Datasein: Heidegger, Proust and the Recovery of Time

It is said that “data” is the most universal and the emptiest concept. But what if the past is data? What can we do about it? What if every past second is a material bit, a semiotic sign, a symbol in a text that needs — or needs not — to be organized as a whole, as a machine, a body, a corpus, a unit that will produce a certain range of effects.

There are many definitions of data. Data is another self-evident concept. I am in an elevator, I am about ten years old. It is early in the morning and I am going to school. Once again, I woke up too early. My brain flashes illogical images of people I know, uncontrolled words, and I feel I need to tame my mind. Why this imperative? Today I would like to imagine the articulation of every second of the past, every bit, into a coherent whole. Everybody understands “the sky is blue”. But how can existential data belonging to the past be understood?

The average comprehensibility of data is by definition questionable. Even if the world is a computer simulation, the feeling of what we call experience cannot be a simple line of code if interpretation and signifier differ. If data amounts to chemical particles, the enigma or singularity of self remains. The fact that we live already in an understanding of data and that the meaning of data is at the same time shrouded in blinding light proves the necessity of asking: what is “being data”? And what about “living in the era of data”? If we could transform a human past into data, how would we interpret and organize it, and who would do it? What would the first second of any existence look like if it could be universalized? An explosion of multiplicity that finds its limit in the emergence of the concept of one? One second. One multiplicity. One sense of feeling and observing around. We are, it seems, born as observers. I remember the first seconds of my daughter, observing around with apprehension and curiosity, her eyes wide open, perhaps the only part of her body that was not still made of folds.

I did not know if I were awake in that elevator, or to be more precise, I knew I was experiencing an intermediate and painful state between dreaming and being awake, because of the obligation to go to school. Hence the disparate mind-pops. Hence the need on the way to school for an imperative, a unifying principle that would organise and filter the uncontrolled data, not only as consciousness but as personality or character. Infinite regression of memories: me thinking of my young self in an elevator thinking of a previous familiar and supposedly anecdotic relation to another human, herself a consciousness filled with memories of memories, unified only in my disunified mind. I had gone on thinking, while I was awake, about what I had just been day-dreaming, and these thoughts could not be defined; it seemed to me that I myself, in that elevator — which was not elevating me but going down —, was not the subject of my life, or more precisely that this subject was not self-evident data, but a question and a challenge.

Regarding, understanding and grasping, choosing, and gaining access to, might appear to be attitudes of inquiry into data, but the acceptation that data is a given, almost imposed by the etymology of the term, can be questioned. Data is construed, it might also be elaborated as we consider it, perhaps — as often noted — invented by the observer. But invented from which material if not another form of data? What is the data of data? The being that has the character of datasein has a relation to the question of life as Creal itself, creation of the real independently of any creator. There seems to be a priority of data, but is it a primordiality? If infinite probability is the prima materia that I call Creal without being able to define it as data would be defined, is this a given matter (data again) or a process of giving (plenteous) meaning (sense creation)?

Can we go beyond impressions that persist or alternatively vanish after we awake, in a state of darkness, perhaps pleasant and restful, perhaps disturbing? I remember a photograph of a young boy socially defined as me at six or seven, siting in a field with a horse in the background. The grass is green, and I am smiling. I have no recollection of the actual day when this image was taken, and since the photograph itself has disappeared, it stands in my mind — and in the mind of a few others — as a bridge between two erased realities. I remember I looked like I was smiling, but I don’t remember how it felt to be smiling when I was six or seven, not even if my appearance of joy was authentic or a practical pose. I don’t remember if I could hear the whistling of trains or the note of a bird in the forest. But I am aware that the photograph, even in my mind, is bordered by rectangular limits, hiding what cannot be seen, what could not be heard. One photo. One moment. One person and one horse. Cuts or folds in the stuff of the Creal, folds — Leibnizian or not — in the prima materia, which appear like reality-cuts. Or cuts and leaps between multiverses that seem like existential folds to an active impression and experience of reality. A science of being (ontology) is a crealectic; it is also a henology, a science of unification.

Anthrobotics and the Physiology of Proliferation

I have proposed to call anthrobotics the perspective according to which human-machine assemblages are collective bodies that have historically been prior to their parts (see the paper ‘We, Anthrobot’, de Miranda et al, 2016). We are a symbiotic species made of flesh and renewable algorithmic protocols, language being the privileged tool of this dialectic between the anthropic factor and the robotic factor, each pole enabling the other. The anthrobotic ontology — which might bare other names, like cyborg (Haraway, 1984), megamachine (Mumford, 1967), or desiring-machine (Deleuze & Guattari, 1972) — has become aware of itself via the development and realisations of digital languages.

I wish to expand this thesis theoretically. One potential issue with the anthrobotic view as it was presented is that it might be understood as an anthropocentric position, stating that there is a qualitative difference between humans and other living beings and, incidentally, that machines are always and only human made. In fact, I’d like to propose a non-anthropocentric more general theory: anthrobotics as the human aspect of a wider biological and even cosmological tendency. Perhaps I should call this hypothesis the crealectics of proliferation and explosion.

Anthrobotics is the human-machine interaction aspect of a universal worldforming dynamic process. It is a moment of a larger epistemic and ontological sphere dealing with the production of lifeworlds (cosmos, Umwelt) — this calls for a cosmology. This cosmology relies on a non-dualist process philosophy which calls Creal its prima materia (de Miranda, 2008; Aristotle, Physics), defined as a flow of infinite probability and incessant production of alterity. As pure multiplicity, the Creal is never totally One, but it might be strangely attracted by its opposite shadow: the idea of unity. Since this is a non-dualist dynamic ontology —ideas are real, not more real than reality as in Plato but not less real than reality as in nominalism —, the concept of One is a cosmological given rather than a non-existing abstraction. It might work as a physical force.

The Creal is an absolute axiom which can be defined as the ever-going dissemination of difference, of infinite potentiality (Aristotle, Physics; Bergson, 1907; Whitehead, 1929). Conversely, proliferation is the ever-going reproduction or multiplication of a similar bioelectronical form. Biology has shown that a thriving organism is one that proliferates (Darwin). Proliferation is driven towards the production of the one and same. Crealization is driven towards the production of the multiple and the different.

The dialectic of proliferation and crealization, or rather their crealectic, is the metaquestion of several sciences: biology (how do bodies and organisms (re)produce their form?), physics (why are there cosmological mathematical laws?), politics (how do institutions endure?), psychology (how does the self and its self-consciousness emerge?). Recently the interesting biosemiotics perspective, Peirce-related, has proposed to explain this process in terms of production of signs, sign-relations, and interpretations (Peirce, 1892; Sebeok, 1989; Deely, 2001; Hoffmeyer, 2009; Deacon, 2011; Wheeler, 2016). Brier (2013) calls cybersemiotics his promising reconciliation of biosemiotics and cybernetics. It is not clear yet for me how signs are supposed to make structures, in other words how raw data becomes a discourse, and how this discourse functions as an ecosystem.

One way of looking at proliferation and disparation (Deleuze, 1968) is by equating the two terms with the concepts of syntropy (negentropy) and entropy (Schrödinger, 1944; Brillouin, 1953; Albert Szent-Györgyi, 1974). But proliferation is more than syntropy. It is not only the fact that a zone of the creal achieves an integrity-equilibrium but also about the capacity of this entity to expand by persistence of its structure over time, by territorialisation, and/or by reproduction.

Cybersemiotics According to Søren Brier

“Cybersemiotics constructs a non-reductionist framework in order to integrate third person knowledge from the exact sciences and the life sciences with first person knowledge described as the qualities of feeling in humanities and second person intersubjective knowledge of the partly linguistic communicative interactions, on which the social and cultural aspects of reality are based. The modern view of the universe as made through evolution in irreversible time, forces us to view man as a product of evolution and therefore an observer from inside the universe. This changes the way we conceptualize the problem and the role of consciousness in nature and culture. The theory of evolution forces us to conceive the natural and social sciences as well as the humanities together in one theoretical framework of unrestricted or absolute naturalism, where consciousness as well as culture is part of nature. But the theories of the phenomenological life world and the hermeneutics of the meaning of communication seem to defy classical scientific explanations. The humanities therefore send another insight the opposite way down the evolutionary ladder, with questions like: What is the role of consciousness, signs and meaning in the development of our knowledge about evolution? Phenomenology and hermeneutics show the sciences that their prerequisites are embodied living conscious beings imbued with meaningful language and with a culture. One can see the world view that emerges from the work of the sciences as a reconstruction back into time of our present ecological and evolutionary selfunderstanding as semiotic intersubjective conscious cultural and historical creatures, but unable to handle the aspects of meaning and conscious awareness and therefore leaving it out of the story. Cybersemiotics proposes to solve the dualistic paradox by starting in the middle with semiotic cognition and communication as a basic sort of reality in which all our knowledge is created and then suggests that knowledge develops into four aspects of human reality: Our surrounding nature described by the physical and chemical natural sciences, our corporality described by the life sciences such as biology and medicine, our inner world of subjective experience described by phenomenologically based investigations and our social world described by the social sciences. I call this alternative model to the positivistic hierarchy the cybersemiotic star.”

Read the paper: Cybersemiotics: A New Foundation for Transdisciplinary Theory of Information, Cognition, Meaningful Communication and the Interaction Between Nature and Culture | CYBERSEMIOTICS

“The Emergence of Biosemiotics from Physiochemical Dynamics” — Terrence Deacon

Terrence Deacon, Professor of Biological Anthropology, University of California, Berkeley, gives a presentation as part of the University of Oregon Conference on Biosemiotics and Culture. This conference, organized by Visiting Professor Wendy Wheeler and Molly Westling, focuses on the cultural dimensions of this new interdisciplinary field that explores meaningful relationships and communication throughout the living world. This communication includes the whole range of behaviors from intracellular code exchanges to interspecies communication and human language and culture. This new field has enormous potential for reintegrating cultural studies with the life sciences and opening new perspectives on the evolution of language and the arts. “Biosemiotics and Culture” will be the first such conference in the United States.

Watch the video here


More than the subtraction of its parts

We tend to understand processes of emergence as the specific significant reality that is produced by a sum of parts. In this we emulate a homo faber worldview of production, or even of production ex nihilo. According to this web of belief, parts are seen as preexistent to the whole, as the cogs of a machine (although even the parts of the machine come after its architecture) or as the ingredients that make a meal (but here again a recipe is followed).

In growing plants, animals, humans, the whole seems to be prior to the part, like a plan that allows for biological forms and patterns to be specific and reasonably stable. Darwin has shown that these forms evolve, certainly, but gradually, against a stronger tendency towards stability and lawful behaviour. Evolution seems better understood by scientists than stability and repetition of forms in ecosystems.

Crealectics is an attempt, at the moment balbutiating, at understanding the stability of universal forms that we call reality, rather than their change only. The Creal hypothesis presupposes, as in all process philosophies, that change and creation are fundamental and ontologically given. Multiplicity, profusion, metamorphosis, infinite probability are not “mysterious” if primordial. What is more mysterious is the real with its recurrent and regular forms.

Compared to a Creal defined as pure virtuality and infinite probability, the real is not an addition but always a subtraction. One does not produce reality by adding elements, otherwise we would, by a regressio ad absurdum, have to explain how something is created out of nothing (an idea that the pre-socratics found ridiculous). Ex tota materia emergat resolutio; by considering a prime mover that could be defined as infinite probability, infinite virtuality, or infinite multiplicity, we start to foresee that realia, real phenomenaare a partial manifestation, not a +1 but a -1.

Actualisation, from a creal point of view, is not an emergence, but a resorbence. And even the idea of resorption might not be indicated here because if you take an element (a reale) of an infinite virtual set (Creal), the set remains infinite.



Peirce, Virtuality, and Semiotic

Peirce, Virtuality, and Semiotic

Peter Skagestad

University of Massachusetts


ABSTRACT: The adjective ‘virtual,’ practically unheard-of a few years ago, has become a primary buzzword of the 90’s. Yet the word ‘virtual’ is nothing new, although its ubiquity is new, as is perhaps its current meaning or meanings. In 1902 the word was defined by Charles Peirce as follows: ‘A virtual X (where X is a common noun) is something, not an X, which has the deficiency (virtus) of an X.’ Peirce also references Scotus’s concept of virtual knowledge, the concept of virtual velocity in physics, and Edmund Burke’s doctrine of virtual representation, which is not representation but is supposedly as good as. The concept of virtuality is deeply embedded in Peirce’s doctrine of signs and hence in his semiotic doctrine of mind. In this Peircean doctrine, which has been more recently echoed in the writings of Wittgenstein and Popper, we find the most promising philosophical framework available for the understanding and advancement of the project of augmenting human intellect through the development and use of virtual technologies.

Read the paper here: 20th WCP: Peirce, Virtuality, and Semiotic

Fabulation and esprit de corps as worldforming in Bergson

Esprit de corps was a fundamental notion in Bergson’s Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion,[1] where it appeared closely related to the idea that one’s social self was like a ‘moi supérieur devant lequel la personalité moyenne s’incline:’[2]

Si l’on admet […] une ‘mentalité primitive’, on y verra le respect de soi coïncider avec le sentiment d’une telle solidarité entre l’individu et le groupe que le groupe reste présent à l’individu isolé, le surveille, l’encourage ou le menace, exige enfin d’être consulté et obéi […]. La pression du moi social s’exerce avec toutes ces énergies accumulées. L’individu n’obéit d’ailleurs pas seulement par habitude de la discipline ou par crainte du châtiment : le groupe auquel il appartient se met nécessairement au-dessus des autres, […] et la conscience de cette supériorité de force lui assure […] toutes les jouissances de l’orgueil. […] Il suffit d’observer ce qui se passe sous nos yeux dans les petites sociétés qui se constituent au sein de la grande, quand des hommes se trouvent rapprochés les uns des autres par quelque marque distinctive qui souligne une supériorité réelle ou apparente, et qui les met à part. […] Tous les membres du groupe ‘se tiennent’ ; on voit naître un ‘sentiment de l’honneur’ qui ne fait qu’un avec l’esprit de corps.[3]

Bergson, at first glance, seemed to present a synthesis of the thoughts of authors like Durkheim, Tarde, Palante, or Terraillon: esprit de corps was a tribal process of collective self-glorification. But Bergson’s use of inverted commas was connected to the fact that for him this ‘feeling of honour’ was not true or natural, but rather a necessary fiction, a ‘fabulation’.[4]

Fabulation was for the author an intelligent capacity to manipulate symbols and fictional narratives in order to generate common beliefs. It functioned like a form of ‘virtual instinct’:

C’est de l’instinct virtuel, entendant par là qu’à l’extrémité d’une autre ligne d’évolution, dans les sociétés d’insectes, nous voyons l’instinct provoquer mécaniquement une conduite comparable, pour son utilité, à celle que suggèrent à l’homme, intelligent et libre, des images quasi hallucinatoires.[5]

In Latin, fabulari meant to speak and invent a story.[6] Bergson suggested that language, ideology and storytelling could help to create a mindset, a second nature, that simulated animal instinct to a certain extent. Esprit de corps was a form of collective hallucination, a contagious social fiction, a more or less permanent altered state of consciousness — this would justify the use of the term esprit as a form of spiritual possession. The paradox here was that freedom and rationality (‘intelligent et libre’) were associated with illusion and insect-like instinct. How could one be free and at the same time hallucinating? How could one be intelligent and model one’s conduct on a fable?

The answer, according to Bergson, lay in our plastic capacity to recreate new ideologies, to modify our narratives, to co-create our evolving virtual instinct, to which we then gave our near-blind consent, at least momentarily, for the sake of action and communion. Not unlike others before him, but more systematically, Bergson distinguished two interdependent and dialectical modes of human solidarity, one more conservative, the other more creative. The first one, based on obligation and social pressure, was comparable with the instinct of eusocial animals like ants and bees. It formed an effective human second nature via ‘habitude’, language, and social fictions.[7] In this case, the cohesion of the group was also maintained through its opposition to an outside territory, an outgroup. It was, when ripe, a circular force, hostile to the new:

Entre la société où nous vivons et l’humanité en général il y a […] le même contraste qu’entre le clos et l’ouvert. […] Qui ne voit que la cohésion sociale est due, en grande partie, à la nécessité pour une société de se défendre contre d’autres, et que c’est d’abord contre tous les autres hommes qu’on aime les hommes avec lesquels on vit ?[8]

In other words, esprit de caste was inevitable. But a more creative form of esprit de corps existed, if ephemerally; one that was about love and openness rather than antagonism.

Bergson thought that the mortar that joined the bricks of a closed society was ‘discipline’, which prepared for an ‘attitude’ of ‘guerre’ in front of an ‘ennemi’, a defensive mindset that subsisted even when covered by the ‘vernis’ of ‘devoirs moraux’.[9] There was a collective pressure on the members to remain united in a hermetic corps, and surrender part of their individuality to the duties of the in-group, for the sake of battles won. But because life was dual, both structured and structuring, both spiritual and natural, because it was a process of ‘creative evolution’,[10] human societies, according to Bergson, manifested a meta-historical flow of sentimental universalism, a slow and widening creation of fraternity that kept creating renewed and larger fabulations. This second tendency, representative of our cosmic freedom, could be incarnated by spiritual figures who were at the forefront of the ‘élan de vie.’[11]

[1] Henri Bergson, Les deux sources de la morale et de la religion (Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1990 [1932]).

[2] Ibid. p. 65.

[3] Bergson, Les deux sources, p. 66–7.

[4] Ibid., p. 111.

[5] Ibid., p. 114.

[6] ‘Fabuler’, Centre National de Ressources Textuelles et Lexicales, <> [Last accessed 15 March 2016].

[7] Bergson, Les deux sources, p. 23.

[8] Ibid., p. 27.

[9] Bergson, Les deux sources, p. 27.

[10] Bergson, L’évolution créatrice (Paris, Alcan, 1907).

[11] Bergson, Les deux sources, p. 56.

Democratic ‘idiots’ according to Tocqueville

According to Tocqueville, any social group, even the lower classes, could feel the pride and dignity of belonging to an identified social cast. Modern democracies tended to prevent even the privileged classes from constituting a proper esprit: ‘Aujourd’hui, on voit encore des riches, mais ils ne forment plus un corps compact et héréditaire ; ils n’ont pu adopter un esprit, y persévérer et le faire pénétrer dans tous les rangs.’[1] A recent academic translation of the former passage has replaced ‘esprit’ by the expression ‘esprit de corps’: ‘Today, wealthy individuals still exist, but they have ceased to constitute a distinct and hereditary body capable of fostering and maintaining an esprit de corps, and instilling it in people of all ranks.’[2] The first English translation (1863) used the compound ‘class spirit’, [3]  adding ‘esprit de corps’ in parentheses in another passage where again Tocqueville only used the word ‘esprit’: ‘En toutes choses la majorité fait loi ; elle établit de certaines allures auxquelles ensuite chacun se conforme ; l’ensemble de ces habitudes communes s’appelle un esprit : il y a l’esprit du barreau, l’esprit de cour.’[4] In English:


The will of the majority is the most general of laws, and it establishes certain habits to which everyone must then conform; the aggregate of these common habits is what is called the class spirit (esprit de corps) of each profession; thus there is the class spirit of the bar, of the court, etc.[5]


For Tocqueville, esprit de corps was something of a pleonasm, hence the use of the sole word esprit. Democratic individualists can hardly form an esprit; etymologically speaking, they are ‘idiots’:


How do people remain their own masters? By maintaining the kind of community that secures their liberty. Freedom and community are not opposing forces any more than pluribus and unum. We are free so that we can create a community life so that, in turn, we can be free. Tocqueville’s singular contribution to our understanding of idiocy and citizenship is this notion that idiots are idiotic precisely because they are indifferent to the conditions and contexts of their own freedom. They fail to grasp the interdependence of liberty and community.[6]

[1] Tocqueville, De la démocratie en Amérique, vol. II, p. 331.

[2] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. by Arthur Goldhammer (New York: Library of America, 2004), p. 403.

[3] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. by Henri Reeve (Cambridge: Sever and Francis, 1863), vol. I, p. 237.

[4] Tocqueville, De la démocratie en Amérique, vol II., p. 23.

[5] Tocqueville, Democracy in America, trans. by Henri Reeve, p. 237

[6] Walter C. Parker, Teaching Democracy: Unity and Diversity in Public Life (New York, NY: Teachers College Press, 2003), p. 4.