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History and Theory

Digital Doomsday: A Perspective from the Pathology Called Europe

History and Theory
04 Apr, 2017

Digital Doomsday: A Perspective from the Pathology Called Europe

Allegedly, no reflection, knowledge nor theory are needed in the business of shaping the onlife self – let the data, algorithms and bots do the work!

In this talk probe the pitfalls that theory and criticism should avoid in this era of the digitalization of (inter)subjectivity. I argue that a critical history of digitalization needs in the first place a critical history of subjectivity. I go back to Norbert Wiener, Alan Turing and Marvin Minsky to point out that their (often missed) Freudian inspirations together with their idea that the physicality of the machine is irrelevant to its logical operations are today above all forgotten. I show how these authors struggled and mostly failed to remain true to the fundamental negativity of the Freudian doctrine of the unconscious (defining a zero-level of subjectivity). Their attempts to construct open systems (claiming to go beyond automatization and opening up to creativity, plasticity and pathology characteristic of the human being), eventually lead them to resort to psychologisms and psychologizations by which they gave up the deconstructive potential of psychoanalysis.

If one wants to envision another possible digital World (and Self), is it possible to keep the (neuro)psychologization out of the game, that is to construct a technology and a digitality free of psy-theories?

Jan De Vos (MA in psychology and PhD in philosophy) works as a postdoctoral researcher at Ghent University (Belgium). His main interests are the critique of (neuro)psychology, (neuro)psychologisation, and, related to this, the subject of the digital turn. His inspiration is continental philosophy, Freudian and Lacanian theory, and culture-and ideology critique. He has written several monographs, including: Psychologisation in times of Globalisation (Routledge, 2012), and The Metamorphoses of the Brain – Neurologisation and its Discontents (Palgrave, 2016) and is currently preparing a book with Routledge entitled: “Digitalizing subjectivity: From psychologisation and neurologisation to digitalization… and back”.

The History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series brings to campus leading humanities scholars working on issues of media transition and technological emergence. The series promotes new, interdisciplinary approaches to questions about the uses, meanings, causes, and effects of rapid or dramatic shifts in techno-infrastructure, information management, and forms of mediated expression. Presented by the Berkeley Center for New Media, these events are free and open to the public. For more information, visit the HTNM website.

Update (13 april 2017)

No need to fret if you missed out on Jan De Vos' lecture as a part of BCNM'S History and Theory of New Media lecture series! The video of the lecture is now live.

Update (5 april 2017)

The Berkeley Center for New Media was fortunate to be able to host Jan De Vos as part of its History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series on April 4, 2017. De Vos is a postdoctoral researcher at Ghent University in Belgium and critiques (neuro)psychology, (neuro)psychologisation, and, related to this, the subject of the digital turn.

In "Digital Doomsday: A Perspective from the Pathology Called Europe," De Vos asked the compelling question of whether we can remove psychology and (neuro)psychologization from technology. While technologies are supposed to be free of self-reflection and psychologization through data and algorithms, De Vos turns to the history of computing to evidence how intertwined psychology and Freudian doctrines truly are with the development of these technologies. Alan Turing's test, after all, which evaluated whether a computer could pass for a human, relied on psychology to determine what it meant to be human. Referencing Norbert Wiener, Alan Turing, and Marvin Minsky, De Vos argues that technologists attempts to go beyond automatization to open up creativity, plasticity, and pathology, led them to resort to psychologisms and psychologizations by which they gave up the deconstructive potential of psychoanalysis.

De Vos' inspiration is continental philosophy, Freudian and Lacanian theory, and culture-and ideology critique. He has written several monographs, including: Psychologisation in times of Globalisation (Routledge, 2012), and The Metamorphoses of the Brain – Neurologisation and its Discontents (Palgrave, 2016) and is currently preparing a book with Routledge entitled: “Digitalizing subjectivity: From psychologisation and neurologisation to digitalization… and back”.

Check out the photos on Flickr!