Recursivity and Contingency


“Despite the historical span of roughly 250 years, the diverse range of authors, disciplines and underlying problems, Recursivity and Contingency is held together firmly by its two eponymous concepts……The conceptual versatility of recursivity and contingency may prove useful in further displacing the dominance of the technology as anthropological universal and means of exploitation.” — The Philosophical Quarterly 

“En tout cas, la critique de la raison récursive qu’il propose a cette féconde étrangeté des livres qui, nous confrontant à notre finitude, donnent à voir une liberté insoupçonnée et, par une prise de recul salutaire, repoussent l’horizon du pensable. En particulier, la grande cohérence que ce troisième livre révèle dans le travail de Hui, nous offre un regard sur l’histoire de la philosophie continentale renouant avec l’idée qu’une tâche peut et doit être accomplie.”— Philosophique

“I hardly know how best to recommend this third major achievement in as many years by one of the most insightful younger philosophers. It reanimates an abandoned arc of reflection that includes cybernetics, organicism, and organology from both European and Chinese traditions to address aspirations for a pluralism of homes within the becoming of an artificial Earth.” — Carl Mitcham

Recursivity and Contingency takes the remarkable adventure of thought begun in On the Existence of Digital Objects and The Question Concerning Technology in China in unexpected and astonishing directions, leaving its readers with much to think about and to take further themselves. — Howard Caygill, “Odysseus’s Oar”, preface to Recursivity and Contingency

Recursivity and Contingency is simply an outstanding philosophical treatise on cybernetics that re-opens the all-too human image of technology today. Alongside a zealous re-situating of system theory within philosophies of nature, Hui boldly defies current technocratic aspirations towards totalizing and deterministic systems with a metaphysical commitment to re-envision the relation with the inhuman. Cosmotechnical perspectives, alter-cosmologies, and techno-diversity are here part of human-machine genesis that promises to finally re-situate technology in various cosmic realities. — Luciana Parisi, Reader in Cultural Theory, Goldsmiths, University of London

Yuk Hui’s rich, new writing shows that in order to understand our modern technological world, we need to understand modern thinking about organisms and organology – and not only to understand but, recursively, to think differently. Hui’s cosmotechnical approach – from cybernetics to history of philosophy – is complex, and exactly because of that, deeply rewarding. — Jussi Parikka, Professor in Technological Culture and Aesthetics, University of Southampton

Yuk Hui’s Recursivity and Contingency is not simply a major contribution to the Philosophy of Technology – it is an immense resource in that respect – but it is also a lively work of pluralistic experiment in thought. Here Hui’s invitation to think in terms of cosmotechnics comes into its full bloom, engineering an unsurpassably agile guide to questions of technology and culture, nature and mechanism, logic and existence as they have arisen before and as they manifest with full force in the present. — Matthew Fuller, Professor of Cultural Studies, Goldsmiths, University of London

This book employs recursivity and contingency as two principle concepts to investigate into the relation between nature and technology, machine and organism, system and freedom. It reconstructs a trajectory of thought from an Organic condition of thinking elaborated by Kant, passing by the philosophy of nature (Schelling and Hegel), to the 20th century Organicism (Bertalanffy, Needham, Whitehead, Wiener among others) and Organology (Bergson, Canguilhem, Simodnon, Stiegler), and questions the new condition of philosophizing in the time of algorithmic contingency, ecological and algorithmic catastrophes, which Heidegger calls the end of philosophy.

The book centres on the following speculative question: if in the philosophical tradition, the concept of contingency is always related to the laws of nature, then in what way can we understand contingency in related to technical systems? The book situates the concept of recursivity as a break from the Cartesian mechanism and the drive of system construction; it elaborates on the necessity of contingency in such epistemological rupture where nature ends and system emerges. In this development, we see how German idealism is precursor to cybernetics, and the Anthropocene and Noosphere (Teilhard de Chardin) point toward the realization of a gigantic cybernetic system, which lead us back to the question of freedom. It questions the concept of absolute contingency (Meillassoux) and proposes a cosmotechnical pluralism. Engaging with modern and contemporary European philosophy as well as Chinese thought through the mediation of Needham, this book refers to cybernetics, mathematics, artificial intelligence and inhumanism.


Odysseus’s Oar by Howard Caygill

Introduction. A Psychedelic Becoming

Chapter 1. Nature and Recursivity

Chapter 2. Logic and Contingency

Chapter 3. Organized Inorganic

Chapter 4. Organizing Inorganic

Chapter 5. The Inhuman that Remains

Bibliography / Index



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