by BYUNG-CHUL HAN
artwork by PAUL MCCARTHY & KYLE RAND
Born in South Korea in 1959, philosopher-theorist Byung-Chul Han writes on the effects of technology on multitasking, exhaustion, depression, personality disorders. He recently published Absence: On the Culture and Philosophy of the Far East.
On a deep level, thinking is a decidedly analogue process. Before capturing the world in concepts, thinking is emotionally gripped, even affected by the world. The affective is essential to human thinking. The first thought image is goosebumps. Artificial intelligence is incapable of thinking, for the very reason that it cannot get goosebumps. It lacks the affective-analogue dimension, the capacity to be emotionally affected, which lies beyond the reach of data and information.
Thinking sets out from a totality that precedes concepts, ideas and information. It moves in a “field of experience” before it turns towards the individual objects and facts in that field. Being in its totality, which is the concern of thinking, is disclosed first of all in an affective medium, a mood: “The mood has already disclosed, in every case, Being-in-the-world as a whole, and makes it possible first of all to direct oneself towards something.” Before thinking turns towards something particular, it already finds itself in a fundamental attunement. This state-of-mind (Befindlichkeit) is a distinguishing feature of human thinking. A mood is not a subjective state that rubs off on the objective world. It is the world. The world disclosed in a fundamental attunement is subsequently articulated by thinking in terms of concepts.
Big data creates the illusion of absolute knowledge. Things give away their secret correlations. Everything becomes computable and controllable. A new era of knowledge is proclaimed. In reality, what we have here is a pretty primitive form of knowledge. Data mining reveals correlations. According to Hegel’s Science of Logic, correlation is the lowest form of knowledge. A correlation between
A and B means that A
often happens in combination with B, but we do not know why that is the case. It simply is the case. Correlations reveal a probability, not a necessity. They differ from causal relations that establish a necessity: A causes B. Reciprocity represents the next level of knowledge. Reciprocity means that A and B cause each other. This establishes a necessary connection between A and B, yet at this level there is still no conceptual understanding: “If one does not move beyond considering a given content merely from the viewpoint of reciprocity, this is in fact an utterly conceptless way of behaving.”
Only with a “concept” (Begriff) can the connection between A and B be captured. The concept is the C that in-cludes (ein-begreift) A and B. With the help of C, the connection between A and B is understood (begriffen). The concept forms the frame, the totality, that comprises A and B and clarifies their relation. A and B are only “moments of a third, higher (dimension).” Knowledge in the proper sense of the word is possible only at the level of the concept: “The concept is something that dwells within the things themselves, by means of which they are what they are, and to comprehend (begreifen) an object means accordingly to become conscious of its concept (Begriff).” Only by way of the comprehensive concept C can the connection between A and B fully be understood. Reality itself is transformed into knowledge by being captured by the concept.
Big data provides a rudimentary knowledge. It remains limited to correlations and pattern recognition, in which, however, nothing is understood. A concept forms a totality that en-closes and in-cludes its moments. Totality is a form of conclusion (Schluß). A concept is a conclusion: “Everything is a syllogism (Schluß)” means “everything is a concept.” Reason is also a conclusion: “everything rational (alles Vernünftige) is a syllogism.” Big data is additive. What is additive does not form a totality, a conclusion. It lacks a concept, that is, the grip that includes the parts in a totality. Artificial intelligence never reaches the conceptual level of knowledge. It does not understand (begreift) the results it computes. Computing differs from thinking insofar as computing does not form concepts and does not proceed from one conclusion to the next.
Artificial intelligence learns from the past. The future it computes is not a future in the proper sense. It is event-blind. Thinking, however, has the character of an event. It puts something altogether other into the world. Artificial intelligence lacks precisely the negativity of rupture that allows something genuinely new to begin. Artificial intelligence ultimately continues the same. Intelligence means choosing between (inter-legere). All it does is make a choice between options that are given in advance, ultimately between “one” and “zero.” It does not move, beyond what is given, to untrodden paths.
Genuine thinking brings forth a new world. It is on the way towards the altogether other, towards somewhere else: “The word of thinking is not picturesque; it is without charm… Just the same, thinking changes the world. It changes it in the ever darker depths of a riddle, depths which as they grow darker offer promise of a greater brightness.” Machine intelligence does not advance to this darker depth of a riddle. Information and data have no depth. Human thinking is more than computing and problem solving. It brightens and clears the world. It brings forth an altogether other world. The main danger that arises from machine intelligence is that human thinking will adapt to it and itself become mechanical.
Thinking is nourished by Eros. In Plato, Logos and Eros enter into an intimate relation. Eros is the condition for the possibility of thinking. Heidegger follows Plato on this point. On the way towards unknown territory, thinking is given wings by Eros: “I call it Eros, the oldest of the gods according to Parmenides.… The beat of that god’s wings moves me each time I take a substantial step in my thinking and venture onto untrodden paths.” Computing is without Eros. Data and information do not seduce.
According to Deleuze, philosophy begins with a faire l’idiot — with “making oneself an idiot.” Thinking is characterized not by intelligence but by idiocy. Every philosopher who creates a new idiom, a new thinking, a new language, is an idiot. The philosopher bids farewell to all that went before. A philosopher inhabits a virgin, hitherto undescribed immanent level of thinking. By adopting the principle of faire l’idiot, thinking risks the leap into the altogether other, ventures on untrodden paths. The history of philosophy is a history of idiocy, of idiotic leaps: “The old idiot wanted indubitable truths at which he could arrive by himself: in the meantime he would doubt everything… The new idiot has no wish for indubitable truths … and wills the absurd — this is not the same image of thought.” Artificial intelligence cannot think because it is incapable of faire l’idiot. It is too intelligent for becoming an idiot.
Excerpt from Non-Things: Upheaval in the Lifeworld by byung-chul han, Translated by Daniel Steuer, published by Polity, Cambridge, 2022. Originally published in German as Undinge: Umbrüche der Lebenswelt, ullstein verlage, berlin, 2021.
[Table of contents]
editor’s letterRead the article
by Daniel Pinchbeck
by Paul B. Preciado
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art or the possibility of the impossible
by Alain Badiou
cover #2 milla jovovich in gucci f/w 2023-24
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evgeny morozovRead the article
cover #3 aylah peterson in prada f/w 2023-24
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cover #4 john giornoRead the article
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de wain valentineRead the article
cover #6 zegna x the elder statesman f/w 2023-24
photography by Olivier Zahm
interview by Oliver Zahm & Aleph Molinari
what climate collapse asks of us
by Bayo Akomolafe
cover #7 gabbriette in guess usa f/w 2023-24
photography by Richard Kern
cover #8 minttu vesala in balenciaga winter 2023
photography by Juergen Teller
cover #9 mariana arias in dior cruise 2024
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cover #10 saskia de brauw in fendi f/w 2023-24
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cover #11 caroline polachek in givenchy F/W 2023-24
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cover #12 carsten höllerRead the article
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interview by Aleph Molinari
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cover #13 louis vuitton pre-fall 2023
photography by Takashi Homma
interview by Olivier Zahm & Aleph Molinari
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interview by Bobbi Salvör Menuez
cover #14 hari nef
photography by Steven Klein
hour of the wolf
photography by Robi Rodriguez
the idiots revolution
by Byung-Chul Han
cover #15 melvil poupaud in dior men f/w 2023-24
photography by Ola Rindal
cover #16 marie-agnès gillot and charlotte dauphin in valentino f/w 2023-24
photography by Andrea Spotorno
cover #17 loro piana f/w 2023-24
photography by Dario Catellani
cover #18 emmanuelle lucianiRead the article
cover #19 sascha rajasalu in saint laurent f/w 2023-24
photography by Esther Theaker
interview by Daniel Pinchbeck
interview by Daniel Pinchbeck
“what can the body do?” with georgia bryan
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