seeking to explain. Otherwise put, to say that phenomenology remains correlationist and is thus not sufficiently asubjective does not entail that we seek to explain away phenomenal experience. In an analogous manner, simply because we know the precise mechanism of the micturation reflex doesn’t mean that the medical and nursing profession can ignore the subjectivity of the incontinent patient. If the caring professions jettisoned considerations of the subjective position of the patient then incontinence could be treated much more aggressively in ways that would cause distress and embarrassment to the patient. In jettisoning the subjective element entirely from consideration by dismissing it as “folk-psychological” whilst simultaneously making the stand-point of the brain essential to the generation of the structure of experience is a further attempt to objectivise subjectivity by the back-door. This objectivism refuses to provide a materialist account of subjectivity whilst making subjectivity the very condition of thinking the objective- almost the very definition of correlationism.

All of this is prior to any political consideration about the obliteration of states like “melancholia” by their eliminativist replacement that would presumably be a fully fleshed out account of the “biochemical imbalance” hypothesis of depression and the already burgeoning field of pharamacocapitalist societies of control. Against Churchlands protestations otherwise, this theory (first articulated via supposed serotonin and later as serotonin-norepinephrine imbalances) is an example of attempts to eliminate folk-psychology in favour of neuro-mechanical understanding of experience, and it is not even the first of such attempts [3]. A world where we understood ourselves purely in terms of ‘neuropharmacological states’ and ‘the neural activity in specialized anatomical areas’ would effectively render the fantasies of Kraeplinian psychiatry a reality: it would be world in which we were understood, and therefore managed and self-managed, as patients in a vast psychiatric system as big as our world itself. To speak in Marxist terms, this would in effect be the real subsumption of society by biopsychiatry, a world in which the pathologisation and internal responsibilisation that the neoliberal regime has done so much to foster would be an accomplished reality. Everyone a patient, our entire lives would boil down- in much the same way as they do in the novel Super Sad True Love Story– to the regulation of various neurotransmitters, hormones and other biological regulatory mechanisms: a biopsychiatric totalitarianism where subjectivity is always already pathological and in need of some psychopharmacological cure. Under such a regime continued adherence to the belief in belief would be evidence of psychosis due the fact that our ‘private introspection will also be [have been] transformed’ [4].

What does all this mean in terms of belief? In arguing that our common sense and everyday experience of our own minds is illusory the eliminativist materialist position, a kind of naturalism, is already allying itself to a slew of possible religious and metaphysical traditions that regard everyday consciousness as an illusion produced by Maya or ignorance or some form of forgetting. From a perspective like that of Paul Churchland our brains are making us see things that are not really there, and this is the case in terms of perception (because our brain assemble the objects of perception) but also of introspection (because folk-psychological entities like “belief” aren’t really real). The sanskrit term māyā is usually translated as “illusion” but specifically means “not that”. We typically understand that in Hindu philosophy there exists the belief in a great veiling force called Maya Shakti that generates the specific illusion of multiplicity in the One. Thus, the effect of māyā is the false appearance of difference in the cosmic unity of reality (the real) that tends towards the false impression in mind and perception of a plurality of entities and of the distinction fundamental to the formation of spurious identity, that between me-mine and self-not self. This is not simply to say that the phenomenal distinctions are illusory but more radically to suggest that they are illusory all the way down in the ontological level. Yet according to some interpreters the idea that māyā= illusion is an error, based on a mistranslation that identifies illusion with “mere illusion”, where appearance would be the better term.

The enlightenment of māyā

In a 1911 work by Prabhu Dutt Shastri the doctrine closely corresponds to its Westernisation in Schopenhauer where the world is at once “representation” and will in-itself. In this text Prabhu Dutt Shastri traces the history of the word “maya” in its usages in Vedanta in order to illustrate a basic ambiguity of the term as it appears in various forms. This ambiguity comes down to a slippage between meanings in which the world refers both to power via knowledge or deception and thus is a term that is underdetermined and operates via this lack of determinacy to demand interpretation based on its reversibility. The text is careful to point out that the Sanskrit term for such power (sankalpa- sakti) doesn’t come down to any kind of physical power but instead refers to an immaterial mysterious power associated with the will. It is in this sense that Indra, the God of the Vedas that occupies a similar position to Zeus or Odin, is said to be capable of ‘assuming many different form’ through the power of his will rather than actual morphological alteration. In later texts, such as the Atharva-Veda, the term māyā comes to take on the sense of a mysterious power more strongly to the point where it becomes identifiable as “magic”. Throughout the late texts known as the Upanisads (those to which Schopenhauer makes frequent reference) we find “maya” again being used to in this reversible sense before taking on a much bigger and grander meaning where ‘Maya is spoken of as bringing about the existence of the phenomenal world’ [5]. The word appears later still in connection with dream-like states in which the world is describes (in terms that might be more familiar to Westerns from Buddhism) as a kind of a dream.

The upshot of all of this is the idea that the world lacks any substantiality. Whether phenomenality be an illusion, a mysterious power, a work of magic or a dream the invariant tendency is to read into the concept of māyā as the notion that there is nothing behind the world of appearance and thus that being is insubstantial. This is an essentially irrealist hypothesis regarding existence. In the guise of this insubstantiality the tracing of the history of the term throughout Hindu scripture reveals two primary modes of the use of māyā: firstly to refer to the act of creation (power, will, magic, skill) and secondly to refer to what is created (illusion, dream, mystery). As such māyā’s essential ambiguity is between referring to the coming-to-be of phenomenality or the being of phenomenality or, in Western philosophical parlance, becoming or being. However, whether we are speaking of becoming (motion; mutliplicity) or being (stasis; singularity) for the Hindu tradition we are always speaking of an appearance that arises from nothing and remain nothing. Māyā is finally the notion of the phenomenal world as a completely unreal manifestation that is the manifestation of nothingness itself, the dream of what lacks appearance. Yet this is not the distinction of appearance versus essence but rather an appearance devoid of essence or origin, an appearance without an identity. It is the appearance of no-thing; not a withdrawn thing, but no-thing at all. In all this what we get is the perfect idealism: no-thing exists outside of consciousness which is itself insubstantial.

Why this passage through Hindu thought? Because if eliminativist materialism holds that phenomenality and consciousness are merely illusory appearance that are false and so must be replaced rather than reduced then it positions itself as a naturalisation of the concept of māyā. Those things that eliminativism wants to eliminate are precisely those appearances behind which there is nothing. In Hinduism the point of enlightenment is to reveal that there is no distinction between the mind and the body, that such a distinction is the result of being held captive to the hallucinatory power of appearance, just as the point of elimination is to show that there is no mind at all: the mind is the insubstantial power that performs the magic that captivates us with the world of appearance and thus is the veil of māyā that must be seen through.

Perversely, all this leads us to the conclusion that eliminativist materialism performatively reinstates the horizon of belief even if it obliterates the possibility of belief. Belief is an apparition (an appearance without substance) and as such is eliminated from view: but this elimination of a pre-eminently religious concept is performed as a ritual sacrificing of the apparent in the name of the real. Even as eliminativist materialism fails to succeed in its aim owing to its lapse into idealism, nonetheless the only way in which it works is via the desire to “see through” the false world of phenomenality.

My point is not that once again Western science confirms the esoteric findings of the East (an all too familiar narrative) but rather that the Western techno-objectivist mind actually generates its own esoteric shadow world. In attempting to liberate us from ego this objectivism becomes blind to its own deeper intractable descent into ego. This is to side against Heidegger and his formulation that technology produces being as a kind of standing-reserve because such a standing-reserve would be something substantial, something one could touch and make contact with as somehow enduring and firm. Instead, techno-objectivism paradoxically gives rise to a mystical irrealism minus the subtleties and nuances of mysticism. In this way the full meaning of a nomination like “techgnosis” becomes apparent: the technoscientific endeavour that disenchants the world (the narrative of modernity) is simultaneously a covert re-enchantment of it by achieving a scientific enlightenment in the true sense of the term by lifting the veil of illusion from our eyes and liberating us from a kind of cosmic false-consciousness. Eliminativist materialism seeks to do this by ridding us of apparitions of thought and thus stand in relation to the philosopher Max Stirner (nihilist and Hegelian idealist) who saw “spooks”, or ideological archons, everywhere.

This isn’t to revive the oft repeated and rebutted claim that eliminative materialism believes in belief but rather that it reintroduces the very grounds of belief that it sought to expel by repeating the religious move par excellence. In Christianity the veil of Maya appears in the form of the apocalypse: that event that renders visible all that was hidden. It should not be a surprise then that R Scott Bakker’s version of eliminativism, centring on his Blind Brain Hypothesis, is elaborated in his brilliantly chilling novel Neuropath in terms of a “semantic apocalypse”.

In a post on his blog Bakker explains that the “semantic apocalypse” has already happened on the social plane:

Consumer society is a society where liberal democratic states have retreated from the ‘meaning game,’  leaving the intractable issue to its constituents. Given the interpretative ambiguity that permeates the Question of Meaning, there is no discursive or evidential way of commanding any kind of consensus: this is why states past and present had to resort to coercion to promote meaning solidarity. Absent coercion, people pretty much climb on whatever dogmatic bandwagon that appeals to them, typically the ones that most resonate with their childhood socialization, or as we like to call it, their ‘heart.’

The result of this heterogeniety is a society lacking any universal meaning-based imperatives: all the ‘shoulds’ of a meaningful life are either individual or subcultural. As a result, the only universalimperatives that remain are those arising out of our shared biology: our fears and hungers. Thus,consumer society, the efficient organization of humans around the facts of their shared animality.

We can reasonably recognise in this a recapitulation of Lyotard’s announcement of the death of the grand narratives and, in their place, the explosion of meaning-claims that could be thought of as micro-narratives. Once we become incredulous to grand narratives we know longer look to the Big Stories like “progress” or “the laws of revolution” but instead form ever smaller communities of meaning-production (or even solipsisms of meaning-production) between whom there can be no final point of coherence or negotiation. In Bakker’s version of this narrative (itself a pretty grand one) Lyotard’s postmodernism becomes the consumer society within which the state refuses to be the final arbiter of meaning claims, but what remains the same is the dissolution of the principle of universality in ethics. There is no longer anyone to vouchsafe the universalist claim that it is wrong to kill, instead there is an agonistic pathwork field in which competing claims about the rights and wrongs of killing assert themselves and are negotiated or ridden roughshod over. The implication is that we enter a phase where might makes right. A banal example of this is the emergence of the commentariat who provide us with as many opinions as we can consume on any matter of the day and which there is no standard or criterion to discriminate among them so as to arrive at a correct opinion. The final claim, that consumer society (which is not a really existent thing, being as it is only one pole of the consumption-production  bipolarity of global capitalism) is one organised our “shared animality” is an interesting if flawed one insofar as it fails to account for the way in which “our” animality is never totalised across society- there are always groups who are more exposed to corporeal vulnerability than others, and there are always those who are at the centre of a nexus of techniques of (the fantasy of) invulnerability.

The semantic apocalypse in this gloss is thus late modernity pure and simple. But Bakker’s really disturbing vision comes in his discussion of the potential for neuroscience to become an applied science of phenomenal manipulation. Thus he from the post-apocalypse of the social semantic apocalypse to the waiting catastrophe of the possibilities of the techno-objectivist instrumentalisation of experience:

Once the human brain falls into our manipulative purview, anything becomes possible. Certain colours, like suffering and fear, will likely be wiped away. Other colours, like carnal pleasure or epiphany, will be smeared across everything. And this is just the easy stuff: willing might be mixed with hearing, so that everytime a dog barks, you have the sensation of willing all creation into existence.

Once this move from the social to the biological is accomplished the result of the departure from our shared neurophysiology (which “shared animality” is now reduced to) results in a generalised condition of madness. This is the same conclusion we came to in regard to the Churchlands, except that in Bakker’s writing there is the appropriate sense of dread afforded to the possibility. Bakker ponder whether the only safe guard against this will be

some kind of return to State coercion, this time with a toybox filled with new tools for omnipresent surveillance and utter oppression. A world where a given neurophysiology is the State Religion, and super-intelligent tweakers are hunted like animals in the streets.

Except that in the psychiatric totalitarianism that we saw above it was precisely such advances in applied neuroscience that would allow for this new State coercion. Besides which, the idea that we would experience a “return” to state coercion places a process already well under way after 2008 ‘s financial collapse into the remote future, neglects the panoptical technologies of power that already produce surveillance as omnipresent while physical surveillance technologies and policing become ever more total, and, finally, fails to grasp that the neurodiversity, mad pride, and psychiatric survivors movements already stake the claim that a given neurophysiology already has all the normative power of any religion. None of which is to detract from the horrific thought of the ability of neuro-engineers to directly manipulate our neurology to so fine-tuned a degree that the current neuro-manipulations of psychopharmacology are revealed as the barbarism they so often (already) are.  In my head, I see a “neuropunk” vision modelled on the biopunk of a film like Gattaca, where this neurophysiological ideal is adopted from birth with any “failures in development” either being corrected or, if not possible in that time, aborted. Yet just as Gattaca‘s imperfect hero was able to fake his way into becoming one of the top navigators in a space-faring corporation in a bid to leave Earth, so to we could imagine the neurologically inauthentic person managing to trick their way into a fascistic neurotypical society. Indeed, as a psychiatric nurse I have been witness to people who were to all intents and purposes “mad” fool those around them into thinking otherwise.

Our Eriugenian modernity 

In what respect do these two moments represent an apocalypse? In the first instance we have apocalypse in its secular form as “the end of the world as we know it”, and in the second instance we are presented with an apocalypse that reveals what was already there but withdrawn from visibility; the long history of psychiatric physiopolitical interventions (and the soft psychotherapeutic interventions like CBT) have always been the trajectory towards totalitarianism. If the semantic apocalypse- taken as the combined effects of these two catastrophes- is apocalyptic it is because what it reveals to us with astounding clarity is the fictionalised nature of our phenomenal experience and, more importantly, with that the stunning weakness of the coping mechanisms we routinely deploy to navigate, negotiate, and overcome the difficulties of being conscious organisms. Humans beings as conscious being are essentially coping-beings that are constantly coping-with-“…”, where “…” can stand in for the things that necessitate the need to cope or the things with which we cope and/or thrive. This apocalyptic vision is linked to that of another thinker of apocalypse Paul Virilio, insofar as it chimes with his idea of endo-colonisation.

Exo-colonisation corresponded to the time of Empire and Eurocentrism and thus to the time of the actual and open colonisation of various parts of the Americas, Africa and Asia by European powers. Exo-colonisation was thus part of the geo-territorial  movement of emerging and emergent capitalist economies to discover new resources (rice, tea, oil reserves, aluminium so forth) and to expand the labour-power it had at its command without having to pay for the constant simple reproduction of the capital-labour relation (ie; slavery). Driving the logistics of the successive phases of this burst of primitive accumulation was the technological (techne) capacity to design, build and maintain the material supports that would both allow colonisation to appear and to succeed as a capitalist strategy (including roads, dockyards, deforestation for timber, ports, cities, cartography, compasses, the north star, ship construction, metallurgy, juridical frameworks for the recognition of colonial claims and, obviously, gun powder and canon). Exo-colonisation thus referred to the ecology of relations of an colonising power with the territory, population and ways of life to be colonised. It was also the occasion for Conrad’s exposure of the modern imperial project, with its Eurocentric ideology of bringing civilisation to the natives, was simultaneously a barely disguised barbarism. Endocolonisation also refers to a kind of power and to the technological innovations that enable its capacity to exist. Perhaps the clearest articulation of endocolonisation (colonisation of the inside) occurs in an interview with CTheory:

Technologies first equipped the territorial body with bridges, aqueducts, railways, highways, airports, etc. Now that the most powerful technologies are becoming tiny–microtechnologies, all technologies can invade the body. These micro-machines will feed the body. Research is being conducted in order to create additional memory for instance. For the time being, technologies are colonizing our body through implants. We started with human implants, but research leads us to microtechnological implants.

The territorial body has been polluted by roads, elevators, etc. Similarly, our animal body starts being polluted. Ecology no longer deals with water, flora, wildlife and air only. It deals with the body itself as well. It is comparable with an invasion: technology is invading our body because of miniaturisation. (Referring to the interviewer’s microphone: “next time you come you won’t even ask – you’ll just throw a bit of dust on the table!”)

There is a great science-fiction short story, it’s too bad I can’t remember the name of its author, in which a camera has been invented which can be carried by flakes of snow. Cameras are inseminated into artificial snow which is dropped by planes, and when the snow falls, there are eyes everywhere. There is no blind spot left.

Here we find Bakker’s materialised semantic apocalypse already expressed by Virilio in the sense of “microtechnologies” “invading the body” in ways that are themselves on a spatial scale as to render them invisible to the human eye whilst being able to see everywhere, leaving no blind spot…presumably, not even that left by the Blind Brain that can’t see itself (hence the “gap” that allows for the māyā of phenomenality). The disaster rests precisely in the removal of māyā because while it captivates us it does so in a non-traumatic fashion according to the logic that ignorance is bliss. What is fascinating is the way in which Virilio code the trauma of endocoloinisation in military terms: it is a “colonisation” and an “invasion” that turns the frontiers of our bodies into geological territories of conflict, even if Virilio might view them through his Catholic optic as the pristine host of the noble savage of the soul. It is as if the death of grand narratives was also the death of a particular type of grand warfare where the war is now fought on, beneath and in the name of the sovereign territoriality of individual human bodies. This is an accelerative vision of the biopolitical in which it ceases to be biopolitics in order to give way to an insidious and welcomed biological warfare. Like those liberated by the Soviets after the fall of Nazism, we cheer on the arrival of our new oppressor; Virilio is tasking us with the need for an insurgency against the elimination of the integrity of the body itself.

The crucial point to make here is that in the sequence running eliminativism-semantic apocalypse- endocolonisation the latter term appears as the truly apocalyptic one in that it already tells us that the material apocalypse of techno-objectivism is already underway. Although endocolonisation is not the historical end-point of this sequence it is the theoretical apotheosis of it. While eliminativism appears to be a purely naturalist position but was seen to express its own religiosity, and Bakker’s semanic apocalypse openly admits the reintroduction of theological terminology into a theory grounded in naturalism, Virilio’s entire philosophical edifice, including his theory of endocolonisation, is grounded in his apocalyptic Catholicism. Virilio comes at the end of the sequence because he expresses the perverse completion of the project to displace religious belief as the return to a secularised or “emptied” religiousity. In his words, from the same interview

All in all, I believe that this divine dimension [of technology] raises the question of transcendence, that is to say the question of the Judeo-Christian God for instance. People agree to say that it is rationality and science which have eliminated what is called magic [recall in Vedanta= māyā] and religion. But ultimately, the ironic outcome of this techno-scientific development is a renewed need for the idea of God. Many people question their religious identity today, not necessarily by thinking of converting to Judaism or to Islam: it’s just that technologies seriously challenge the status of the human being. All technologies converge toward the same spot, they all lead to a Deus ex Machina, a machine-God. In a way, technologies have negated the transcendental God in order to invent the machine-God. However, these two gods raise similar questions.

For us it is precisely this transcendent God that is dead and that remains dead, or rather remains as dead. Despite his Catholicism we can see that Virilio is a thinker who agrees with the Nietzschean idea that God is dead, or is at least willing to entertain i in public. Yet rather than holding to the empty space left by the absent/dead God*. Virilio doesn’t tell us what questions the machine-God raises but that they are similar provides us with enough of a clue: the machine-God is still a central nexus for our anxieties about the status of truth, meaning, purpose, and all our ultimate values. The machine-God differs from the Judeo-Christian God in that it is not transcendent but fully immanent to the horizon of technoscience and is thus the plastic foundation of a new religiosity such that technoscience becomes the belief in technoscience.

We see this religiosity constantly affirmed wherever the belief in the technological fix appears and in our culture’s consistent clinging and appeal to the promise of some form of technological salvation that takes the form of the emergence of a techne of immortality. This techne also appears in a more modest form in discussions of automation as the necessary liberation of human labour from toil, an intractable belief that concludes that the emergence of a post-work society is always just around the corner and realisable in a smooth re-purposing of our machines; it is a belief that invokes a full blown teleological dimension that objectivises the Hegelian movemet of Giest towards the Absolute via the unfolding of the immanent and necessary laws of the development of applied technoscience. Taken together the faith in technologically realised immortality and the mechanical deliverance from struggling with the environment (which might go on to include the production of a new heaven and a new Earth by terraforming other planets) are the Christian promise of salvation from the sufferings of this world without the supernatural deliverance from this world. The ascension into heaven of the good becomes substantialised as the entrance into the new bodiless world of the singularity. The mapping of the genome and the potentials of gene-therapy and designer offspring couples with our ability to produce genetically modified crops and bioengineered life-forms and segues effortlessly into the attempt to find every more means, methods and mechanisms for the continued exploitation of our planetary resources. Just a Freud could claim that everyone of us is unconsciously convinced of our own immortality so to is their a capitalist technological unconscious that believes that the Earth too is immortal. As we project our fantasies of shedding our bodies like Gnostic Christs to dance and laugh above our suffering bodies and corpses so to do we find the image the Earth infinitely resilient, infinitely giving, and infinitely productive. To return again to Heidegger, it is clear that we haven’t transformed the Earth into a standing-reserve because if we had there would be an awareness that such a reserve can be depleted and is depleted: the catastrophe has already happened. It is as if, instead, we concieved of the world itself as a garden of Eden, as that Paradise from whence we were banished but to where, with the right application of techne, we can return. Paradise is just a few seconds out of sync with us, but technoscience can correct the phase shift and re-synchronise us with that eternity that hides in each moment’s shadow.

Of course, the atheist and the religious fundamentalist discourses on technoscience converge on the same point: it is Godless, rationalist, and antagonistic to a life that believes and lives in the light of the divine. Except this is precisely the point of the machine-God: the assumption or inscription of divinity into the scientific enterprise itself, and this begins even before the death of God. When Newton was working on developing what would become the cornerstones of classical physics he was also working on alchemical experiments to discover the Philosopher’s Stone and the Elixer of life, while he also seemed to have ascribed some degree of vitality to metals. The rationalist Newton and the occult Newton can’t be kept in separation as each formed part of the larger project that motivated not just Newton but a great many of his contemporaries as well: the desire to know the Mind of God (or, the Absolute). It is also of no small regard to us as post-apocalyptic survivors that Newton was also an interpreter of the Christian apocalypse (he set the date at 2060- about the time the water will run out?). Joseph Priestly was also a scientist who doubled as an apocalypticist and who firmly asserted the necessary connection between his scientific work and the coming end, whilst Michael Faraday was a member of a Christian fundamentalist group. Even Darwin baulked at this own nihilistic conclusions. In the 18th century Freemasons, attempting to create a new universal religion, would become the champions of the development of industrialisation.

The engineers and physicists who developed nuclear power saw in it an image of either redemption or else of religious destruction- the obvious quote being “I am become the destroyer of worlds” but no less so the idea that the explosion of the hydrogen bomb seemed to many to be the material realisation of the fires of Armageddon written of in the book of Revelations. We have already discussed several contemporary symptoms of the machine-God, but we should add to them to ability we already have to have the fantasy of entering other worlds (mmorpg/internet) and leave our bodies behind us (internet) whilst also being able to reach a less than perfect imitation of omniscience (the totality of the general intellect objectivised in online encyclopedias- reachable at any location, at any time via a smart phone), and the approach to ubiquity that we find in tele-presence.

The fruits of technoscience are enchanted and techno-objectivism is awash with mysteries. How many of us actually get how computational or affective neuroscience understand our neural being? How many of us understand how an xbox works? How many people actually meditate on the material logistical networks required for an instant 1-click purchase on amazon to arrive at our door? What about the fibre-optic instantaneousness of downloading a film, a book, a video game. Technology and technoscience remain deeply impenetrable to the majority of us who must turn to a host of technicians, helpline advisers and so on to fix even the most basic problems with our broadband connections or broken down cars and so on. These people dispense pragmatic algorithms for us over the phone, disembodied voices from nowhere, and guide us through a process of fixing fixing our devises, or else- as with mechanists- they do so on our behalf, without ever providing us any illumination into exactly how the hell they did it. In the extreme case the new neurosurgical procedures performed by tele-operated robots both guided by and guiding the human surgeon can only appear as among the highest of the new magical rituals. These new experts of techne are a privileged group (even if that privilege is asymmetrically distributed in economic terms) insofar as they hold arcane knowledge into the working of our fantasy objects. It would be wrong to think of them as a new priesthood though, as they are often in the same position as we are (the programmer doesn’t understand applied neuroscience; the surgeon doesn’t understand robotics) and they do not dispense parables of the machine-God to us.

Techno-objectivism thus leads us to the paradoxical state whereby such objectivism slips into mystery and esoterica. As Bruno Latour writes

When a machine runs efficiently […] one needs focus only on its inputs and outputs and not on its internal complexity.Thus, paradoxically, the more science and technology succeed, the more opaque and obscure they become [6].

It is the success of contemporary technoscience in rendering the operation of our machines so smoothly, and in making the machine-user interface so invisible, that it occludes or obviates the complexity of the material composition and processing of our high-tech gadgets so that they appear, as Arthur C. Clark had it, as indistinguishable from magic. If I fail to get a signal from my mobile phone I will become frustrated without once considering the processes behind the production and the working of my phone. Sometimes it will hit me: the signal is being sent into space, is being received by an orbital satellite before being sent back down to Earth. At these times, rather than developing an appreciation of the labour and the intelligence behind the phone I am likely to simply stand marvelling at the thing: it seems to me to be a secular miracle. How much more profound must this feeling be when loved one’s at the brink of death are brought back to the fullness of life? 

This also helps to explain our fascination with programmers, those who speak the native languages of the machine-God and can call it by its name. Teams of programmers are able to conjure new world for us to immerse ourselves in via video gaming and 3-D and CGI cinema: they produce entire immaterial architectures of desire and wish-fulfilment, sorrow and dread; their worlds can be populated by humans or human-animal/human-machine/animal-machine creatures and can have the full feeling of a full immersion into a palpable aesthetic; they can generate realities to the side of our own that function through entirely different laws of physics, or they can imitate our the real to a startling, even uncannily eerie degree. The programmer is a manipulator of realities that makes appear that which has no substantiality beyond the fact of its appearing:  the masters of the potency of maya. Sometimes we prefer them in their heretical forms: emancipatory hackvist or trickster Anon hacker in it for the lulz. In different ways these heretical programmers fit the space accorded to the other side of maya, the piercing through the veil of illusion. Similarly, we can begin to understand the freeware movement and Linux based open network societies as participating in a kind of dethroning of the professional programmer as expert (even if this is often an auto-insurgency) and thus as analogous to the popular displacement of a monopoly on the ability to interpret Scripture that had been held by various churches, or as an analogue of the Chartist direct action and demands in producing a literate working class.

The collusion of techno-objectivism in technoscience with religiosity and magic (or the miraculous) is also the collusion of the atheist and theistic worlds that erupted history out of its temporary suspension after the collapse of the Soviet Union. We all know what happened on September 11th 2001: the lethal combination of claims to a radical orthodoxy defining itself, at least in part, against atheistic liberal culture with technology. It should also be noted that the re-emergence of historical movement that this event opened the world’s eyes to (again: 9/11 was a catastrophe with apocalyptic functions) was committed by those inspired by a religiosity that preferred to ground itself in knowledge rather than faith. As John Gray put is: ‘Radical Islam is a symptom of the disease of which it is pretending to be the cure’- ie. our so-called modernity.

Perhaps one of the most compelling versions of this collusion doesn’t come from any analysis of political, social or historical events but from the life of an individual scientist. I first heard of George R. Price in the third and final episode of Adam Curtis’s documentary series All watched over by machines of loving grace. Price was a strange and impersonal man, a population geneticist who came up with the idea of the “selfish gene” in the 1960s. A brilliant scientist and a confirmed atheist who thought he had found the perfect genetic basis to eliminate belief from our theories and our lives, he died in poverty by committing suicide after having given away all of his possession to the London’s homeless in acts of (seriously) Saintly altruism. The atheist did so because of his belief that his destruction of the grounds for belief could only have come to him from one possible location: God. Price was a brilliant scientist and not at all a marginal figure, although his contributions via the Price equation had been significantly overlooked. To quote the wikipedia entry on Price:

Price’s ‘mathematical’ theory of altruism reasons that organisms are more likely to show altruism toward each other as they become more genetically similar to each other. As such, in a species that requires two parents to reproduce, an organism is most likely to show altruistic behavior to a biological parent, full sibling, or direct offspring. The reason for this is that each of these relatives’ genetic make up contains (on average in the case of siblings) 50% of the genes that are found in the original organism. So if the original organism dies as a result of an altruistic act it can still manage to propagate its full genetic heritage as long as two or more of these close relatives are saved. Consequently an organism is less likely to show altruistic behavior to a biological grandparent, grandchild, aunt/uncle, niece/nephew or half-sibling (each contain one-fourth of the genes found in the original organism); and even less likely to show altruism to a first cousin(contains one-eighth of the genes found in the original organism). The theory then holds that the further genetically removed two organisms are from each other the less likely they are to show altruism to each other. If true then altruistic (kind) behavior is not truly selfless and is instead an adaptation that organisms have in order to promote their own genetic heritage.

Believing that God has inspired him, and believing that his theory of altruism disproved the possibility of mutual aid unless it was really in the interests of one’s own genetics (and hence explaining ethinic cleansing etc- if you are a distant genetic relative its no problem for me to kill you), Price’s selfless work with homeless was an attempt to disprove in practice what he had proved scientifically. Price’s story is more moving than I can give voice to here so I won’t labour the point that I want to take from this. While we have seen a host of religiously motivated scientists throughout history, Price represents one of the rarer kinds of figures: those converted to religion because of the discoveries of science, no matter how indirectly. The very corrosive that was supposed to remove the conditions of belief was precisely what moved Price towards the fanatical altruism of the Christian Saints.

I don’t want to repeat myself too much, as this is already a long piece, but I hope to have shown to some degree that the very cause of the death of God in the rise our scientific modernity is also the what allows for the reintroduction of the space of belief. Even if we are aware of our condition as nihilism, if we know that God is dead, the space of belief remains held open by the very acts of disenchantment that has supposedly been accomplished. It is through the devotion of the artes mechanicae that we can speak of a ‘Eriugenian modernity’, named after the 9th century Irish philosopher and theologian who identified the artes mechanicae as belonging not our corrupt and fallen embodiment but to our divine and everlasting souls. For the historically marginal  Johannes Scotus Eriugena technology remained part of our unfallen relationship with the watch-maker God. Technology is stretched across the divide of the Sacred and the Profane, cross-contaminating both  supposedly autonomous domains. Such contamination can and must also be thought of in its secularised form as the bifurcation of nature. When we think of it in this way (with Merleau-Ponty or Latour) it becomes obvious how technology sits astride the nature-culture divide as its (always already) undoing.  The perverse corollary of this Eriugenianism is that, paraphrasing Latour, we have never been atheist. The Christian eschatological myths and temporality may are displaced from the religious manifest image onto the a new scientific manifest image. Technology is, and for a long time has been, our religion. The secularisation thesis under which Christianity becomes secularised and thus fulfilled can be transmuted into the impressions we have just proceeded through: Christianity is secularised via its displacement into science and technology. After the death of God, the machine-God.

“Holding to “I believe I believe” 

If I am correct then it seems that belief is ineradicable. Even after its elimination, belief, and specifically a kind of religious belief, remains with us surviving is own death. The hegemonic expression of that  belief can be summed up as: ‘only a machine-God can save us’. In my previous essay I had written that holding fidelity to the empty space of the dead God means that we are not liberated through belief but from belief. However, the belief in a machine-God seems to threaten to contradict that claim as it merely reinstates belief, deflecting it away from transcendence and into the technological. This is why Virilio sometimes describes himself as an atheist of technology whilst also maintaining (an often reactionary) Catholicism. In such an interpretation it becomes clear that there must be decision in regard of belief about whether one believes in a Christian God or in the machine-God. Yet such a choice is obviously false owing to the latter only being the latest manifestation of the former. What is authentic in this moment is the resurgence of the act of belief. What matters here is not that we decide between option 1 and option 2 but that we decide in favour of an evacuated belief. While Slavoj Zizek approaches the question of belief through the idea that we believe through the other I think that it is better approached via Gianni Vattimo’s paradoxical formula that “I believe that I believe”.

Zizek’s stance on belief follows from his adherence to Lacanian psychoanalysis and to its declaration that there is no big Other. This inexistent big Other is presupposed by the community of believers as a fiction that allows for the experience of such a community, a community that has coherent norms and rituals to govern its ethical and practical life. The community posits the big Other not in order to believe it but to believe by way of  it. In the case of religious belief it doesn’t matter whether God exists as a material or supernatural entity, it is merely enough to posit the position of God in order to subscribe to a coherent symbolic universe. Thus Zizek explains that

For that very reason, in the case of the imaginary “belief in,” belief is always displaced (it is never me who, in the first person singular, is ready to assume belief, there is always the need for the fiction of a “subject supposed to belief”), while in the case of the symbolic faith, the commitment in the first person singular is performatively assumed [7].

Going by way of the other means that I don’t actually have to believe in the big Other (capitalism, the Law, the Party, or, crucially here, God) I only have to presume that someone believes, even if that someone is entirely hypothetical. As an aside, we can already see how the beautiful soul of technology will emerge: it is not me who believes in the machine-God but someone else who believes in it. We could put forward the speculative hypothesis that the priesthood and the Church have maintained themselves for so long by occupying the position of the subject supposed to believe. At any rate, what Zizek’s thesis tells us is that already within religious faith is the experience of individual atheism (“I don’t believe”) within the community of believers (“but the others believe”).

In contrast to this displacement, or rather as its weird completion, is Vattimo’s utterance “I believe that I believe”. This was Vattimo’s reply to a former teacher of his who, learning of his return to Christianity after his years as an atheist nihilist, asked him whether he believed in God. “I believe that I believe”; a peculiar doubling that folds belief back into itself, returning it from some outside. This statement is paradoxical precisely because it is without referent beyond itself. “I believe that I believe” doesn’t locate belief outside or beyond the believer but locates it squarely in the capacity to believe as such. This is the both the contradiction and completion of Zizek’s other-oriented thinking of belief because it refuses to pass through the other; or rather, it returns to the believer after its passage through the other. In other words it is no longer a question of supposing a big Other there to be believed at all, or of locating belief in a displaced circuitry that passes through actual embodied others. This is both an affirmation of belief in spite of their being nothing to believe in, an affirmation that is only made possible because there is nothing to believe in.  After the death of God the affirmation and taking responsibility for one’s own capacity to believe becomes possible. If this is an affirmation it is an affirmation of belief that no longer attempts to ground itself: it is a belief without foundation and without illusion that is has any relationship to truth. This is the core of Vattimo’s hermeneutics, a philosophy that completely accords with Nietzsche’s nihilist perspectival declaration that “all is interpretation”. This is an interpretation that reaches “perfect nihilism” because if it is true then it too is only another interpretation. This belief is the liberation from belief mentioned in my last essay and it is so precisely because it is belief emptied of metaphysics.

In the Will to power, Nietzsche elucidates this nihilistic conclusion and in doing so answers the question that I have hitherto avoided asking, namely: what is belief?

What is a belief? How does it originate? Each belief is a holding-something-true. The most extreme form of nihilism would be the insight that each holding-something-true is necessarily false: because there is simply no true world. Thus a perspectival appearance, the origin of which lies in us (in so far as we are continually in need of a narrower, abridged, and simplified world). That it is the measure of strength  to what extent we are able to admit to ourselves, without perishing, the merely apparent character, the necessity of lies. In so far as nihilism, as a denial of the true world, of Being, could well be a divine way of thinking [8]. (My emphasis).

Nietzsche’s perspectivism thus crystallises much of the foregoing discussion and in doing so also points out that nihilism is already a post-intentional philosophy (cf. RS Bakker). There is no need for our capacity for belief to be anything but a fiction or a fantasy. As the kind of beings that we are, corporeal coping-beings, we are continually in need of these techniques to aid out psychosomatic survival. Furthermore, as Nietzsche’s reference to the divine points out, nihilism has just the kind of peculiar relation to religion and to faith that we have traced out in this essay. Both in terms of what they tell us and in terms of the impossibility of a pure objectivity that doesn’t perturb the objects of its enquiry even our scientific truths, our best truths, are drenched in the corrosive of nihilism. All that remains to us is interpretation. In Ray Brassier’s reading of this holding-as-true in the peerless Nihil Unbound: enlightenment and extinction turns on the reading Nietzsche’s perspectivism as an aporia at the heart of nihilism in its relationship to truth. This aporetic nexus is the orbit of the problem that nihilism undermines perspectivism by making its own central insight into an impossibility: if there is no truth then it can’t be true that there is no truth. For Brassier this is the moment when Nietzsche turns to the fable of the eternal recurrence in order to provide a mytho-poetic foundation to his overcoming of nihilism.

However, as far as I can see Brassier is mistaking the relation of belief to truth as one in which the two terms can be exchangeable. Yet if belief is a holding-something-true then it is both more and less than truth. It is not the case that the eternal recurrence is ‘the only way of holding-it-as-true that nothing is true’ because, once truth is no longer the criterion of judgement regarding belief, there is properly no relationship between belief and truth [9]. In this claim it must be understood that truth, the truth that nihilism undoes, is not necessarily the pragmatic and provisional practical truths of science and everyday life but that it is the truth understood as the very principle of the metaphysics of presence. This metaphysical principle of truth is equal to the proclamation found in Aquinas’s Summa Theologica that God is the Truth (ie: ‘I am the way, the truth, and the light’ of John 14:6). We should not lose sight that Nietzsche is only after our “highest values”, those of Christian metaphysics, and that therefore we ought to restrict our understanding of truth to its ontotheological dimensions.

To hold-something-as-true is not the same as to establish whether something is true in metaphysical sense. We should pay attention to the way that Nietzsche’s claim is that belief is a “holding-something-as” strikes me as closer to the sense of holding something “as if” or “as having the function of”. If it is a holding-something-as if it were true is the same as to say at one and the same time that “I know that it is not true but I will act as though it were”. Such a logic is hermeneutical because it means that we are dealing with an interpretation rather than a truth claim that is happy to acknowledge its own status as ultimately ungrounded interpretation. Pragmatically then the “as if” gives way to the sense of “possessing the function of” insofar as conscious interpretation replaces truth in order to do the labour that truth once did. This is to resuscitate truth in the same way that the pragmatists did in a considerably weaker form than its metaphysical one. We can think here of William James when he stated that

True ideas are those that we can assimilate, validate, corroborate and verify. False ideas are those that we cannot. That is the practical difference it makes to us to have true ideas; that, therefore, is the meaning of truth, for it is all that truth is known-as [10].

Yet if the semantic apocalypse of postmodernism means that there is no universally accepted way to reach consensus on the establishment of such truths then our resurrected theory might find itself in closer proximity to that other great pragmatist, John Dewey:

an idea is a draft drawing upon existing things, an intention to act so as to arrange them in a certain way. From which it follows that if the draft is honored, if existences, following upon the actions rearrange or readjust themselves in the way the idea intends, the idea is true. When, then, it is a question of an idea, it is the idea itself which is practical (being an intent) and its meaning resides in the existences which, as changed, it intends [11].

 Here we see that we have a criterion on which to judge whether holding a certain fiction is better than holding to another precisely by setting our interpretations in their embedded situational contexts in terms of what effects they have on the world. This conflation of hermeneutics and pragmatism need not be limited to being considered as a purely intellectual or cognitive activity and nor must it necessarily be constrained to the activity of humans. In generalising the correlation (humans are correlationists but so are cats, stones, storms and verbs) we can see that all entities (my preferred term is bodies) interpret one another. The success of failure of these interpretations is found both in their coherence and their practical consequences for the entity constructing and then negotiating its world in collaboration with the other entities that are also interpreting it. Boiling this down we can say that the truth is the interpretation that works for any given body or ensemble of bodies.  Not only does this ontologisation of hermeneutics proceed via pragmatism but it does so via an understanding of the ecological praxis of bodies-in-motion** that we can call their choreographic dimension. From this it should be clear that while hermeneutics do take place cognitively, they certainly aren’t limited to the epistemic level or even that of (human) phenomenality. Nor are they undertaken in isolation as the ecological-choreographic emphasis more than suggests that embodied hermeneutics is always historical and participatory.

This opens us onto another dimension of Nietzsche’s definition of belief as holding-something-true: holding. The embodied metaphor of holding points directly to the corporeal aspect of Nietzsche’s thought. To hold something is to have a grasp on it intellectually, certainly, but this meaning is derived from the corporeal disposition of our bodies to entities around us. In very obvious terms, when I hold a cup I have reached out and grabbed that cup and continue to have it in my physical grip. From my perspective my body enters into a relationship with the body of the cup for certain ends: the cup contains water and I am thirsty; the cup is attractive and I want a closer look; the cup is not a cup and I am René Magritte. We could also think of the rich metaphorical fabric that “holding” held for the Donald Winnicott. To hold-something-as-true is to take up an affective relationship towards it as well as a cognitive one, and it is also to do so for identifiable (though not necessarily intentional) reasons. These ideas indicate the depth of the embodied notion of truth as more than that of the Cartesian who has ceased living in things. This should come as no surprise when we consider that the death of God and the end of the empire of transcendence is frequently thought of in terms of returning our gaze to our bodies and to the Earth, to “this world and this life”. The corporeality of truth means that corresponding to each type of body and to each particular body and to each particular localised choreographic arrangement of bodies there will be a unique series of corporeal and possibly embodied cognitive hermeneutics that compose their truth, their meaning, their belief.


This is one of the perverse effects of nihilism: to produce an explosion akin to the pre-Cambrian wherein bodies and their truths and meanings proliferate. The death of God sends us crashing back to the dirt and debris of the Earth, to the mess and murk of intractably entangled and entwined bodies that weave and waver in and out and between one another. The purposelessness of being, the stark growing coldness of a cosmos evacuated by God, the inherent meaninglessness of our lives are the very grounds via which fictions of purpose, meaning and truth can return, albeit in significantly more creaturely, finite and provisional ways. While the machine-God might be one particular new God that we might have irrevocably chosen to believe in, the point is more to realise that “I believe I believe” is already an excessive statement, already an emancipation that comes on the coat-tails of the apocalypse: it is not to decide to believe in God or in the big Other or in the subject supposed to believe. It is to stand in the opening open and to accept the creaturely finitude and contingency of an ineradicable belief.

The apocalypse is commonly thought of as being the end of the world and indeed it is- it was: it was the end of the world of Christianity as a tradition of the Sacred and the Immaterial, and the end of the world of all our old fairy tales about our exceptional status in a cosmos designed for us and shot through with a sanctifying and ordering Logos that provided us with a murderous if comforting certainty. That is the dead world; the world before the flood. Rather than bringing us  darkness the apocalyptic fires are an illumination that burns bright lightening up the darkness of a world that has itself become an accomplished nihilism. Within our Eriugenian “modernity” the bifurcation of nature*** is revealed as always having been a distraction and that for all our decentrings and disenchantments our atheism as remained a kind of piety. In order to properly be atheist and so to live after rather than within nihilism it become necessary for us to accept that faith in the empty space of God is the liberation from authoritarian belief and transcendence that allows us to hold fidelity to the opening open in which the exuberance and abundance of the cold world flourishes.  The autophagic horizon of being is a corpse with countless bodies feasting on it until finally there is nothing left and they consume themselves. Death is everywhere around us but it is not a cause for sadness; mourning the dead God isn’t a task of melancholy but it might be one of joy.



[1] Churchland, PM. 1981. Eliminativist materialism and the propositional attitudes. Here.

[2] Brassier, R. 2007. Nihil unbound: enlightenment and extinction. London: Palgrave. p.21.

[3] See the literature on the dopamine and dopamine-glutamate hypotheses of schizophrenia. There is far too much such literature to be exhaustive here but chapters in recent works by Richard Bentall, Joanna Moncrieff, David Healy, David Pilgrim and Robert Whittaker all provide comprehensive overviews of the attempt to posit and then prove a neurochemical aetiological theory of schizophrenia based on circular logic and false reasoning. In effect, the still popular dopamine hypothesis states that schizophrenia is caused by a depletion of or supersensitivity to the neurotransmitter dopamine. This was posited because reduced amounts of dopamine appeared to cause a psychotic condition in subjects that had consumed amphetamine. As this produced an excess and eventually a depletion (or in a revised account a supersensitivity to) dopamine this was presumed to be mechanism of some unknown disease process. As chlorpromazine and other such neuroleptics (false titled “antipsychotic”) drugs function by blockading dopamine receptor sites it was thus reasoned that there observed therapeutic effect was proof of the observed dopaminergic dysfunction assumed a priori to be a cause rather than an effect of schizophrenia. Moreover, it is because of this approach that people regularly find themselves on huge doses of neuroleptics that cause disastrous long-term effects (including increased mortality) as the body adapts to their presence.

[4] Op cit. Churchland.

[5] Prabhu Dutt Shastri. 1911 The doctrine of mayaHere. p.20.

[6] Latour, B. 1999. Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies. Massachusetts:Harvard University Press

[7] Zizek, S. 2001. On belief. London: Routledge. p.110.

[8] Nietzsche, F. 1968 [1901]. The will to power. Trans. Waulter Kauffman. London: Vintage. Section 15.

[9] Op cit. Brassier. p.208.

[10] James, W. 1907. Pragmatism’s Conception of Truth”. Lecture 6 in Pragmatism: A new name for some old ways of thinking. New York: Longman Green and Co. Here.

[11] Dewey, J. 1908. Pragmatism. 


* The Christian God is the God of Incarnation and Crucifixion and thus the God who empties Himself twice over. This double kenosis in God’s becoming human and God’s subsequent death is thus an extended abdication. It is this abdication that renders God as the Word or Logos, the ground and security of meaning, truth and belief, Absent, whereas he had been the very symbol and core object of the ontotheology of the metaphysics of presence.

 ** I am planning to return to this idea soon in a piece that examines motion through EM Cioran, choreography and mysticism, esp. given Adam Robberts new post at Knowledge-Ecology on Time and Ecology.

*** Running through all this is the distinction Sacred and Profane, which is readily mapped in various ways onto the bifurfaction of nature. Yet technology stands, and has always stood, as the very incarnation of the impossibility of such a bifurcation. Technics certainly carries with it ritual and thus the rituals associated with religion have always been situated on, and often as the attempt to mark out, the demarcation between the two realms.

6 responses to “The Persistence of Belief

  1. Optimistic, in a cannibalistic sort of way! This is a brilliant piece, but it’s biggest weakness lies in its transcendental, as opposed to empirical, approach to the problem. The burning question is, What will the sciences of the brain find? If the pattern of complication and reconceptualization holds true, philosophical arguments for the necessity of belief will blow away like so much smoke. This means the only way to prognosticate the way you do is to put the hip-waders on and slog through the science – where I fear you will find the staples of the traditional soul complicating and complicating… It seems safe to assume (ceteris paribus at least) that, like everything else in nature, they will be revolutionized.

    • I entirely agree that the science has to be gone into and that bald philosophical arguments don’t cut it any more. Part of the argument of this piece is a partial restatement of the secularisation thesis and that notion (that disenchantment is the fulfilment of Christianity) would necessitate such an engagement as the scientific image would be in a strange complicity with, rather than antagonism against, the religious manifest image. I come from the practical perspective of being a psychiatric nurse so I’m not entirely ignorant of the science that we are required to throw ourselves into- and this is something that I may or may not do myself given that I’m driven by certain obsessions and that time is both limited and limiting.

      I would say though that I’m confused as to the reference to the soul. I didn’t think anything in this essay would give the impression that I am at all in favour of rehabilitating such a non-corporeal concept and, although this essay on its own certainly doesn’t make this clear, I am in no way favourable to conceiving of human interiority as anything other than a kind of effect of the involution of flesh (ie: our interior world is nothing but the in-folding of exteriority on itself). As such I’m not particularly interested in the soul or in any idea of any special personal subjectivity or “self”.

      I think the hint at the direction of scientific research that I would go in is already hinted at in the too quick (but at approaching 12,000 words it had to be) references to corporeality and pragmatism. I realise that it is not entirely in line with your project but the kind of research I am interested in goes more in the direction of people like Thompson and Valera and Alva Noe than Metzinger (although I think Graham Harman was right when he said that explaining phenomenal experience is not the same as explaining it way). Meanings and beliefs arise from our multiple ecological couplings and transcorporeal interobjectivity with other bodies: meanings are just what is meaningful to the body and its survival in its niche. At any rate, I suppose what I want to gesture at is the degree to which these two different positions might not be as opposed to one another as we usually assume. But absolutely, we have to wait and see what the empirical outcome is (and then, if it doesn’t aid in our pragmatic corporeal engagement perhaps just ignore it as best we can?).

      Anyway, thanks for reading and for commenting. I’m really enjoying your ongoing development of the BBH and its related consequences and Neuropath was an astonishing novel. I see your book on the BB is going to be named after the protagonist’s book in Neuropath: a brilliant example of how a fiction can become true.

      • the nascent work on cognitive-biases seems to be confirming my sense that showing people how the ‘magic’ tricks of their various project-ions actually work doesn’t lead to them adopting a more materialist orientation (and may in fact just further entrench them into a kind of defensive clutching posture) and given the tragic and pressing states of things I’m afraid we just have to use what we know to try and get them on board, or at least out of the way, by making use of what might move them to co-operate with our experiments.
        Also something worth noting in Wittgenstein’s critique of pure functionalist accounts like that of Freud/Frazer on the psyche.
        I think that Thompson is wrong in all the ways that Owen Flanagan has pointed out, but I think that Noe’s new book is compatible with BBH, RSB if you’re still around have you read Real Presences?

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