How to Choose What Will Have Been? Prometheanism, Ecology, And Retroactive Causality

2016.04.05 | Alexander Wilson

As with many anthropocene films, in Christopher Nolan’s Interstellar the protagonists are faced with the final horizon of hominization: the world is dying under the effects of the human’s exploitation of nature. But faced with this crisis, Interstellar promotes the following moral: ‘Don’t go gentle into that good night, rage, rage against the dying of the light.’

Dylan Thomas’ poem exalts the insatiable self-preservation of life before an impending finality. It declares: the death of the earth will not mean the end of human life; the human will surpass the limits of the ecosystem and even the constraints of space-time itself to become pure hyperdimensional intelligence.

The plot is an unfolding of the future human’s self-creation; as we learn, the posthuman was somehow bootstrapping its past toward itself, all along. With this strange loop in time, the future will have chosen its past. This comes to be realized through a strange promethean instrumentalization of optimism: the protagonists superstitiously, or hyperstitiously (to use the CCRU’s concept) the retroactive self-fulfillment of the posthuman through blind faith, a confidence in the destiny of technological determinism.

It is clear that this hyperstitious ethic is at the root of the contemporary accelerationist prometheanism. Strangely, however, a similar mechanism for bootstrapping the future is defended by prometheanism’s harshest critics, exemplified by Jean-Pierre Dupuy’s concept of self-transcendence. The technosceptics too—those who claim that our hubristic ‘playing god’ breaks a sacred bond with nature, as in the story of the Golem—also appeal to retroactive causation.

Both sides uphold the virtues of a hyperstitoius prophetism that chooses what will have been. But what is the status of this principle? By considering Leibniz’s concept of compossibility and the inescapability of observation selection biases, it is possible to assess the viability of such an instrumentalizaton of attitudes toward the human future.

Alexander Wilson from Posthuman Aesthetics will present a paper on Interstellar at the event "Speeding and Braking – Navigating Acceleration" in London in May. (link: screenandaudiovisualtheory.com/call-for-papers/)

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