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Critiquing Technologies of the Mind: Enhancement, Alteration, and Anthropotechnology

Special Issue of Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

Over the past twenty or even thirty years, an international and interdisciplinary body of research has developed on the various ethical and philosophical issues raised by the possibility of using technological means to transform the human body beyond medical ends. The phrase that has emerged in the English-speaking bioethical debate to describe this new field is ‘human enhancement’. Some authors, particularly in France, have raised objections to the positive valuation that is implied in the preferred English terminology. As an alternative, the terms ‘anthropotechnics’ and ‘anthropotechnology’, combining the Greek words ‘anthropos’ and ‘techne’, have been suggested as preferable conceptual tools, which avoid the implicit positive valuation of ‘enhancement’, while directly addressing the question of technological intervention in and on the body for extra-medical ends.

This special issue will investigate a specific area of the anthropotechnics/enhancement debate: those modifications of the body aimed at affecting the processes of the mind. This field is generally referred to as ‘cognitive enhancement’, we prefer the more neutral and encompassing expression ‘technologies of the mind’. The issue will aim to address the fundamental ethical and philosophical questions surrounding this area of technology through the prism of the philosophically productive contrasts and conceptual differences between the (broadly speaking) Anglo-American and the (broadly speaking) French debates. The idea of anthropotechnics has emerged out of different philosophical traditions than the mainstream Anglo-American philosophical discourse around enhancement. We argue that a careful interrogation of the conceptual resources drawn upon by the French and, rather coarsely speaking, continental philosophical traditions (here we include phenomenology, hermeneutics, French epistemology, and post-structuralism) examined against a backdrop of the ‘enhancement’ debate more familiar perhaps to English speaking readers, will significantly enrich and broaden the philosophical literature in this area, as well as enlarging its international conceptual scope.

We propose four main axes for consideration, but welcome contributions on all topics and from all approaches within the scope outlined above:

What are the different technologies that are currently presented as cognitive enhancers? To what extents are the virtues attributed to them a reality? This includes the stage they are at on the path from hypothetical modification to widely used products, and the various philosophical questions arising from their use.

How is the concept of cognition is itself deployed in the idea of cognitive enhancement? Nick Bostrom and Anders Sandberg, two of the most prominent philosophers studying ‘enhancement’ define cognition as a set of processes that comprise acquiring information (perception), selecting (attention), representing (understanding) and retaining (memory) information, and using it to guide behaviour (reasoning and coordination of motor outputs)’. They insist that ‘interventions to improve cognitive function may be directed at any one of these core faculties’. But these faculties are generally approached uncritically in the literature, as is the question of how they overlap and interact with one another as well as with emotion, and aspects of embodiment. Also, most of the products that are presented as potential ‘cognitive enhancers’ (caffeine, Adderall, etc.) often appear, after more detailed studies, not to improve cognition itself, but the conditions of use of existing cognitive abilities. Likewise, in the existing literature, there are few studies interested in issues such as altered perception: the focus on a few products and specific functions like alertness and memory appears to hinder the consideration of technologies that may affect other aspects of cognition, and in other ways than enhancement narrowly conceived.

Does the modular approach to cognition, often ignoring the first-person perspective, and widespread in the ‘cognitive enhancement’ literature, present an accurate account of subjectivity, and specifically of the enhanced subject? In this respect, some qualitative studies already provide a more complete picture of the enhanced subject. But we argue that a wider use of phenomenological, neurophenomenological and narrative approaches to the subject is also needed, alongside more conceptually sophisticated accounts of subjective relations with environment.

What role should speculation and fiction play in the study of cognitive enhancement? Some philosophers emphasize the need for a ‘pre-emptive’ approach that tries to bring out the potential issues in technologies not yet developed, but on a speculative horizon, so as to be ethically and politically ready when they appear. But is this a legitimate and productive methodological approach? Are there past examples of such successful ‘pre-emptive’ philosophies of technology? How do these general considerations about speculative ethical thinking affect the particular topic of cognitive enhancement?

This aim of this issue is to explore these and other approaches to the questions surrounding ‘technologies of the mind’, in particular by setting up an dialogue between analytical and continental, English-speaking and French-speaking, philosophical traditions.

*Submission information*

Word limit: 8000 words

Deadline for submissions: 30 June 2015

Publication is expected in 2016/17

Peer review: all submissions will be subject to a double blind peer-review process. Please prepare your submission for blind reviewing.

Submissions should be made directly via the journal’s online submission system: ( indicating: Special Issue: Critiquing Technologies of the Mind.

For further details, please check the website of Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences:

Specific questions about the special issue can be addressed to Darian Meacham (, Ruud ter Meulen (, or Sylvie Allouche ( Please include the text “Special Issue: Critiquing Technologies of the Mind” in the subject line of the email.



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Battle of Ideas Festival, an annual event organised by the Institute of Ideas and taking place at the Royal College of Art, London on October 30-31. Over the course of a weekend over 2,000 people will be taking part in over 75 different debates involving hundreds of incisive and thought-provoking speakers.

Hilton reading Postone


This year’s festival includes strands of debates on medical ethics, social policy, scientific evidence and the battle for the past, and keynote debates on trust in an age of cynicism, whether the public is engaged or imagined, the economic and cultural future of the West, the promise and risks of engineering the future, the rights and wrongs of social justice, and what it means to be a liberal today, as well as many more discussions on current themes in the arts, science, health, parenting, education, design, fashion, international relations, religion and secularism, sport and everyday life.

Speakers include: David Aaronovitch columnist; Sarah Churchwell academic; Frank Furedi professor of sociology, University of Kent, Canterbury; Anil Gupta professor, Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad; John Harris professor of bioethics; Bettany Hughes broadcaster; Virginia Ironside agony aunt; Wendy Kaminer US-based writer on liberty; Irma Kurtz writer; Norman Lebrecht cultural commentator; Paul Mason broadcaster; Gáspár Miklos Tamás Hungarian philosopher and dissident; Brendan O’Neill editor, spiked; Tim Parks novelist; Fred Pearce author; Anthony Seldon author and master, Wellington College; Roger Scruton philosopher; Dr Richard Smith author; Tarun J Tejpal Indian journalist and novelist; Professor Sir Mark Walport director of the Wellcome Trust; David Willetts MP Science Minister; David Yelland former editor, The Sun; Peter York cultural commentator; and many more. Click here for a full list.

Martin Wolf, chief economics commentator at the Financial Times, said the Battle of Ideas is: ‘a unique opportunity to learn from vigorous exchanges among some of the world’s best-informed and most provocative people’ and the neuroscientist Professor Colin Blakemore called his experience, ‘adrenaline for the mind. A chance for intellectual fisticuffs with some of the best-known and most stimulating thinkers in the world.’

Visit: to view this year’s entire festival programme, including an expanded programme of national and international Satellite events, as well as carefully selected readings for each session, specially commissioned Battle in Print essays on selected themes, and videos of previous years’ sessions. The festival brochure can also be downloaded as a PDF document.

** School students aged 16-18 are able to attend a day of the festival for free (the second day costing only £10). There are also a limited number of HALF PRICE Student Champion tickets, allowing university students full access to the weekend festival for just £25. Click here to purchase discounted tickets.**

Tickets are available through online booking, or by phone: 0207 269 9220.

If you know anyone who you think would be interested in this, please do forward this email on to friends and colleagues.

Best wishes



Claire Fox: Director, Institute of Ideas, Signet House, 49-51 Farringdon Road, London EC1M 3JP, 020 7269 9220, 020 7269 9223 (direct):;;


‘I believe in the afterlife.

It starts tomorrow,

When I go to work’

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Alternative Culture



Please join us for “Commonalities: Theorizing the Common in Contemporary Italian Thought,” a conference sponsored by the journal diacritics. The event, to be held at Cornell University on September 24-25, 2010, will bring together a number of leading thinkers around the theme and question of the common. Participants will include Kevin Attell, Franco “Bifo” Berardi, Remo Bodei, Bruno Bosteels, Cesare Casarino, Roberto Esposito, Ida Dominijanni, Michael Hardt, Antonio Negri (by video conference), and Karen Pinkus. More information can be found at the conference website ( or by contacting Professor Timothy Campbell (

Il manifesto
For the better part of a decade the position of Italian thought in the Anglo-American academy has increasingly grown in importance. From issues as far ranging as bioethics and bioengineering, to euthanasia, to globalization, to theorizing gender, to the war on terror, works originating in Italy have played a significant, perhaps even the dominant, role in setting the terms and conditions of these debates. Indeed it might well be that no contemporary thought more than Italian enjoys greater success today in the United States. If twenty years of postmodernism and poststructuralism were in large measure the result of French exports to the United States — Derrida, Lacan, Deleuze, and Foucault — today a number of Italian philosophical exports are giving rise to a theoretical dispositif that goes under a variety of names: post-Marxist, posthuman, or most often biopolitical. Yet the fact that Italian thought enjoys such enormous success in the United States and elsewhere begs an important question, one put to me polemically recently by a prominent Italian philosopher. Is there really such a thing as contemporary Italian thought? And if there is what in the world do its proponents have in common?

By way of responding, it might be useful to recall some details about the recent reception of Italian thought in the American academy. In the aftermath of the end of the postmodern — which a number of American observers savored as spelling the end of the use and abuse of philosophy by large numbers of literary critics — two works appeared in English within a span of three years: Giorgio Agamben’s ‘Homo Sacer’ and Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri’s ‘Empire’. Stepping into the void left by the departure of what in the United States was known as “theory,” these works made a number of bold theoretical claims about the relation between political power and individual life (Agamben) and globalization and collective life (Hardt and Negri), claims that uncannily – sometimes almost prophetically – addressed some of the most pressing issues in our current state of affairs. Equally a number of important works of Italian feminism appeared over roughly the same period. Works by Adriana Cavarero and Rosi Braidotti, among others, deeply influenced a whole generation of American theorists in fields like gender studies, political philosophy, and law. Looking back it’s difficult to overestimate the influence of all these figures when accounting for the intellectual success of Italian thought today. Certainly it became possible for other voices to be heard, Paolo Virno, and more recently Franco Berardi, Roberto Esposito, and Maurizio Lazzarato among others.

But to take up again the question at hand: what do authors as seemingly different as Agamben and Negri, Berardi and Esposito, Braidotti and Bodei, or Cavarero and Virno have in common outside of the mere fact of writing in Italian? Beyond a common language, is there, for example, such a thing as a common Italian philosophical tradition of which they are all a part? Some, most notably, Mario Perniola, would say yes, one found in the elements of repetition, transmission, mixture, and body that together forged an Italian philosophical culture over the last 300 years. Deleuze and Guattari would have said no, arguing that Italy has historically “lacked a milieu” for philosophy. For them the reason for this lack could be found in Italy’s proximity to the Holy See, which continually aborted philosophy across the peninsula, reducing Italian thought to mere rhetoric, philosophy’s shadow, and allowing only for the occasional “comet” to briefly light up the philosophical sky. Yet what if Italian thought today does in fact enjoy a milieu? What “event” or “events” in the recent past might have fashioned a milieu for the emergence of Italian thought? What would the features of that milieu look like?

Undoubtedly, the decade-long Italian 1968 would have played the decisive role. The votes on abortion, the emergence of counterculture and student and feminist movements, and changes in labor and production all deeply changed the space in which politics — as well as philosophy – was practiced. Indeed one of the central features of the Italian 1968 was precisely the emphasis on politics as philosophy and philosophy as a form (among others) of politics. We can see this in the place 1968 and 1977 awarded political militancy; in the increasing prominence given to questions of subjectivization; and more broadly in the birth of new forms of social and political life separated from those that had previously dominated.

Yet Italy’s long 1968 wasn’t enough on its own. It was only with 1989 and the fall of the Berlin Wall that politics and philosophy truly begin to pass intensely into each other, to stay with the language of Deleuze and Guattari. Although it may seem less the case for those writing in Italy, when seen from the outside 1989 was experienced as trauma more in Italy than in the rest of Europe. The result forced a number of thinkers to re-examine the fundamental political and philosophical categories that had underpinned decades if not centuries of thought: what meaning would the end of a certain form of common life have for politics, for philosophy, for culture? Such a calling into question of the previous understanding of the common had the effect of reterritorializing politics and philosophy under new terms and new problematics, one of which will be “life,” broadly speaking. It is only when 1968 is considered as the motor for deterritorialization of the common in political theory and philosophy and 1989 as the turn toward its reterritorialization as newly mapped by (among other things) biopolitical theory that something like a milieu is constructed for contemporary Italian thought.

This is not to say that proponents of Italian thought share the same understanding of the common or even celebrate it. Clearly they do not. Yet the centrality of the common raises a number of questions about Italian thought and Italian public life today. What does it mean to be or have in common in 2010? What are the effects of questioning the weight of shared life and what possible futures are there for the common? How might singularities be thought together so as to create new forms of life and what kinds of co-habitations or contaminations might reinforce these new forms of life? These kinds of questions are ones Italian thought, in all its diversity, has placed at the forefront of contemporary theory, questions that in turn raise fundamental questions about the nature of relationality and of a politics that would seek to strengthen relations and to extend them in order to create yet further relationality. Such is the force of Hardt and Negri’s discussion of the capacity for love near the end of Commonwealth, though one can well imagine others, including a capacity for play, for attention, and for compassion too.

Yet the relationality implicit in these new forms of shared life doesn’t only lead to greater and more positive capacities for relationality among singularities. The deterritorialization of the common as biopolitics, the posthuman or even insurrection by no means conjures away the specter of power; thus with greater capacity on the one hand comes the possibility of more intense and invasive forms of power on the other. The question then becomes: how are new forms of the common that are being forged today — shared singularities, mirror neurons, impersonality – also being reterritorialized and recontained, and by whom? Is it possible that more intense forms of relationality might signal a return to the very terms that earlier critiques of the common had attempted to uncover? On the one hand the recent success of social networking sites like Facebook suggests that new forms of virtual relations involving vast numbers of “friends” are not only possible but involve ever greater exposure to others. On the other hand such exchanges continue to be premised on the notion that my body and my opinions belong to me, what the Invisible Committee unforgetably characterized as treating “our Self like a boring box office,” using whatever prosthesis is at hand “to hold onto an I.” In such a neo-liberal scenario, the circulation of information, of goods, of persons, of persons as goods is taken to mean a return to a common mode of being-together. It’s a film we’ve seen countless times before: the common’s reinscription in contexts less open to affect that are continually based upon a conflation of connnectivity with more open modes of relating.

These questions among others will be the foundation for a two-day conference sponsored by the journal Diacritics to be held on the campus of Cornell University on September 24-25, 2010. The conference, titled “Commonalities: Theorizing the Common in Italian Thought,” will bring together a number of Italian voices so as to think together not only the relation between Italy and the common but to consider emerging forms of the common and common life today as well as consider the efficacy of a term like the common for a progressive (bio)politics. Equally, the event, the first of its kind of recent memory in the United States, is an occasion to register the state of Italian thought today. When seen from the other side of the Atlantic, no other contemporary thought more than Italian seems better suited today to offer what Foucault called an ontology of the present. At a minimum, and pace my doubting Italian philosopher, the editorial and intellectual success of Italian thought merits a closer look.

Featured at the conference will be some of the leading philosophical figures from Italy today, including Franco Berardi, Remo Bodei, Cesare Casarino, Ida Dominjanni, Roberto Esposito, Michael Hardt, and Antonio Negri. The conference will be transmitted over the internet at A number of Cornell students will be blogging the conference live over the two days.

Antonio Negri

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