In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

  • Yuk Hui’s Axio-Cosmology of the Unknown: Genesis and the Inhuman
  • Ekin Erkan (bio)
Yuk Hui, Recursivity and Contingency, London, Rowman & Littlefield, 2019, pp317, £24.95/£80.00

In Recursivity and Contingency, Yuk Hui prompts a rigorous historical and philosophical analysis of today’s algorithmic culture. As evidenced by high-speed AI trading, predictive processing algorithms, elastic graph-bunching biometrics, Hebbian machine learning and thermographic drone warfare, we are privy to an epochal technological transition. As these technologies, stilted on inductive learning, demonstrate, we no longer occupy the moment of the ‘storage-and-retrieval’ static database but are increasingly engaged with technologies that are involved in the ‘manipulable arrangement’ (p204) of the indeterminable. It is, in fact, extricating the indeterminable or the Inhuman – and its cosmic anti-capitalist imperative that concerns the core of Hui’s project of technodiversity.

Schelling’s conception of freedom as the improbable, or absolute contingency, is also fundamental. Hui’s first two chapters trace recursivity as it develops throughout the project of German Idealism; Hui eruditely demonstrates how Kant’s Critique of Judgment is the first philosophical work to made the organism explicit and paradigmatic as, for Kant, mechanical laws are not sufficient to explain contingency and the teleology of nature. Where Fichte reduces the real to the Ideal, Schelling’s description of nature as a self-organising system is concerned with deriving the Ideal from the real. In Schelling’s philosophy of identity, nature is neither something in us nor outside of us but, instead, it actively abolishes subject-object dualism. Schelling’s system proffers recursivity as a ‘self-contained whole’ (p55). This marks the philosophical crux of organicism as a foundation for thinking of an open system through meta-scalar self-organisation, anticipating biological models such as Ilya Prigogine’s dissipative system and Francisco Varela and Humberto Maturana’s autopoiesis. Schelling’s philosophy of nature also informs Hui’s organismic conception of spatiality, where each organism is understood as both ‘self-contained’ but, also, always ‘influenced by other organisms, so such an ‘internal finality’ affirms a structural ‘external finality’ (p163). Qua Schelling, Hui destabilises the conception of our world as a closed and static material system.

If Schelling’s Naturphilosophie is a precursor to biological organicism, Hegel’s logic anticipates the machinic organicism of cybernetics – second order cybernetics to be specific. For Hegel, nature is an ‘object of observing reason [End Page 209] from the outset’ (p91), whereas for Schelling nature is pre-consciously sensed and detected prior to becoming an object of reflection. Unlike Schelling’s emphasis on external force’s giving form to the nature’s production, Hegel’s departure from preformation towards immanent negativity re-introduces contingency into the system of nature. We can map this onto second-order cybernetics quite neatly as, for Hegel, there are two forms of recursion: 1) chaotic nature 2) the logical category (of being).

It is far too common to see the hackneyed use of cybernetics in philosophy of technology and media theory without specificity, thus Hui’s work provides much-needed precision. Where first-order cybernetics (associated with Wiener, McCulloch, Shannon, Ashby) concerned positive feedback within a closed single system, in second-order cybernetics (Foerster, Luhmann, Maturana, Varela, Glaserfield), the synthetic determination of auto-organisation and homeostasis is broadened to include the structural domain of environment and machine. Where first-order cybernetics is concerned with perception, second order cybernetics is concerned with observation (meta-order and sub-systems). However, despite second-order cybernetics moves beyond the opposition between mechanism and vitalism, Hui also illuminates how today’s elastic technologies prompt a new epistemological relationship with their environment, whereby ‘[t]o adopt is to affirm what accidently arrived and integrate it into the whole’ (p. 204). Thus, there is a third moment that we currently occupy and which converges upon the synchronised ‘accomplishment of a global axis of time’ (p34) via recursive modelling that is open to contingency.

Much like Bernard Stiegler, Hui considers Deleuze’s ‘control society’ as a critical rift from biopolitics, where re-integrative modulation displaces the spatio-temporal terms of Foucauldian power. We can also find concrete examples of synchronised contingency in the recursive algorithms informing Google and other...