Desperate Acts and Compromises

The Original Article was published on 31 May 2021

8:07am I AM AWAKE




Clive Wearing


This article expands on what Bernard Stiegler describes as “The Ordeal of Truth”. Through an evolutionary account of cognition and its exteriorization in human technology, I highlight a recurring tension in philosophy between the “as-if” (Kant, Vaihinger) nature of our models and representations, and the doubt that infects even our most stable understanding of the world. Truth is here associated to the process of metastabilization that characterizes the biological organism. The famous case of Clive Wearing’s severe amnesia, as well as the fictional treatment of amnesia in Christopher Nolan’s Memento, are recalled to highlight the connection between truth and memory, and more importantly the contingent character of the formation of thoughts (von Kleist), and the desperate nature of the construction of truths, through the evolutionarily conditioned “subjective necessity” (Hume) to link the before and the after, the cause and the effect. I show that this same ordeal is reflected in the philosophy of science in what is known as “pessimistic meta induction” (going back to Poincaré’s notion of the “bankruptcy of science”), which I put into dialogue with the growing pessimism about knowledge in contemporary technological culture known as “post truth”. Finally, a possible way out of this pessimism is briefly sketched: a compromise such that, without recourse to objective truth, and in full acceptance of an always already biased relation to the world, future technologies might be designed to incrementally reduce our biases, through an intrinsic mapping of the relative falsity of our models, rather than through some idealized extrinsic relation to an unattainable noumenal real.

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Correspondence to Alexander Wilson.

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Wilson, A. Desperate Acts and Compromises. Found Sci (2021).

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  • Truth
  • Amnesia
  • Pessimistic induction
  • Technology
  • Science