History & Theory

Between the Digital and the Political: New Ecologies of Mind

History & Theory
17 Oct, 2017

Between the Digital and the Political: New Ecologies of Mind

3/12/2018 Video Online

During the "Between the Digital and Political: New Ecologies of the Mind" symposium, speakers Warren Sack, Yuk Hui, Luciana Parisi, and David Bates each grappled with the central issues surrounding the topic. Ideas surrounding automation, automaticity, and autonomy begged the question: how does our new new media ecology work to automate moods, preference, perceptions – subjectivity itself – with and through the increasing automatization and neutralization of the political?

After individual talks given by Bates and Hui, a panel discussion commenced with the previous two speakers, as well as Parisi and Sack.

Read more about the event through our recap.

11/13/2017 Revisited Post

History and Theory of New Media Graduate Liaison Renée Pastel recaps the “Between Digital and the Political: New Ecologies of the Mind” symposium on 10/17/17.

On October 17, 2017, the Berkeley Center for New Media held the “Between Digital and the Political: New Ecologies of the Mind” symposium in order to consider the political implications of contemporary media philosophy. Stepping in for guest speaker Erich Hörl, who was unable to attend, Rhetoric Professor and conference organizer David Bates outlined the historical context of the concept of the political with his talk, “The Concept of the Political in the Age of Automaticity.” Outlining the problem of the political, beginning with anthropologist Gregory Bateson and the concept of ecology of the mind, Bates traced the enmeshing of human mind and networks through the thought of Gilles Deleuze, Antoinette Rouvroy and Thomas Berns, Bernard Stiegler, and Benjamin Bratton. Sketching different models of the challenges of the political through Carl Schmitt and the essence of the political, Bates ultimately arrived at the model of the katechon of the cybernetic age. He outlined the political as the deferral of chaos, rather than as the instantiation of “order,” concluding his talk by proposing that the 21st century katechon provokes openness and power within techno-political systems and holds the potential for decisions as an interruption of norms.

Dr. Yuk Hui, research associate at the Leuphana University Lüneburg, spoke next, presenting his talk “Archives of the Future: Remarks on the Concept of Tertiary Protention.” Hui began by unpacking the Derridean model of the archive, especially in terms of the presupposition of future interest. He then laid out a relationship of protention and retention, using Husserl’s Bernau manuscript and Stiegler’s definition of tertiary retention from Technics and Time. Putting pressure on the reliance on objects and exteriorization of futurecasting or memory (in protention or retention, respectively), Hui then moved to the final phase of his talk—connecting tertiary protention to computational hermeneutics. It is in this last section that Hui began to most specifically address the questions of digital technology and the future of the archive, discussing smart home objects that predict need before it is felt, and posing the philosophical question of a new temporal structuring by such objects and a resulting new politics of time. The Q+A for this talk focused on delineating the connections between the talk and the theme of ecologies of mind, interrogating the human/machine relation and recursivity of thought. This then led to a productive discussion of algorithmic thinking and the politics of algorithms.

To cap the event, symposium participants convened for a panel discussion, which placed Bates and Hui into conversation with visiting professor Luciana Parisi of the Philosophy Department at Goldsmiths, London and Professor Warren Sack of the Film and Digital Media Department at UC Santa Cruz. Parisi opened the discussion by examining mind and mediation, with models of thinking and extended cognition through new media and the realm of politics as resolutely human. She posed the main questions as learning from contingency, rethinking instrumentality, and machines as impoverished in ability to make political decisions. Sack followed up by reframing the discussion of technology and politics in the terms of work-language and machine-language as defining information technology and computation technology, respectively. Using this to interrogate the politics of algorithms, he questioned the separate vocabularies of these languages and proposed the politics of technology as a means to “cut across the grain.” The Q+A that followed explored several of the themes raised by the two talks and within the panel response, threading issues of automation, capitalism, the figural and sovereignty, resulting in stimulating discussion from Bates, Hui, Parisi and Sack.

2017 HTNM: Between the Digital and the Political Symposium

Original Event

A Symposium: History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series

When Gregory Bateson, the anthropologist and visionary cyberneticist, introduced his concept of an “ecology of mind” he was encouraging us to pay attention to the ways in which human thinking took place in and across complex networks of activity – biological, technical, social, and political. The individual was an active but ephemeral node in a striated eco-system of ideas and cognition that had to be understood and managed at the high levels of order.

And yet, within the intertwined disciplines of cognitive science, neuroscience, and artificial intelligence, master disciplines that dominate the study of human thought in the twenty-first century, most research is still relentlessly focused on the individual mind-brain nexus. This despite the steady recognition in the parallel universe of Science and Technology Studies, Continental Philosophy, and Sociology that cognition is something that is shared between minds, between minds and machines, and between people and institutional matrices.

The intensity and rapidity of the digital revolution has unraveled the individual mind-brain paradigm. It is now impossible to deny the ways in which human cognition is enmeshed with its technical prostheses, since those technical systems are now so persistent and so automated, the human mind is no longer always capable of defending its own autonomy. The political and social (not to mention economic) stakes of this revolution are clear, even if new resolutions are uncertain.

This symposium will explore the “new ecology” of mind that challenges us today as we seek to reconfigure our cognitive worlds between the political and the digital – as old institutions of power and knowledge are deformed and new relationships (visible and invisible) are forming. The key issue will be automation, automaticity, and autonomy: how does our new new media ecology work to automate moods, preference, perceptions – subjectivity itself – with and through the increasing automatization and neutralization of the political?

Sponsored by Berkeley Center for New Media, the Townsend Center for the Humanities, and the Dean of Arts and Humanities


1.00 PM Welcome
1:15 PM Erich Hörl (Leuphana University)
2:15 PM Break
2:30 PM Yuk Hui (Leuphana University)
3:30 PM Coffee
4:00 PM Panel discussion with Erich Hörl, Yuk Hui, Luciana Parisi (Goldsmith College), Warren Sack (UC Santa Cruz), David Bates (UC Berkeley)

Erich Hörl

This talk outlines several modes of becoming-environmental that characterize the development thanks to which environmentality [Umweltlichkeit] has become our condition today: the becoming-environmental of media, of power, of subjectivity, of world, of capital and of thinking. The process of cybernetization initiated around 1900—and the process of computerization since 1950 in particular––culminating in the becoming-environmental of computation, is to be understood as a time of environmentalization, that forces us into the new power/knowledge complex of Environmentality [Environmentalität] and that obliges us – as a line of flight – to rethink environmentality as such beyond its restricted actual forms. Accordingly, the key challenge for a general ecology of media and technology is to advance the critique of Environmentalization by developing an analysis of its restricted forms, first of all of the environmentalitarian capital-form, and to break through towards a speculative thinking of the environment and a new environmental image of thought.

Erich Hörl is the Professor of Media Culture at the Institute of Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media (ICAM), Leuphana University of Lüneburg. He is also a member of Leuphana Digital Culture Research Lab (DCRL). Between 2007 and 2014 he was head of the Bochum Colloquium Mediastudies (bkm). His current research interests concern the development of a general ecology of media and technologies as well as a critique of the process of cyberneticization of all life forms and modes of existence since around 1950. He writes widely on the theoretical challenges and the historical becoming of todays technological condition and has a special expertise in Simondon Studies, Heidegger Studies as well as Guattari Studies. Among his publications are General Ecology: The New Ecological Paradigm (Bloomsbury 2017, as contributing editor); Die technologische Bedingung: Beiträge zur Beschreibung der technischen Welt (Suhrkamp 2011, as contributing editor); Die Transformation des Humanen. Beiträge zur Kulturgeschichte der Kybernetik (Suhrkamp 2008, as contributing editor); Die Heiligen Kanäle. Über die archaische Illusion der Kommunikation (Diaphanes 2005; English translation forthcoming with Amsterdam UP 2018); »A Thousand Ecologies« in The Whole Earth. California and the Disappearance of the Outside, ed. by D. Diedrichsen and A. Franke (Sternberg Press 2013), 121-131; »The technological condition“, in Parrhesia: A Journal of Critical Philosophy, 22/2015, S. 1-15; »The artificial intelligence of sense: the history of sense and technology after Jean-Luc Nancy« in Parrhesia: A Journal of Critical Philosophy, 17 / 2013, 11-24; »Luhmann, the Non-trivial Machine and the Neocybernetic Regime of Truth“ in Theory, Culture & Society, Vol. 29/3, 2012, 94-121.

Yuk Hui

Archives of the Future – Remarks on the concept of Tertiary Protention

In this talk, I will revisit the relation between protention and retension in the work of Husserl, Derrida to Stiegler, with special attention to Husserl's later Bernau manuscripts, which shed new light on this question. Through this historical trajectory, this talk hopes to elaborate on what I developed in On the Existence of Digital Objects the concept of tertiary protention, by which we can understand as technologies of anticipation ranging from debt to prediction. I will suggest that tertiary protention, which cannot be reduced to any form of retention, becomes the central question of the current stage of digital automation and constitutes a new regime of politics. In order to inquire into the "new ecologies of mind", we will have to systematically examine and integrate the question of tertiary protention.

Yuk Hui studied Computer Engineering, Cultural Theory and Philosophy at the University of Hong Kong and Goldsmiths College in London, with a focus on philosophy of technology. He is currently a research associate of the project "techno-ecologies of participation" at the Leuphana University Lüneburg, where he also teaches at the institute of philosophy; previously, he was a postdoctoral researcher at the Institute for Research and Innovation of the Centre Pompidou in Paris and a visiting scientist at the T-Labs Berlin. He has published on philosophy of media and technology in periodicals such as Metaphilosophy, Research in Phenomenology, Parrhesia, Angelaki, Cahiers Simondon, Intellectica, Implications Philosophiques, Jahrbuch Technikphilosophie, Zeitschrift für Medienwissenschaft, New Formations,Parallax, etc. He is an editor (with Andreas Broeckmann) of 30 Years after Les Immatériaux: Art, Science and Theory (2015), and author of On the Existence of Digital Objects (prefaced by Bernard Stiegler, University of Minnesota Press, March 2016), The Question Concerning Technology in China. An Essay in Cosmotechnics (Urbanomic, December 2016).

Luciana Parisi

Luciana Parisi is Reader in Cultural Theory, Chair of the PhD programme at the Centre for Cultural Studies, and co-director of the Digital Culture Unit, Goldsmiths University of London. Her research draws on continental philosophy to investigate ontological and epistemological transformations driven by the function of technology in culture, aesthetics and politics. Her writing aims to develop a naturalistic approach to thinking and technology. She is interested in cybernetics, information theory and computation, complexity and evolutionary theories. Her writing addresses the technocapitalist investment in artificial intelligence, biotechnology, nanotechnology. She has written extensively within the field of Media Philosophy and Computational Design. In 2004, she published Abstract Sex: Philosophy, Biotechnology and the Mutations of Desire (Continuum Press). In 2013, she published Contagious Architecture. Computation, Aesthetics and Space (MIT Press). She is currently researching the history of automation and the philosophical consequences of logical thinking in machines.

Warren Sack

Warren Sack is a media theorist, software designer, and artist whose work explores theories and designs for online public space and public discussion. He is Chair and Professor of Film + Digital Media at the University of California, Santa Cruz where he teaches digital arts and digital studies. He has been a visiting professor in France at Sciences Po, the Fondation Maison des sciences de l'homme, and Télécom ParisTech. His artwork has been exhibited by SFMOMA (San Francisco), the Whitney Museum of American Art (New York), the New Museum of Contemporary Art (New York), the Walker Art Center (Minneapolis), and the ZKM (Karlsruhe, Germany). His scholarship and research has been supported by the Paris Institute for Advanced Study, the American Council of Learned Societies, the Sunlight Foundation, and the National Science Foundation. Warren received his PhD from the MIT Media Lab and was an undergraduate at Yale College. The subject of his talk will be The Software Arts, a book manuscript for the MIT Press "Software Studies" series.

David Bates

David Bates studies the relationship between technology, science, and the history of human cognition. His current research focuses on the connections between reason, technology, and the state as they develop in the age of cybernetic systems and the rethinking of the living organism in tha tcontext. David is completing a book, An Artificial History of Natural Intelligence, that probes the emergence of human thinking as an entanglement of machine technologies, somatic processes, media practices, and social/political organization. Beginning with an examination of Cartesian robotics and early modern reflections on automaticity, David goes on to show how "artificial intelligence" marks a peculiar stage in the history of reason, one that privileges the isolated mind. The critique of contemporary models of automatic cognition requires unwinding a certain history of automaticity spawned by this moment, and rediscovering another history of the human within technical systems. Previously, David has served as the Director of the Berkeley Center for New Media and the Chair of Rhetoric. He co-organizes the History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series with Abigail De Kosnik.

About the History and Theory of New Media Lecture Series

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.

We are pleased to present the following lectures as part of this year's 2017-2018 season:


10/12 | 4:00–6:00 PM | ​470 Stephens Hall
Keeping Track
with Natasha Schull
In partnership with CSTMS

10/17 | 1:00–5:00 PM | 310 Banatao Auditorium, Sutardja Dai Hall
Between the Digital and the Political: New Ecologies of Mind
with Erich Hoerl, Yuk Hui, Luciana Parisi
Panel Discussion
with David Bates & Warren Sack
With support from the Townsend Center and the Dean of Arts and Humanities

11/16 | 5:00–6:30 PM | BCNM Commons, 340 Moffitt Undergraduate Library
Porn Sequence
with Hoang Nguyen


01/29 | 6:30–8:00 PM | Osher Auditorium, BAMPFA
Indexical Ambivalence
with Kris Paulsen
In partnership with the Arts, Technology, and Culture Colloquium

03/01 | 5:00–6:30 PM | BCNM Commons, 340 Moffitt Undergraduate Library
The Software Arts
with Warren Sack
In partnership with CSTMS

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