Being Is a Computational Mode

An experiment: Let's take the Principle of Sufficient Reason extremely literally. A common but unfortunate way of understanding the principle is to turn it into an explanatory narrative for how things were made or where they came from. “For any entity, there is a narrative that will explain why it exists and why it exists in this manner.”

Such an interpretation confuses the principle of sufficient reason and limits its utility. It reduces facticity to causality. It reduces givenness to a lurid narrative of origins. It shackles appearance to logic.

To avoid such an interpretation, the principle should be taken literally, that is, in terms of the co-presence of being and thought. “No actual entity, then no reason” (Whitehead). Being in the world requires thought in the world. Being-given requires thought-given. An entity requires a reason. To be with means to think with. Thus to follow the path of being also means to follow the path of co-thought, or com-putation.

To combine the event and the transcendental is to produce computation. Recall the definition of Turing’s universal machine: it is a machine that can perform the work of any other machine, provided it can be described logically. Or to rephrase: the computer is a machine that can actuate events, provided they are formulated in terms of the transcendental.

Given that being is both evental and transcendental, it is no surprise that computation takes place within being. In fact, it is inevitable; it is visible across the most diverse instances, RNA as computational strands, markets as societies of computation, stomachs as processors for foodstuffs, or what have you.

It is now possible to flesh out a related set of concepts, the computational decision and the principle of sufficient computation. The principle of sufficient computation states that, within the standard model of philosophy, anything co-thinkable is also computable. The mere existence of something is sufficient grounds for its being computable (co-thinkable). The computational decision is the event that inaugurates such a distinction.

But it goes further as well, because presence itself is subject to a computational condition. Computation is not an “option” available to presence but a precondition of it. It is not simply that computers, artificial intelligence, virtual reality, and the like are predicated on computational decisionism. It is not simply that such and such mundane detail will be rendered computationally, that weather patterns will be modeled on a supercomputer, that stock markets will be migrated over to electronic trading, that we will “go digital.” These are all common, pragmatic repercussions of a much more pervasive computational decision that permeates the standard model from end to end. The advent of digital being—which is to say the only sort of being directly available to us—shows that presence itself is a computational condition.

But least you interpret this as an endorsement of digital philosophy -- it's not; quite the reverse -- consider Laruelle and his response to the digitality of being. Laruelle takes the computational decision as raw material and through it discovers an alternate mode of non-computation or non-computer, just as he has done with non-photography, or indeed with non-philosophy as a whole. He considers the “computational posture” and software execution as an instance of identity and cloning. He considers computation in terms of an auto-execution, or an auto-processing.

Ultimately Laruelle arrives at a purely immanent conception of computation (as co-thinking). This is a form of computation entirely subtracted from any kind of conscious will or causality, from any kind of metaphysical representation or manifestation, from the typical distinction between hardware and software, from the classic debate in Artificial Intelligence about whether or not computers can think like humans.

"It’s always so predictable and wearisome this back and forth debate between the proponents of Artificial Intelligence and those advocating Conscious. . . . We could say that non-philosophy is an attempt to give a (non-Kantian) solution to this conflict, to show a 'way out' of it, or more precisely to demonstrate exactly how and under what conditions thought would never need to enter it." [François Laruelle, “The Transcendental Computer”]

Such a purely immanent conception of computation would appear therefore, axiomatically and primordially, as process. Non-computation is simply the condition of the event that is in-process, that operates “according to” process.

(Excerpted and adapted from Laruelle: Against the Digital [University of Minnesota Press: 2014], pp. 110-112.)