From Psychopower to Neuropower
We saw yesterday with Frederic Kaplan that digital technologies make it possible to intervene into transindividuation through linguistic capitalism – but also, more generally, through the ‘buzz’ that has accompanied ‘marketing 2.0’.
Twenty five years after the web first appeared, a new process of transindividuation, assisted by networked computers that circulate information at the speed of light, and passing through exospherical infrastructures, continues to impose itself upon the hundreds of languages that constitute the semantic universe of humanity; meanwhile neuromarketing, by drawing on the neurosciences and by concretizing the ideology of neuroeconomics, tries to systematically and directly intervene on the neuronal layers of transindividuation – that is, on the psychic internalization and externalization of transindividual unit s, and, through that, on their psychic individuation .
In the years to come, we will see digital technologies and neuromarketing combine together. Neuromarketing is an extension of marketing 2.0 using neurosciences ans cerebral imaging. This combination will increasingly overdetermine all other human realities. It will therefore constitute a neuropower that, through the intermediary of digital retentional technology, will conjoin biopower and psychopower at the core of the cerebral organ itself.
To study this becoming, its toxic threats, its curative possibilities, and the therapies that can and must be implemented, we must adopt an organological approach to the brain . And in order to do so, we must distinguish what it is about the brain that relates to the organic, and what relates to the organological . I will explain what I mean by this as we advance through this lessons series.
Contemporary neuroscience has shown that education is literally a culture of the brain –in the sense that one cultivates a garden , where in this case the seeds, plants, fertilizers and tools would be the collective retentions through which knowledge is constituted, and the tertiary retentions that form the organology of this knowledge, that is, intellectual technologies, in Jack Goody’s sense.
Let’s go back to what is meant by primary, secondary and tertiary retention. At this moment you are listening to me speak. My discourse, which began at 2:00 p.m. and which will finish at 4:00 p.m., is what Husserl called a temporal object : my speech flows; it is evanescent; it is constituted by its temporality. And this is even more true for a melody, which for Husserl was the temporal object par excellence – and this book starts as an analysis of melody
You listen to me. But as for what I say, each and every one of you will hear something different: if, for example, I asked you ten minutes from now to write down what I said at the beginning of this lecture, none of the texts you produce would be identical to the others – and this goes to show thatyou have understood something different and unique in what I told you.
The consequence of what I am saying to you is that it is you who say what I am saying – not me. Each and every one of us – since this is true for me too – interprets what I say in terms of our past experience and expectations, which are concealed, and which enable us to understand and to attend to what is said: to attend (attendre in French) is to be attentive. To understand this, we refered yesterday to the Husserlian concepts of retention and protention.
We saw that retention means that which is retained. We refer to primary retention if, having been present, and being retained into the present, it is essential to the constitution of an element of present perception without being itself present.Husserl’s example is the musical note of a melody that, no longer being actually present, nevertheless forms with the currently present an interval – it is the interval between two sounds that establishes that these sounds are musical notes, and not just sonic frequencies.
In the same way, the sentence I have just uttered cannot make sense without retaining the preceding sentence, just as the verb of this sentence cannot make sense without the subject of the sentence, or the object of the verb without the verb, and so on: these units of meaning are formed through aggregations of primary retentions. And these aggregations all aggregate with one another. This aggregation of aggregations forms the unity of a temporal object in Husserl’s sense – for example, the unity of the discourse that I am addressing to you at this very moment, or the unity of a sonata.
Such a unity is produced as what Kant, after Aristotle, will call a synthesis. Now, the process of grammatization, that is made possible by hypomnesic tertiary retentions, as they make possible the spatialization of time, also mak possible the analysis of such a synthesis, and what we see is that the primary aggregations in the case of speech are not musical intervals, but grammatical rules, like for example the aggregation of the adjective to the name, and of the name to the verb, etc.
We saw that Husserl distinguishes primary retention from secondary retention, and that secondary retentions are former primary retentions that now belong to the past, and that constitute the fabric of my memory – and we can schematize this process like this :
Now, through these secondary retentions , which are also associative filters – in Hume’s sense of association , but also in Kant’s sense, for whom associative processes are involved in the three syntheses of transcendental imagination – a process of primary aggregation is brought about, and this is why every occasion of this process is specific : it is why we do not retain everything and why we do not understand the same thing , for example, in what I am saying at this moment. Then the process of aggregating primary retentions is in fact a primary selection of retentions carried out on the basis of secondary retentions that form the fabric of my past experience.
Everyone hears something different in what I say because we are all aggregating primary retentions in different ways: this aggregation is a selection. This is not Husserl’s point of view in On the Phenomenology of the Consciousness of Internal Time. It is, however, a point of view that he comes to adopt later, in Phantasy, Image Consciousness, and Memory.
This selection is carried out on the basis of our secondary retentions, which themselves contain secondary protentions (expectations – and this is what Hume, too, described with his concept of association). These secondary retentions are thus in some way charged with expectations, that is with protentions, which are energetic processes of attention in something like the way that neurons are charged with energy in Freud’s Project for a Scientific Psychology – these secondary retentions, charged thus in this way, constitute the mnesic selection criteria for perception.
This relation between perception and memory is to some extent what Bergson tried to describe in Matter and Memory .
But to this must be added that the play of secondary retentions forming my memory, that is, my past experience, which constitutes as such the filters forged by this experience through which primary retentions are selected and collected in the present experience of perception – this play between secondary retention and primary retentionis, then, conditioned and constituted by tertiary retentions , that is, organological mnesic processes , processes that are artificial, mnemotechnical and sometimes ‘hypomnesic’ in Plato’s sense, supporting what Plato called anamnesic memory first in Meno, dans then in Phaedrus.
Tertiary retention conditions primary and secondary retention in two ways :
· on the one hand, it is the condition of conservation of past collective experience – through things , which are always also traces of forms of life on the basis of which we learn to live : in entering the world, we inherit things that constitute it, and which conserve the already-there, where the experience of preceding generations is accumulated – and through these things, words are formed, which are artefacts as well as tools, works of art, customary rules, and so on;
· on the other hand, tertiary retention enables past experience to be objectively stabilized (forming what Hegel called the objective spirit ) so that it can then be repeated – this repetition can produce a difference , that is, a variation at the core of a temporal object having been spatialized as this tertiary retention. What I say to you orally is temporal, but you may write it down and turn it into a written thing, which we call a text, that is, a spatial object. Having been spatialized and textualized, this speech can be repeated, and deepened, and transformed through this repetition – and through this, you may be trans-formed.
And this is what I am doing with this text.
Now, we could annotate such a text, as I did with Husserl’s phenomenology of time, we could anlyse the types of annotations used, and tranform them into digital functions – but we don’t have time to develop this.
Such a trans-formation produced by the repetition of a written speech that we can read and reread does alters the play of primary and secondary retentions, the former being what you select and accumulate in perception, and the latter being that through which you operate this selection. Consider again the example of this lecture. You write down what I say. Suppose that tonight or tomorrow you decide to re-read what you have written of what I said. When you read what you have written (which is no longer a temporal object strictly speaking: it has become a spatial, textual object, an object that you re-temporalize by re-reading), you selectnew primary retentions, ones that you did not previously select: the repetition of the same therefore gives a difference – and this gift is the difference of Derrida. The same does not come back to the same : it gives the other – in this other, it is you who are altered .
And this begins with what Hegel, in the first chapter of the Phenomenology of spirit, calls sense-certainty. Let’s ask what is the now, Hegel says. Et let’s write it. Now it is night. So we write : now is the night. “We wright down this truth” he says. And he adds : “a truth cannot be lost by being written down”. And never, now is midday…
This alteration of the same, that can become much more complex than the one of sens-certainty, for example, the reading, intepretation and repetition of the Phenomenology of spirit itself, is a modality of what Jacques Derrida calleddifférance in this text, et more precisely here.
Such a différance is produced, notably:
1. because, in the time between when I gave my speech and your re-reading of that textualized speech, you have yourself changed;
2. because you can repeat what is past through tertiary retention insofar as it is the spatial concretion of what was initially temporal .
It might be objected that when you wrote down my speech, not every single thing was taken down: all you can write down is, precisely, whatever it was that constituted your primary retentions and, looking a little closer, you are only able to write down a fraction of these retentions. This is the case, not just because you don’t have time to get everything down : even if you did have the time, you would undoubtedly be unable to textualize everything that ultimately constitutes your listening. The latter is, in fact, in its becoming. And it is this becoming that constitutes what Derrida called différance.
Suppose that you were able to take down what I say inshorthand – as was done, incidentally, with Husserl’s lectures, may be Nicholas de Warren told you that last autumn – , or again, suppose that you were able to record this lecture on tape or voice-recorder, fort example with your smartphone, and, via this recording, were able to listen again to the whole of the lecture. Such a recording would also be a spatial object – in another modality than for a textual object. Alphabetic text, shorthand and recording are types of tertiary retention. And each of these types generates a process of reading and a specific kind of différance, resulting in specific arrangements of primary and secondary retentions.
Let us now return to the question of neuropower.
Education amounts to a culture of the brain in the same sense that one cultivates a piece of land : the brain is cultivated through the mediation of tertiary retention insofar as it enables:
· primary retentions to be selected;
· psychic secondaryretentions to be maintained and developed from these primary retentions;
· collective secondary retentions to be maintained and developed – such as the words and groups of words which, as phrases and agreed upon formulations, constitute language : all of these linguistic units, whether simple or complex, were, once upon a time, first produced by an individual.
Thus processes of transindividuation are constituted, on the basis of which every kind of knowledge is formed, connecting together the generations. If ethnographic collections from diverse cultures are preserved in Museums, this is because they are evidence of forms of knowledge connecting the contemporary world to the ancient world, and, through this, to the archaic foundations of contemporary knowledge.
Now, these forms of knowledge, which derive from transindividuation processes the genesis of which I have briefly described, form ensembles of collective secondary retentions, which themselves constitute attentional forms – that is, collective formations of attention. The collective formation or training of attention, which means, for example, that in Asia one is not attentive to the world or to others in the same way as in Europe, and that the attention found in Great Britain differs from that of France, these differences forming what is referred to as culture – all this is formed on the basis of collective secondary retentions.
For example, the group of words ‘collective secondary retention’ was created by me – and you might circulate this phrase, that is, transindividuate it, within Nanjing university or beyond, and by so doing, you in fact create a collective secondary retention, that is, one that is shared by a group that is itself in movement because it is a process of collective individuation .
By forming this expression, ‘collective secondary retention’, I have myself taken up the expression ‘secondary retention’ formed by Husserl. And in doing so, I have extended and individuated the legacy of what is called phenomenology.
Retentions generate protentions, that is, expectations. Collective secondary retentions produce collective secondary protentions. Primary retentions themselves generate primary protentions. Retentions and protentions bind together in attention, and the collective arrangements of retentions and protentions constitute the attentional forms that form knowledge of all kinds, but these may be placed into three categories: knowledge of how to do (savoir faire), knowledge of how to live (savoir vivre), and knowledge of how to think (savoir penser).
When the neurosciences make it possible to directly intervene in psychic and collective retentional and protentional processes at the neurochemical level , they enable the creation of industrial attentional processes, that is, they make it possible to control attention via the organology of industrial tertiary retention. And it is for this reason that, to the extent that political society is constituted by an attentional form elaborated according to the canon of reason, the regulation of the neuropower of marketing now constitutes a primary mission for education .
In the age of neuromarketing and neuroeconomics, which are clearly heading towards a monoculture of brains that are capable of being neurologically modified through neuronal psychotechnologies that, as we shall see, articulate biopsychic automatisms (or compulsions) with technological automatisms – in this age, a true politics must place neuroscientific research at the service of a noopolitic s: at the service of what, with Ars Industrialis, I call an industrial politics of the fructification of spirit value (valeur esprit) .
My thesis is that, contrary to such a politics, neuroeconomics is leading to the systematic organization of what the french poet and thinker Paul Valéry described as a fall in spirit value. Neuroeconomics is a branch of the neurosciences that studies decision-making behaviour on the basis of the work of Paul Glimcher. Glimcher is continuing the enterprise of American neoliberalism promoted by Theodor Schultz, in whose work there appears, in the wake of work undertaken by Lionel Robbins in the 1930s, the analysis of ‘human capital’ that constitutes the economic subject such as it is conceived by Schultz and Gary Becker, with all its variants (consumers and producers, designers, investors, and entrepreneurs), and as ‘entrepreneurs of themselves’. All of this was shown by Foucault.
On these bases, Glimcher defends a monist point of view, which aims to overcome the Cartesian opposition between reflexive behaviour and reflective behaviour. In his view, reflective behaviours are complex and highly elaborated forms of biological behavioural bases with which they do not break, and of which reflexive behaviours, as reflex, that is, as reactions, are elementary forms : likereflexive behaviours, reflective behaviours would be the result of probabilistic processes for which there are levels of complexity – whereas Descartes opposed the determination of reflexive behaviour to the indetermination of reflective behaviour, that is, voluntary and free behaviour.
Here, as with Google’s automated transindividuation technologies, that operate across the planet in light-time from the exospherical infrastructure, probabilities are at the heart of the cognitive models involved – and just like neuromarketing, which is currently being developed on the basis of the neurosciences and Glimcher’s neuroeconomics, the founders of Google are professionals when it comes to influencing decision-making (as was Edward Bernays) : this is what Nicholas Carr showed, but from a different angle than Frederic Kaplan.
We will not study in detail, in these lessons, what we can expect from neuroeconomics, or the practices of neuromarketing, or the bases of contemporary neuroscience : we don’t have time. Instead, we will address what seems to be the central question raised by all these theories, but also for example by the project Neuralink, launched by Elon Musk, by analysing the discourse of Nicholas Carr against digital tertiary retention and its toxic effects – Carr seems to find inconceivable that the digital pharmakon could become curative and placed into the service of therapies that could heal the toxic effects produced not simply by the digital pharmakon but through the way in which it has been implemented by an economic and industrial model that has become massively toxic.
In his critique of internet technologies in general, and of Google in particular, denouncing what he describes as a sapping of human intelligence and memory by an artificial and digital intelligence and memory the toxicity of which derives from its speed, Nicholas Carr constantly refers to the results of neuroscientific research in order to oppose Google’s position. In so doing, he seems unaware that the practices of Google raise new questions for the sciences and philosophy , questions that complicate the dominant cognitive model and that could cause it to mutate, including and perhaps especially in the neurosciences.
Carr first shows in the paper that when using Internet, or Google, we use a silicon memory that we are told that it is a perfect memory. But Carr claims that this perfection could be a destruction of memory. This is intersting, but I think that his analysis is not sufficient.
He refers to Maryanne Wolf, who says that when we rad online, we become mere decoders of information. And she shows that learning reading and writing is to sculpt, cultivate and organologically transform the organic fabric of the brain. This is the reason for which your brains are not made like mine.
Now, Nicholas Carr, despite its numerous valuable references to the work of neurophysiology and neuropsychology, showing the extent to which the plasticity of the cerebral organ is permanently reconfigured as a result of the artefacts belonging to this or that form of technical life, which seems less a matter of sculpting the brain than of gardening, Carr fails to see the fundamental issue raised by the practices of neuromarketing, namely :
1. that the brain of the noetic soul, that is, the form of technical life (in Georges Canguilhem’s sense), equipped with the capacity for reflective decision, is a dynamic system traversed by contradictory and functional tendencies that support different sub-organs and that rebound on the contradictory and functional social tendencies that constitute, in the social field, the bipolar dynamics of any transindividuation process ; and
2. that this cerebral organ of the noetic soul arranges these sub-organs with one another, through circuits of transindividuation that are not only cerebral and social but also artificia l, that is, technical, because it is conditioned by the tertiary retentions that support it – Google being such an arrangement, completely new, socializing a tertiary retention that is itself very new, traversing the cerebral organs of two billion internet users at a speed close to that of light, and on a planetary scale, that is, on the totality of the ecosystem of the form of technical life and of cultures that have developed on the basis of a cerebral gardening that is currently hardly ecological at all.
An ecology of neuronal gardening should constitute the basis of a noopolitics : what Nicholas Carr describes is a genuine disaster for the ecology of mind or spirit , and many of the effects and facts that he writes about are real, and his analyses convincing. But his final conclusion, his general interpretation of these effects and these facts, is profoundly wrong . And it is also dangerous: he gives credence to the idea that it is impossible to struggle against the situation he is describing – he himself being in a state of shock – and, in concordance with the ideologues of the conservative revolution, he postulates that there is therefore ‘no alternative’.
Carr’s entire reasoning relies on close examination of his own experience and personal journey, and on his wide knowledge of scientific, technological and industrial literature. On this basis, he tries to demonstrate that noetic memory is living memory, and that there is no way to exteriorize it in the form of digital tertiary retention without damaging it.
In a certain way, I am saying the same thing : noetic memory is pharmacological, and the pharmakonalways involves some injury. But what I am also saying, contrary to Carr, is that this pharmacology is the condition of its individuation, and it always requires the invention of therapies, that is, of positive pharmacologi es: this is so because for technical and noetic life, primary and secondary retentions (and the protentions they form) are always arranged via tertiary retentions, the latter always being pharmaka – which always create toxic processes, and which always require therapeutic prescriptions in order to struggle against their intrinsic toxicity.
Because he does not see that digital retention raises the question of positive pharmacology, Carr does not say one word about the political question this imposes : the invention of therapies – that is, of prescriptions materialized as attentional forms, and sometimes set into law – is, precisely, what we call ‘politics’. And because he does not clearly pose the question in these terms – which would be those of a public power assuming its noopolitical responsibilities in the face of the emergence of neuropower, which is also a generalized automation of behaviour , expression and, as we shall see, ‘decision’ , of which Google is one aspect – Carr finds himself entangled in a contradiction.
In order to explain what he means by ‘deep attention’, which appears, he says, with the practice of deep reading , that is, with the alphabet , Carr refers to the work of Maryanne Wolf, who shows that the brain of deep attention – for the protection of which Carr militates against Google and the internet – is in fact a literate brain, a literary cerebral organ, what Wolf calls a reading brain, and what Walter Ong called a literate mind. This literate noetic brainliterally accedes to apodictic reasoning because by acceding to the letter of apodictic reasoning, it constitutes itself by the neuronal internalization of the grammatization of language by the letter , a process of literary gardening that totally transformed speech, as Carr writes, paraphrasing Ong and Wolf:
The Greek alphabet became the model for most subsequent Western alphabets […]. Its arrival marked the start of one of the most far-reaching revolutions in intellectual history […]. It was a revolution that would eventually change the lives, and the brains, of nearly everyone on earth.
[T]he invention of a tool, the alphabet, […] would have profound consequences for our language and our minds.
Linguistic technology, therefore, literally changed the regimes of transindividuation. Today the digital, through Google, is once again transforming language and modifying regimes of transindividuation. What, however, distinguishes these two types of modification ? One would expect that Carr’s analysis would raise this question. But nowhere does he do so.
During the epoch in which the alphabet appeared, the noetic brain individuated itself psychically and noetically by internalizing the stage of mnemotechnical individuation and grammatization constituted by alphabetic writing. And Maryanne Wolf, building on the work of Stanislas Dehaene, shows that this resulted in cortical reorganization , that is, in the establishment of synaptogenetic processes literally inscribing the letter into the cerebral organ.
The formation of such neuronal, internal circuits by the cerebral internalization of external and literal retentional circuitsleads to the formation of circuits of transindividuation of a new type , which are those of knowledge of a new kind, as Carr highlights by quoting Walter Ong, for whom alphabetization
‘is absolutely necessary for the development not only of science but also of history, philosophy, explicative understanding of literature and of any art , and indeed for the explanation of language (including oral speech) itself.’ The ability to write is ‘utterly invaluable and indeed essential for the realization of fuller, interior, human potentials’, Ong concluded. ‘Writing heightens consciousness.’
Taking support from both Wolf’s developmental neuropsychology and Ong’s theory of literacy (that deserves to be reread today, in the neuroscientific age, as does the work of Lev Vygotsky, Jack Goody, Mary Carruthers, Jean-Pierre Vernant, Friedrich Kittler, and many others), Carr refers to the fact that Socrates was opposed to the writing of the Sophists, and argues that digital technology again raises the Socratic question concerning writing as pharmakon – a question that lies at the origin of philosophy.
For Socrates, who retells and resumes his account of the response of King Thamus to Theuth, who presented him with his invention,
the written word is ‘a recipe not for memory, but for reminder [hypomnesis]. And it is no true wisdom that you offer your disciples, but only its semblance.’ Those who rely on reading for their knowledge will ‘seem to know much, while for the most part they know nothing.’ They will be ‘filled, not with wisdom, but with the conceit of wisdom.’
Carr nevertheless does not pose the pharmacological issue in the strict sense , namely: that philosophy, by prescribing an appropriation of writing, constitutes therapies capable of turning poisons into remedies, and thus of nourishing the very principle of noetic individuation.
Rather than taking on this ambiguity of writing, Carr turns to Eric Havelock’s argument that Plato chose writing over the oral tradition, over an orality that was Socrates’ choice . According to Socrates, Carr says,
writing threatens to make us shallower thinkers , […] preventing us from achieving the intellectual depth that leads to wisdom and true happiness.
unlike the orator Socrates, Plato was a writer […]. In a famous and revealing passage at the end of The Republic […], Plato has Socrates go out of his way to attack ‘poetry’, declaring that he would ban poets from his perfect state.
To support this thesis, Carr here quotes Havelock and Ong:
The ‘oral state of mind’, wrote [Havelock], was Plato’s ‘main enemy’ . Implicit in Plato’s criticism of poetry was […] a defense of the new technology of writing […]. ‘Plato’s philosophically analytical thought’, writes Ong, ‘was possible only because of the effects that writing was beginning to have on mental processes.’
Having thus shown, in relying above all on Havelock, Ong and Wolf, that reading and deep attention are historical noetic conquests conditioned by mnemotechnical conquests, which obviously means that the literate brain (that reading brain that is the noetic brain that founds the literate mind) is constituted by the technical internalization of the letter, which totally reconfigures cortical organization , as Maryanne Wolf shows, passing by way of Dehaene and Vygotsky,– having shown all this, Carr nevertheless believes that in the context of the internet, Google and digital retention we can and must oppose psychic memory and technical memory:
Governed by highly variable biological signals, chemical, electrical, and genetic, every aspect of human memory – the way it’s formed, maintained, connected, recalled – has almost infinite gradations. Computer memory exists as simple binary bits – ones and zeros – that are processed through fixed circuits, which can be either open or closed but nothing in between.
Such a point of view, however, completely contradicts his defence of the role of writing in the formation of rational noesis – as if writing inscribed on paper, papyrus, parchment or marble was not itself something entirely different from that living memory contained in the cerebral organ (that was precisely Thamous’s objection to Theuth).
Translated by Daniel Ross
 Robbins describes economics as ‘the science which studies human behaviour as a relationship between ends and scarce means which have mutually exclusive uses’, cited by Gary Becker, himself cited by Michel Foucault, The Birth of Biopolitics (Houndsmills, Basingstoke and New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008), p. 222.
 ‘It was the technology of the book that made this “strange anomaly” in our psychological history possible. The brain of the book reader was more than a literate brain. It was a literary brain.’ Nicholas Carr, The Shallows: What the Internet is Doing to Our Brains (New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2009), p. 65.
 Ibid., p. 53.
 Ibid., p. 56.
 Ibid., p. 57.
 Ibid., p. 54.
 Ibid., p. 190.