Cosmos and History: The Journal of Natural and Social Philosophy, Vol 15, No 1 (2019)

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The Illusions of Consciousness and the Prospect of Human Extinction

Kirk Turner

Abstract


In the context of resistances to the historical 'blows' to 'human self-love' enumerated by Freud (Copernicus decentering the Earth; Darwin removing the barrier between humans and animals; his own efforts in showing how the unconscious subverts the supposed mastery of the conscious ego), Lacan's early formulations and probings on the topic of subjectivity in his second seminar include, in a not uncharacteristic, but yet somewhat bizarre, digression, an envisionment of 'science fiction' involving the extinction of the entire human population and a recording device which continues to operate following the event. Specifically, Lacan questions what consequences this has for our understandings of consciousness (including subsequent philosophical objections); what status the recording instrument would possess; and what a repopulating society would make of the recorded images once they had learnt to access and, ostensibly, interpret them.

In exploring this scenario, along with what Lacan describes as his 'materialist definition of the phenomenon of consciousness', we will tease out exactly how he begins to separate subject, ego and unconscious; his definitions of the imaginary function and the mirror relation; and his delineations of the 'real object' in terms of both real and imaginary space. What we will begin to appreciate is how the notion of the human becomes a psychical assemblage pieced together to experience a fragile unity. What the 'limit' example of extinction will make clear is the extent to which the material world is involved in reinforcing this.


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