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Cognitivism/Neuroscience

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<ref>54-7, 59-60 Conversations</ref>
== In the work of Slavoj Žižek ==
Slavoj Žižek’s engagements with life-scientific treatments of human mindedness should be understood, straightforwardly enough, as fundamentally motivated by his materialist commitments. Žižekian materialism can fairly be portrayed as involving a reactivation of the German idealist ambitions of the youthful Tübingen trio of Schelling, Hölderlin and Hegel. Th is late-eighteenth-century philosophical agenda, carried forward by Schelling and Hegel over the course of their subsequent intellectual itineraries, aimed at a difficult systematic synthesis of the apparent opposites of natural substance à la Spinoza and the transcendental subject ''à la'' Kant and Fichte (an agenda sometimes subsumed under the banner of a “Spinozism of freedom”). Needless to say, in the more than two hundred years between the end of the eighteenth century and the beginning of the twenty-first, countless philosophical, scientific, political, religious and other changes directly relevant to “The Earliest System-Programme of German Idealism” (a succinct 1796 manifesto authored by either Hölderlin or Hegel) have amassed. While carefully taking these historical changes into consideration, Žižek nevertheless seeks likewise to develop a robust account of autonomous subjectivity as immanent-yet-irreducible to asubjective being as conceived of within the constraints of a strictly materialist ontology. Of course, as is common knowledge, he favours Lacanian psychoanalytic theory as an indispensable post-Hegelian resource for this effort to revivify the legacy of [[German idealism]].
However, the role of Marxism in relation to Žižek’s redeployment of the German idealists (Hegel especially) warrants a few remarks. Like Marx and Engels as well as the Lenin of the ''[[Philosophical Notebooks]]'' before him, Žižek labours to retrieve from Hegelian philosophy, viewed as the apex of [[German idealism]], its specifically materialist concepts and moments. That is to say, Žižek’s Hegel already espouses versions of historical and dialectical materialisms (albeit ''avant la lettre''). The Marxist tradition also is highly relevant apropos the topic of the empirical life sciences in relation to theoretical materialism. Although Žižek himself does not spend much time highlighting this, a good number of Marxists, starting with Marx and Engels themselves (who were galvanized by the 1859 publication of Darwin’s ''[[The Origin of Species]]''), grappled with the implications of biology and its branches for historical/dialectical materialism. Key examples of this include three books by Engels (''[[Dialectics of Nature]]'', 1883, ''[[Anti-Dühring]]'', 1887, and ''[[Ludwig Feuerbach and the Outcome of Classical German Philosophy]]'', 1888), Dietzgen’s ''[[The Nature of Human Brain-Work]]'' (1869), Lenin’s ''[[Materialism and Empirio-Criticism]]'' (1908) and Bukharin’s ''[[Philosophical Arabesques]]'' (1937). Brusquely dismissed by the young Lukács and subsequently eclipsed from consideration in most Western Marxist circles, these pioneering efforts to interface historical/dialectical materialism with the natural sciences find echoes in Žižek’s explorations of contemporary cognitive science and neurobiology (as well as echoes in the works of Stephen Jay Gould, to whom Žižek periodically appeals, and the Richards Levins and Lewontin).
 
''[[The Indivisible Remainder: An Essay on Schelling and Related Matters]]'' contains arguably Žižek’s first sustained examination of a natural science in its third and final chapter, “Quantum Physics with Lacan” (this is appropriate for a book on Schelling, whose science-inspired Naturphilosophie is one of the main orientations represented within German idealism). Quite recently, in the fourteenth and final chapter of ''[[Less Than Nothing|Less Than Nothing: Hegel and the Shadow of Dialectical Materialism]]'', Žižek revisits the terrain of [[quantum physics]] (incidentally, this hulking tome also contains an “Interlude” formulating an incisive critique of cognitivist Douglas Hofstadter’s 2007 book ''[[I Am a Strange Loop]]''). However, in so far as Žižek is interested in forging a neither reductive nor eliminative materialist theory of minded subjects, the physics of the extremely small is far from enough for his purposes. A turn to the biology of the mid-sized organisms that are human beings is necessary.
 
One of Žižek’s earliest ventures onto the territories covered by cognitive science is his 1998 essay “[[The Cartesian Subject versus the Cartesian Theater]]” (in ''[[Cogito and the Unconscious]]'', a multi-contributor volume he edited). Therein, he employs American Analytic philosopher of mind Daniel Dennett (specifically, Dennett’s 1991 book ''[[Consciousness Explained]]'', with its quasi-Humean, neuro-science-inspired assault on standard notions of self-hood or personal identity) as a foil enabling him to clarify further his rendition of subjectivity as a cogito-like void of kinetic negativity – more precisely, Lacan’s barred subject ($) and the Freudian–Lacanian [[death-drive]] as re-read through the lenses furnished by Kant and the post-Kantian idealists. Situating Dennett within a larger contemporary constellation of all those declaring the modern subject dead or deconstructed in different ways – anti-Cartesianism makes for very strange bedfellows, bringing together a wide variety of otherwise unrelated or even antagonistic orientations (as observed through a paraphrasing of the opening lines of ''[[The Communist Manifesto]]'' at the start of 1999’s ''[[The Ticklish Subject: The Absent Centre of Political Ontology]]'') – Žižek strives to extract from Dennett’s stance resources for his own position as well as to pinpoint what a cognitive and evolutionist approach of this sort fails to appreciate in [[German idealist]] and Lacanian models of subjectivity, themselves interpreted as elaborations and extensions of the Cartesian model.
 
As he similarly underscores in his contributions to the 2000 book ''[[Contingency, Hegemony, Universality: Contemporary Dialogues on the Left]]'' (co-authored with [[Judith Butler]] and [[Ernesto Laclau]]), Žižek in 1998 claims that dissolutions of a stable self or “me” into a plurality of disparate bits and pieces, whether as Dennett’s “multiple drafts” depiction of consciousness or any other number of other fragmentations of the “I” as classically conceived, ironically bring the cogito-like modern subject into even sharper relief, rather than, as this subject’s critics intend, invalidate it. Th is claim about the self-subverting irony of these sorts of critiques is underpinned by Žižek’s thesis according to which Cartesian-style subjectivity is nothing other than the hollowed-out virtual space of an insubstantial, anonymous, faceless emptiness – not to be confused with the substantial, fleshed-out contents of familiar selfhood or recognizable personal identity – serving as a condition of possibility for the manifest comings and goings of the fragments of the disunifi ed “postmodern” person. Kant’s and Hegel’s dismantlings of the substance metaphysics of early-modern “rational psychology” and Lacan’s distinction between the ego (''moi'') and the subject (''sujet'') are pivotal precursors and points of reference for this Žižekian line of argumentation.
 
In the 2004 books ''[[Organs without Bodies: On Deleuze and Consequences]]'' and ''[[Conversations with Žižek]]'' (with [[Glyn Daly]]) Žižek deepens his engagements with cognitive science and neurobiology. Through references to life-scientifi c thinkers such as [[Richard Dawkins]], [[Lynn Margulis]], [[Humberto Maturana]], [[Stephen Pinker]] and [[Francisco Varela]], he outlines a number of speculative trajectories stemming from his approach to things biological via the triad of [[German idealism]], Marxism and psychoanalysis: the emergence of the cogito-like subject from the substances and processes described by biology and evolutionary theory; the implications for images and ideas of nature of this precise sort of Hegelian-dialectical emergentism; the immanent genesis of dis/mal-adapted humanity out of evolutionary pressures; the compatibility of German idealist, Marxist and psychoanalytic perspectives on language with meme theory; and the agreements and disagreements between a Lacanian theory of the libidinal economy and more naturalist renditions of the motivational forces and factors moving humanity. These musings set the stage for Žižek’s most significant treatment of biological topics in his 2006 book ''[[The Parallax View]]''.
 
Therein, Žižek wrestles directly with the neurosciences through readings of [[Antonio Damasio]] and [[Joseph LeDoux]] in particular, in addition to addressing once again a number of Analytic philosophers, cognitive scientists and evolutionary theorists addressed by him in previous texts (some of whom are mentioned above). Damasio’s and LeDoux’s research in “affective neuroscience” is critically evaluated on the basis of Lacan’s metapsychology of affect. But the figure of contemporary philosopher [[Catherine Malabou]], a former student of [[Jacques Derrida|Derrida]] and author of a Žižek-beloved study of Hegel (''[[The Future of Hegel: Plasticity, Temporality and Dialectic]]'', 2004), is by far the most important new reference along these lines featuring in ''[[The Parallax View]]''. In ''[[What Should We Do with Our Brain?]]'' (2008) and other texts, Malabou utilizes the empirical fact of [[neuroplasticity]] to initiate a comprehensive philosophical reassessment of biological analyses of humans in the vein of [[dialectical materialism]]. Although Žižek, in the fourth chapter of 2010’s ''[[Living in the End Times]]'', subsequently voices reservations about Malabou’s more recent book ''[[The New Wounded: From Neurosis to Brain Damage]]'' (2012) – he faults her for misunderstanding [[the cogito]] as a pure void surviving even the most psychically devastating traumas impacting the self as well as for failing to grasp the true nature of Lacanian [[jouissance]] proper – her Hegel-inspired and science-informed materialist recastings of subjectivity remain extremely close to Žižek’s heart.
 
What Žižek and Malabou share in common is a determination fully to take into consideration the undeniable relevance of the natural sciences for a materialist theory of the subject without, for all that, giving up on the irreducibly nonnatural dimensions of subjectivity as uncovered within the past two centuries of European philosophy as well as Freudian psychoanalysis. This requires a series of very delicate balancing acts. But a categorically anti-naturalist materialism is no materialism whatsoever. 
==References==
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==See Also==
 
[[Category:Science]]
[[Category:Slavoj Žižek]]
[[Category:Enotes]]

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