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New way of thinking about the system | Interview with prof. Michał Krzykawski

12.12.2022 - 09:04 update 21.12.2022 - 11:05
Editors: wcyg
Tags: filozofia

Dr hab. Michał Krzykawski, prof. UŚ i Yuk Hui w sali. Pierwszy słucha, jak drugi mówi i gestykuluje

Michał Krzykawski, PhD, DLitt, Assoc. Prof. and Yuk Hui | photo: Marta Ankiersztejn

| Marta Tomczok |

A book by Yuk Hui, a world-class philosopher of technology, has just been published by the University of Silesia Publishing House. It is his first book translated into Polish. How will this book influence the debate on technology in Poland? Why did Michal Krzykawski, PhD, Associate Professor, the originator of the Techniques, Technologies, Technosphere series decide to publish Hui’s treatise in Katowice?


Marta Tomczok: Why did you decide to start the Techniques, Technologies, Technosphere series at the University of Silesia Publishing House? Where did the idea come from?

Prof. Michał Krzykawski: Increasingly powerful technology is disintegrating social organisations and weakening collective intelligence. At the same time, the impact of technology on mental health is becoming an increasingly pressing public health issue. Techniques and technologies are products of what Henri Bergson called creative intelligence. Such intelligence, however, can be overwhelmed by the power of its own creations when their organisation is contrary to the vital social interest. I guess that’s what’s happening right now. The works published in this series are intended to provide conceptual instruments to help us understand this bleak moment more deeply and discuss the possibilities of overcoming it. The Polish public debate in this area actually passes the challenges (epistemological, psychological, social, political, economic, ecological, educational, urban, ethical and legal) resulting from the unprecedented speed of development of computing technology, from social media, work automation, automation of thought processes and decision-makers for bio- and nanotechnology. At the same time, people organise whole spectacles in the form of science festivals or show press conferences with the participation of a humanoid robot. This spectacle replaces serious discussions about the need to shape our technological future, and in the long run deprives us of the ability to control it. To be honest, I started this series, because such situation concerns me.

Marta Tomczok: The book “Recursivity and Contigency” by Yuk Hui will be published as the first in the series. Why did you choose this particular book to open the series?

Prof. Michał Krzykawski: When the Dean of the Faculty of Humanities, prof. Adam Dziadek told me that it would be good to have a series thematically related to the activities of the Centre for Critical Technology Studies, the book was one of five titles that I have suggested to him. In her review of “Recursivity and Contigency”, Natalia Juchniewicz wrote: “on the Polish publishing market, Hui’s book is an excellent introduction to the contemporary philosophy of technology”. And I support this opinion. I would only specify that in order to better characterise the idea behind the whole series – that it is all about the continental philosophy of technology. What does it mean? It means philosophy that does not run away from the topic of technology in social, anthropological, existential, spiritualistic or cosmological context. The author discusses classic works not associated with the philosophy of technology, for example, Kant or Husseri. He also incorporates reflection on technique and technology into the areas of economics or political philosophy. It is particularly visible in the works of Bernard Stiegler, who, in this sense, fits in with the criticism initiated by Marx and continued by the Frankfurt School. In Hui’s book, we also find a reflection on the relationship between the organisation of the matter of living systems and the organisation of technical systems, which is related to French philosophers, and runs from Henri Bergson to Georges Canguilhem and Gilbert Simondon, keeping away from superficial analogies. I am highlighting these differences here to show what distinguishes Hui’s work and the entire series from works in the field of Anglo-Saxon philosophy of technology, as well as from works in the field of science and technology studies, which is quite popular in Poland. It is worth keeping all these differences in mind in order to better understand what we call the modern philosophy of technology.

Marta Tomczok: Who is this publishing proposal addressed to?

Prof. Michał Krzykawski: I hope that not only for philosophers of technology and philosophers in general. Besides, Yuk Hui, like Bernard Stiegler, defines himself as a “philosopher of technology” only when such a label makes life easier. Recognising the problems of technology as the problems of thinking, which we conventionally call philosophy, he treats philosophy as a technique. The philosophy of technology is therefore not a sub-discipline of philosophy, like, say, the philosophy of culture, biology, or something else. It is rather a way of thinking with technology and about technology. “Recursivity and Contigency” can be read by researchers who are interested in thinking on a planetary scale in the context of the Anthropocene. The book also problematises issues in the field of the theory of biological organisation after cybernetics. Perhaps it will appeal to computer scientists and theoretical mathematicians, although I do not know how many computer scientists in Poland read Hegel’s Science of Logic. Not many, I’m afraid. However, my gut tells me that such connections will become more and more frequent, especially among the younger generation of researchers, not necessarily associated with the academy, who are, for example, in favour of the need to create a new Internet or new social media.

Marta Tomczok: Who is the author of the discussed book? What place in his writings does the published book does it take?

Prof. Michał Krzykawski: Yuk Hui is undoubtedly the most interesting person among the young generation of philosophers. He reinterprets the heritage of continental and Chinese philosophy, arguing for the need to inaugurate the era of post-European philosophy in a world that has been transformed by European technology. “Recursivity and Contigency” is his third monograph. He describes it as a treaty on cybernetics. Before that, he published two papers: “On the Existence of Digital Objects” and “The Question Concerning Technology in China. An Essay in Cosmotechnics” I write a bit about the question he asks about technology in China and what cosmotechnics is in the afterword to Recursivity, which can be found freely available on the website of the University of Silesia Press. Hui’s latest monograph is devoted to the relationship between cosmotechnics and art.

Marta Tomczok: Cybernetics had its time in the middle of the 20th century. At that time, the greatest hopes, but also fears, were associated with it. Why is Yuk Hui returning to cybernetics?

Prof. Michał Krzykawski: Here, you are you talking about the so-called first-order cybernetics, most often associated with Norbert Wiener’s work Cybernetics, meaning control and communication in an animal and a machine, published in 1948. Such cybernetics was also developed in Poland, and the Polish cybernetic moment is not only about Stanisław Lem. I also refers to activity of the Polish Cybernetic Society and economic cybernetics of Oskar Lange. But cybernetic thinking, the so-called second-order cybernetics, also means the works of Humberto Maturana and Francisco Varela on self-organisation and autopoiesis. Gregory Bateson and his theory of alcoholism as a “cyber self”. James Lovelock’s concept of Gaia also has cybernetic roots. Doesn’t this show that we really don’t know much about what cybernetics was and how it was transformed? Cognitivism, which doesn’t like to admit its cybernetic roots, which makes it make the same mistakes as cybernetics, does not fill this gap. More than a short-lived event in intellectual history, cybernetics was a new machine science. Firstly, it broke with the mechanistic view of the world, and secondly, it redefined the relationship between the machine and the organism. In the context of the Anthropocene and the Earth System, which geologist Peter Haff calls the technosphere, it seems important to understand these differences and the boundaries between them. Hui resumes his reflection on cybernetics not to simply return to cybernetics. It is rather about understanding the meaning and limits of cybernetics in the context of contemporary ecological knowledge, in order to possibly reorient the assumptions of cybernetics in opposition to the mechanistic view of the world, which – although it is a philosophical obsolete – still has a real impact on how we understand computing technology, how we describe mind and how we shape our relationship with technologies.

Marta Tomczok: What does the concept of recursiveness refer to? Ho would you descirbe its paradoxical, dialectic character?

Prof. Michał Krzykawski: Hui reinterprets the meaning of this concept and connects it with the emergence of the concept of organicity in philosophy. It makes it clear that technicality emerges from organicity, from the becoming of nature, and not from the mechanicality with which it is most often associated. A recursion function, as any mathematician or computer scientist knows, is a function that calls (repeats) itself. Acting in a loop, it returns to itself. However, this is not a simple mechanical repetition. The self-recovery movement is about redefining yourself. At the same time, it is a movement open to all contingent (accidental) events that it encounters on its way and the impact of which makes it not quite a return to the same. It is precisely this contingency that determines the peculiarity of the return. The paradoxical nature of her dialectical movement is a complex issue. Roughly speaking, recursivity can be used to describe both self-organisation in the biological sense and the self-knowledge and self-determination of the spirit referred to in Hegel’s dialectics. The spirit is capable of self-reflection, because in the movement of returning to itself it can see its own reflection. But it is not a reflection of itself, but of another self, for it has been transformed by contingency. Let’s put it another way: you and I are finite beings, but in this finitude we can endlessly produce ourselves in such self-reflection. Gilbert Simondon called this process individuation. Hui connects Hegel with Simondon, dialectical thinking with alagmatic thinking, i.e. thinking that tries to grasp structures turning into actions and actions turning into structures. Interesting things come out of this combination. A computer scientist or a programmer will ask: “Okay, but how does this affect the operation of IT machines?” Well, it’s all a matter of imagination, the crisis of which, as many emphasise, we are experiencing today. In fact, we have to imagine how modern information technologies would work if the way they were designed was based on a different belief system and was subordinated to other goals than automating all aspects of life, extracting emotions reduced to data, or algorithmically controlling populations. Hui’s book is a good starting point for a thorough rethinking of the theoretical foundations of computer science, including the political implications of the discipline.

Marta Tomczok: What is the relevance of Heidegger’s question about technique today?

Prof. Michał Krzykawski: This question is valid because philosophy, at least the academic one, has no future in the 21st century if it does not ask about technology. At the same time, it is impossible to ask about it the way Heidegger did. Because what can Heidegger propose in the face of modern technology? Desertion. Modern technology, unlike the Greek technē, still transforms the world, but does not bring out its depth. This is why Heidegger proposes to wrap oneself in language to watch how the un/hiddenness of being is revealed in it. I’m simplifying everything a bit, but I don’t think that language is what will save us from what Heidegger so suggestively described as a Gestell (framework), i.e. a technique that in European modernity was progressively automated and thus, became technology. I believe that we have reached a point where we should start asking questions about the goals of further development of technology and its applications. There is no such things as technological determinism. Technological choices are political choices. It is therefore worth investigating who makes the choices, where and how they are proceeded and what type of society they serve. Automated technology is not a problem. The problem is that we leave technological transformations to the logic of the so-called market mechanisms, thereby depriving us of the ability to anticipate the ruinous effects of technology, and thus we lose the ability to think with their participation. I’m talking a bit more of a Stiegler here, but it’s also true that Hui is in constant dialogue with him, although his philosophising style is more cautious, less activist.

Marta Tomczok: And why do we have to – as Yuk Hui wants – transfer the reflection on technology to other regions of the world, such as China?

Prof. Michał Krzykawski: Because the essence of technology is not limited to the Greek technē as Heidegger identified it. Hui’s philosophical intervention is political in terms of the way in which he shows that the false belief in the universality of Greek (European) technē is an obstacle to the implementation of any technological alternative. The Greek concept of technology is not a common way of viewing the technological condition as a universal lot. Hui makes us aware of this, and at the same time shows that it is difficult for us to see it, whether we are Europeans or not. Where did this difficulty come from? From the fact that the implementation of the European concept of technology as a technique has covered the entire world, which means that we all live inside the same planetary technology that creates an increasingly monolithic and closed technical system. The concept of cosmotechnology that Hui proposes is intended to break this monolith and fragment the system. If we want to change the system, Hui convinces us, we must change its epistemology and imagine that the system is not one. Planetary technology should be located in the local techno-geographical and symbolic environment, at the same time inscribing it into local cosmologies that form the framework of local technocultures. This is certainly a sophisticated proposition. Its advantage, however, is that it opens up a new way of thinking about the system. It also frees the technological imagination from the oppressive structures of the digital capitalist regime. Overcoming it requires theoretical work on concepts and conceptual systems.

Marta Tomczok: Thank you for the interview.

The article “New way of thinking about the system” was published in the November issue of the Gazeta Uniwersytecka UŚ (University of Silesia Magazine) 2(302).

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