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The social brain

The structure of communications (already examined by Marx) has by now reached a high level of global integration. Today, thanks to the development of trades and IT network, thanks to the data storage getting into more and more socially-diffused memories (whether in real time or postponed interactive processing), humans are able to communicate in spite of time and space distances. All of this is a result of the rise of a social brain that the future society will be able to use for a new and unimaginable leap. The result will be such important as the one that humans have reached in the passage from gathering to a conscious food and manufactures production.

Social production first

The idea of a social brain, a collective body composed by all human beings, is quite an ancient one. Pre-Socratic Greeks considered it as normal and before, the original oriental philosophy merged the individual with the whole of nature and the species.

This idea had no way to originate but from an actual condition that humanity had been experiencing before. We know almost nothing about social relations during the Prehistoric age, but we do know that, at its end, some pre-civilian human societies already had a complex organization, even though they didn't know about later social categories, such as slavery or developed forms of the political State. Urbanized groups from the latter middle-eastern Neolithic, either the first dynasties of the Egyptians, as well as the pre-Columbian populations, the pre-Greek Minoans or the inhabitants of the Indus Valley (before the Arian invasion) hadn't yet achieved a social structure based on property and the archaeological stratifications revealed a way of life having residuals of the ancient organic primitive communism.

Today (thanks to technology, organization and science), production and reproduction of the human species can only be achieved through methods which have nothing in common with the ancient fractioned activity of individuals or groups of individuals. Having (the social productive power) reached a high level of maturity; the idea is relegated to the history of philosophy. Meanwhile, the practical demonstration of mankind returning to an organic social structure is taking form. Obviously, capitalism exasperates the individual alienation and pushes to its limit the separation between Man and its labour, between social production and private appropriation. Notwithstanding, amongst all historical ages, the one we're living in is accomplishing to rise labour socialization at its most and it is therefore paving the way towards a new society.

If the idea of a new society is a sterile utopia, on the other hand the typical conditions of the future society actually already exist within capitalism, as Marx proved. There are conditions which are pushed to their extremes by capitalism itself, and which bring all the potential required for it to be overcome. Moreover this are the basis from which Marx and Engels started to write their criticism of the German philosophy, laying the foundations of a science able to overcome all the philosophies.

What are the conditions for the overcoming of capitalism? Within this society, situations which are able to reproduce an embryonic form of the future society can't exist. Seeing imaginary fragments of communism around us would be short-sighted and would mean restraining the power of the actual forces that push for the change and which are certainly not showing themselves in such explicit ways. No "practical" model of communism (either political parties, or specifically organized communities or events hidden in the society etc) can represent the power of total negation springing from this society itself.

An isolated communist community could, for example, get along without property and relegate the law of value to the external world, but this is a really mean result compared with the dissolution of the value itself. The point is not to identify a specific communistic ‘object', but to recognise the action of communism over the bases of the capitalist society itself.

Human beings can no more produce as individuals, but just as a social being, especially in harmony with a fully-socialized environment. The social structure becomes one with the productive structure, and the contradiction between production and market becomes explosive. This is because production and distribution have a different nature in the capitalist system. Contradictions between social production and private appropriation, between productive plan and distributive anarchy, and between alienated use value and realized exchange value do not exist within the productive system where no value exchange exists but just an activity finalised to one aim. The entire capitalist society, at its maximum development, would need to work like a factory does. It ought to be regulated by a rational project. This is what lies in the bosom of the productive forces, and that's exactly what bourgeois society refuses, since if everything worked like in a factory, there would be no capitalism at all.

As soon as capitalism accomplishes to socialize production all over the globe, the fully-socialized labour begins to interfere with the structure of the society itself. This is a totally automatic and unconscious process as regards the traditions and ideology of the dominant class. Furthermore, as real forces emerge, the ideological superstructure shows all its impotence. Bourgeoisie itself is, therefore, forced to unconsciously confirm some Marxist categories in its economical and cultural schemes: for instance, the acceptance of the theory of value in the calculation of total production, or the use of unified models of knowledge. All of this is closely related to the development of the social brain.

Capitalists are not concerned about how different the present society is from the animal kingdom; in other words, how near humanity could be to a conscious life as a species. We should anyway consider that big powers force the scientists to recognise a particular revolutionary change with respect to other epochs. This is why, during some our past meetings, we took as a possible background material Gesture and Speech by Leroi-Gourhan. In the volume II, after an interesting exam about invariant based transformation of the physiological forms (ending with the peculiar human conquest of the external space by the extension of senses and strength) we can find some passages about the communication signs on which existence is based, and afterwards about how that complex social and material human machine works. Here, the author can't avoid dealing with information and the mechanism of data sharing; those data are at the base of Human knowledge and allow the complex productive and reproductive machine to work. From now on, we must expressively talk about communication within the social brain instead of simple transfer between two or more biological brains.

Although Leroi-Gourhan surpasses all the clichés used by the majority of scientists, he obviously does not use ‘our' terms. He keeps using a traditional evolutionistic terminology, even if he underlines the greater contradiction in the current Human evolution: the enormous gap lying between the evolutions of biological individual and of its social beings. The brain development is no longer taking place into the cranium, but outside of it. It no longer involves cells accretion and their connections, but the increasing of relations among humans and among the objects they produce. This leads to an intelligent brain-like system, though much more extended and articulated. This entire system is by the time something further than the sum of its parts.

 

The need for a memory of the species

In the quoted book, we can find a chapter on information transmission as cumulated memory. Now, talking about accumulation means that we need to detect a constantly increasing memory power (in order to accumulate, the memory needs to empower ‘hardware' capacities). It is true though, that the biological brain mostly empowers through relations among its elementary particles, but here the limit is represented by their numbers and the volume they fill. The memory of the species contains much more than each individual brain does, and individuals cannot biologically transmit everything they record. This must not be underestimated: the biological way to transmit genetic or social memory requires coupling, reproduction, upbringing children, teaching-learning and experiencing. All these things can be achieved by simple relations amongst individuals within the primordial social unit which is the family. Transmission by social way, instead, takes place through a more complex network, including isolated groups of individuals as well as all the stable structures they make. Anyone transmitting can do it simultaneously with millions of people, otherwise they can store data somewhere (in a library), making them available to memory in differed times and spaces.

Following this thread, we spontaneously wonder: how can the human mnemonic capacity expand if the biological brain doesn't? It is now clear that the word "man" actually stands for species, and that memory becomes a supra-individual fact (belonging to a number of individuals), while, as evolution proceeds, it break loose from individuals to become something totally new if compared to either the ‘brain-tank' or to the collective ability of recording and transmitting.

The evolving human brain has expanded in terms of cube centimetres and, probably, of complexity. But if social relations progress in a geometrical way (which means a visible progression estimated in decades, or, recently, in years), on the other hand the biological evolution grows within thousands or hundreds of thousands years. Our species has memorized its knowledge and its history, although our brain-mass is more or less the same as the Neanderthals' one. How do we manage to solve this contradiction?

Luckily, Man didn't have to expand the volume of its brain to a barrel. Social development (production and reproduction of the species) has caused memory to evolve outside the brainpan, sticking itself onto a complexity of objects and relations. Each organism develops from the genetic memory written into reproductive cells and lives on individual epigenetic memory which allows him to adapt and face specific environmental conditions. Mammals (which, in terms of epigenetic memory, represent the highest levels of the evolution ladder) can accumulate and memorize individual experiences, but all of them disappear with individual's death. Unifying those memories with the species one requires biological times and it is anyway still unclear how basic knowledge becomes inborn. (One generation in any case is not enough. This shows the fusion between the individual and the species in the animal kingdom.

Mankind apparently represents the unique exception to this rule, for which individual's function is usually underlined and where the species is put in the background; but this is arbitrary. It's just mankind, instead, that truly exalts the function of the species while individuals seem to become the essential elements in society and in "thinking" as well. In the human evolutionary ladder, individual thoughts and experiences get very soon stored and become transmissible to the surrounding environment and to each other. Information get stored and transmitted yet during an individual lifetime, not only to nearby people (family, clan), but also to an undefined numbers of men, regardless of the distances. Individual activity is merged to the collective activity and experiences of the species as never before. Experience does not disappear with the death, and there's no need to wait for a huge evolutionary period for it to become instinctual. So, this process of memory externalization comes together with the loss importance of individuals, while the species' power rises. In the human society individuals acquire very different features regarding knowledge and action and this turns to be an advantage for the evolution unlike in the animal kingdom (where the difference aims essentially to a good reproductive result). In the human reproductive process, difference brings additional information to the whole specie, not only from a sexual/biological point of view.

This process is bounded to the possibility, for individuals, to transmit experience. So there must be:

- at least two individuals capable of understanding each other (and of course to reproduce)

- different but shared experiences, which means a common language and a common productive activity in which these qualities can be shown in order to achieve a common collective goal. Animals need at least two individuals of opposite sex to represent the species (thing that by itself eradicates the idealistic concept of individual). But mankind needs thousands and thousands of different individuals, whom, isolated (eradicated from collective memory and knowledge), are even less than an animal alone.

Instilling the myth of self into individuals and, at the same time, de-individualizing them as appendixes of the world of commodities, capitalism causes individuals to become schizophrenics. That is why the current dream of the average Americans, bored about capitalism, is to withdraw in forests or deserts, but having a technological home taking energy from the sun and an internet-connected pc, so that they don't die as social beings. Isolation with technology and information is nonsense, as far as both are exclusively social facts. Each individual action or experience is nothing but relation with the world surrounding (including other humans) and then information in the end merging in collective acts and experiences. That is why every human experience can't fade and die as individuals do.

 

Language and writing

All Marx's work is about studying the relations between humans inside political economy; in other words, inside the process of production and reproduction of the species, which has reached (with capitalism) its maximum historical-technical efficiency. The current system contains the memory of all previous human societies, and it's capable to develop it, transform it and retransmit it: during millenniums, our species has developed specific instruments for this purpose. Language evolution, for example, has allowed oral transmission through more sophisticated mnemonic cerebral procedures, while the gradual introduction of writing has allowed the transmission of information through more rational and efficient mnemonic procedures. Banked and codified outside of individuals, knowledge could be distributed to more individuals, also far in time and space. But language and writings couldn't evolve without material production. Human labour, related tools and products (all kept together by language) represent the technical skill of a specific age. Each technique contributes to form a collective memory and even the simplest tool ever, the more ergonomic one, is nothing but the exteriorization of human life into an inert object: it is the link among the social brain, the local biological energy and the production for others.

The first forms of mnemonic techniques are very ancient. A bone from 30,000 years ago (on which a not so primitive calculation system is incised) was found in Czechoslovakia: 55 notches divided into two groups (30 and 25), further divided into subgroups of 5. Archaeological findings and stratifications are the proof of a memory. The "inorganic organized material" is human's describable heritage, the result of humans interacting with nature through the production of crafts and through the essential act of modifying it.

Until writing was introduced (not ‘invented' as some say, as long as many steps of social maturity leads from notches on bones to alphabetical writing) in primitive societies, knowledge was orally transmitted. Language, epic and myth handed down the unity of the group from a generation to another. They were its memory; they represented its peculiar characteristics. This type of transmission lasted longer than we use to think: until the late Renaissance and beyond, Guilds used to teach apprentices without any type of writings.

In this way no connections were possible between various techniques, and therefore between differently memorized bodies of knowledge. Each one remained independent and the unification of knowledge was only sporadically achieved through rare aggregations of individuals joining their workshops. Nevertheless, they kept on transmitting in a linear way, as inside the biological cycle of which society seemed to be a copy. This way, within local Guilds, there was cohesion among people as there is parental cohesion in a family. Anyway the artisan's system tended to division more than to cohesion (in Paris, in the XIII century, there were 15.000 censed and taxable citizens people, of which, 5000 were artisans, registered to 300 professions).

Writing-based transmission initially established itself as an extension of notches-on-bones strategy: the firsts symbols were almost used for stock lists, handling of objects, animals and men, or time counting. So a need was felt to memorize data by fixing them on matter (such as stones, wood etc…), not only in the memory. Memorized tales or myths can be repeated without any variations, as the acts for making flint-stones. But memorizing stocks, men or quality/quantity concepts that change through time, requires a common mnemonic technique and, most of all, fixed supports that everyone can recognise and reproduce. Homeric aoidos could remember several poems and transmit them with admirable cohesiveness, but he couldn't memorize the performances of social activities, whose tools and men constantly change. That's why "book-keeping" was born before "literature". Even before literature itself, humanity needed the writing techniques to set codes, laws, myths, ingenious numerical systems and, most of all, history. Humanity needed, in short, to memorize all those things that constitute the core of social organization. The complete development of writing (really a mnemonic prosthesis) would be finally achieved with the alphabet, which allows an easy and infinite text composition and, therefore, essays and literature. Arguing with Herodotus, Thucydides wants to make a point: "To hear this history rehearsed, for that there be inserted in it no fables, shall be perhaps not delightful. But he that desires to look into the truth of things done, and which (according to the condition of humanity) may be done again, or at least their like, he shall find enough herein to make him think it profitable. And it is compiled rather for an everlasting possession, than to be rehearsed for a prize" (The History of the Peloponnesian War, 1, 22).

Of course we know that history is instead a transitory possession of the social classes who write it, and that it will be written again and again, until classes will disappear. But the development of a tool such the writing, allows, anyway, the transmission to future generations of a great quantities of knowledge regardless of the living presence of those who transmit it. The invention of printing also made it possible the unlimited multiplication of supports aimed to memory transmission. Two or three centuries later, humanity knew a real quality leaps: during the ‘700, the recovery of the memory of the species finally peaked. No other epoch has known the offer of such a large quantity of millenary cumulated knowledge on grand-scale. All those texts which has been transmitted by ancients are reprinted, all the cumulated knowledge is translated (literature, science, geography, philosophy, law, arts). Social memory adjusted itself to the needs of blooming social production and increasing demographical indexes. Thanks to procedures involving text structure as cross-references, dictionaries, compilations of writings with thematic index and so on, the qualitative rationalization of the classification and research is done meanwhile quantitative production proceeds. The rationalization of the knowledge of an era was finally achieved with the encyclopedia, by summing different mnemonic devices.

 

Memories of machines and encyclopedias

Encyclopedias generally lead to a great leap concerning the collective memory. Diderot and D'Alembert's great encyclopedia is composed by several comprehensive manuals linked together into an organic dictionary. As a whole, these manuals were collective knowledge united in a social instrument. An instrument not just limited to summarize written knowledge (Enlightenment's encyclopedia was already interdisciplinary, as we would say today) but, as it's been noticed, representing a real weapon against the Ancien Régime.

At the time, the art of documentation had developed together with mechanical automation (which will be later applied to industry). This important fact allows us to draw a parallel - a bold one indeed, but we are reckless – between memorization techniques based on printing and the mechanical memorization of movements. Self-moving machines were known in ancient times too (Qin Shiuandgi, the Great Wall and the Terracotta Army's emperor, had a special love for them), but only in the eighteenth century mechanical robots could reach a peak of perfection, allowing their rapid development as instruments. They were mainly based on a movement memorized into the matter, being either wood, bronze or steel. A barrel organ, for example, memorizes every note of a tune by making pins hit some preset metal foils: the sound comes from the machine itself, not from whoever is turning the crank: it is memorized into the inert matter. Music will always be the same, regardless of who is operating the instrument: it is no longer in the head of a person, but in the machine, outside of him.

The highest efficiency ever achieved (before cybernetics) in the manufacturing of automatons is, therefore, the animation of barrel organs through the cams, which can be many and moved at the same time, and each one of them can set a movement, conserved in each barrel organ as a memory. Talking both about the Encyclopédie and an automaton, every single word-gear-cam contains a fraction of the total memory. Between the weapon-production of Vaucanson and the weapon-program of Diderot, born in the same period and within the same social conditions, there is the same relation existing between a computer and the contents of its memory.

The animation of one cam can produce the infinite repetition of a movement, while multiple cams produce a complex animation. The movement previously foreseen by a man is memorized into an object able to reproduce it externally and regardless to the human presence.

Encyclopedia too has been built over fragmented memory (alphabetical instead of mechanical) and organized in stratified and complex hierarchies. Each element taken alone (the letters of the alphabet) represents just a fraction of the total memory, but to sum of twenty or thirty same letters gives at the end a whole which is superior to its single. In fact, it gives birth to an infinite series of combinations used to represent a virtually infinite knowledge. Whoever observes the mechanism of the ancient or the eighteenth century automaton can easily recognize something universal: a gooseneck, a cam's profile, a crank gear somehow reproducing a memorized movement. The weaving machine, the sewing machine, the barrel organ, mechanical calculators or automatic lathes and most of the mechanical devices existing nowadays, still work on the same principle, a basic principle being a great discovery for humanity.

A cam is a structure coordinated to a spinning axle. It memorizes, in his peripheral form, a specific operation by transforming circular motion into rectilinear motion. Car owners should know that, around fuel explosion, in the combustion chamber, there are ‘services' made possible by mechanisms similar to the the old automatons ones. (transformation of the alternated rectilinear motion of the pistons into circular motion, then transformed again into alternated rectilinear motion in the opening/ closure of the valves, in the gasoline pump and in the opening/closure of the coil ignition ).

With a series of cams, we can achieve a more complex memorization and even call it in a pompous way, a ‘program'. The classical program of a washing-machine or an embroidery-machine is based on a simple collection of cams. These programs produced the same results that, later on, would have been achieved with the application of computers applied in the production system. By mistake, we have ended up assigning the faculty of data memorization only to these particular electronic instruments. But, as we have seen, every barrel organ can memorize music and mechanical calculators had a considerable memory capacity available for complex operations.

One of those was built in the eighteenth century by Leibnitz. Afterwards, "packs" of gears (working as a sequence or at the same time) were going to offer much more power to mechanical calculation (until the introduction of programmable mechanic calculators, foresaw in the nineteenth century and build in the twentieth century). Adam Smith was the first to perceive that the division of manufacturing labour into elementary operations (‘packs') was going to trigger an incredible increase in production. La Riche de Prony applied this intuition to intellectual work: asked by the French government to draw up logarithmic and trigonometric tables with 14, 19 and 25 decimals, he divided the long and complex operations of calculation amongst co-workers (other ‘packs'), obtaining a faster and almost effortless result. Thinking over La Riche de Prony's profitable solution, Charles Babbage, in the middle of the nineteenth century, thought about a machine capable to realize those tables, since humans made too many mistakes. This project grew into the detailed design of a powerful universal calculation machine, never realized because of its extreme expensiveness and need of precision, both of them not achievable at that time.

At the apex of the industrial revolution, when grandiose (although less sophisticated) projects were blessed with great funds, neither the designer's personal capacity, nor the money from the Royal Society has been enough to complete the prototype of the ‘analytical engine'.

In terms of functional logic Babbage's machine anticipated today's computers. Its memory was realized in the shape and position of every single component, while speed was achieved by their multiplication. Its principle, consisting in accomplishing simples and fasts mathematical operations throughout contemporary-acting agents (again "packs"), remained until the calculators still in use few years ago. While the passage between mechanic and electronic was taking place, some futureless calculating machines were built, such as Olivetti's Logos. It was a witness of cleverness and mechanical precision with a great memory power, nevertheless it was defeated.

 

Genesis of the productive automaton

These machines were the extension of the automatons built before the eighteenth century, which were not mere puppets moving to amuse ladies, but vanguards of a capitalist production that was becoming system of machines. Descartes' mechanistic philosophy considered biological bodies as perfect machines, and Vaucanson became famous for his transposition of the complex motion of men and animals: he also built a mobile duck, made up of more than thousand parts. But to this inventor, differently from the ancient builders of ‘philosophical' machines, was immediately given an official distinction and was named general inspector of silk manufacturers, where he reorganized productions on new criteria. Above all, he applied his knowledge in inventing a new loom which is nothing but a complex cam. A little later, Jacquards carried out this idea and obtained a series of punch cards, the first real example of a program memorized into the matter.

So, at the beginning of nineteenth century, we already have a complex productive and social system having a historical collective memory (libraries) and operative memory (encyclopaedia, automatons, and punch cards). Meanwhile, a more and more extended apparatus for the exploitation of natural energy (thermal, human and social) and a network of roads, factories, railroads, ships and telegraphs was blooming. Fully-developed capitalism (passing from formal subsumption of labour to the Capital) established itself onto this network.

The only way for us to define the so-called progress is not civilization poisoning, but the potential liberation of mankind from its slavery through the increasing social power of labour. Naturally this process (which is following social evolution instead of biological evolution and is springing from the cranium subordinating individual to the species) is something completely different from the one on which a society of bees, ants, termites, beavers, or other quite well developed social mammals, is based upon.

The invention of printing, the Encyclopaedia or the following "electronic brain" does not represent the historical passage from a single brain to the brain of many individuals, neither a generalization of an individual thanks to his cells (as it happens in a hive). The millenary passage to the actual powerful collective brain of the human species is the result of an ancient quality leap. Today's globalized world is not much like a ‘new' realization based on specific technologies (as some present scientific schools claim) but, instead, it is the never-ending development of the brain of the species, which, from the first tool made up in the society until to present days, is simply using more and more powerful and complex instruments.

Today, there is a perfect continuity (as never before) in the use that the last ruling class (bourgeoisie) makes of the growing power of social labour and, therefore, of social memory. Being the results of the historical accumulation of the economical, scientific and cultural heritage of society, computer and everything surrounding does have a class content, determined by the own needs of the capitalist organization: quantification, automation, control, dominion. However, reinforcing so much the social memory, it represents an embryo of the potential breaking of the capitalism limits, at least because of the acceleration it brings in all the ongoing processes (book-keeping, production, stock exchange, scientific calculation, etc…).

In the animal kingdom there is only a sum of automatic, instinct-based movements which are given by a species plan recorded inside the genome and only slightly integrated with the "learning". Differently, the human species is the result of memorized information linked together in a complex whole, used to reproduce objects, systems and relations according to a model, a project. This type of memory allows learning capacity to blow up. It is no longer a biological phenomenon requiring millions of years to achieve results, but a social phenomenon that can change a man (and so all men) within a small fraction of his life. While the genetic mutation (the base of biological evolution) needs a sexual transmission of characters and their diffusion through the same process through generations; social memory is reproducible and transmittable to millions of humans at the same time, and there's no need for couples, families or tribes to transmit it to the next generations.

Learning merges with teaching, individual memory merges with collective memory and the neural network of every individual merges with a collective network made of artefacts and communications which wrap up the Globe. The diffuse information, and the network of relations it creates, slowly begins to reproduce the same neural network even before men are completely aware of what this is. Individual memory, which becomes one with the collective intelligence, also links past to present and both of them with future: the past provides cumulated heritage and the present elaborates it. This ability to reproduce in an elaborated way reverses the natural praxis which consists of a trial-and-error process, while then human peculiarity is to have a project.

The world breaks into history thanks to humanity. Certainly all other living species have a history too but, with humans, history begins to leave spontaneity behind and reaches the level of control (or of "will", as idealists say). Even if a colossal disproportion still exists between the world of ‘natural' spontaneity and the one corresponding to determined scopes, as Engels says, there is yet a portion of human activity corresponding to a project more or less consistent with its goals,.

 

Emerging structures of the "new"

Project means application of a will in order to achieve a predetermined result; so it implies to foresee a future result. That's what we've called (referring to the social sphere) reversal of the praxis. Capitalist Man is able to reverse praxis within the production of commodities, but he is unable to do so in his social life. We can see the earth crust being covered with junky, useless goods as wells as with ingenious works, the latter being part of complex systems. Nevertheless those systems are dipped into a more general one, which is intrinsically anarchical, chaotic and beyond control, and whose knowledge is therefore handed in non-scientific ways. This system is by now revealing itself not only as useless, but even as harmful for the harmony of human life. Darwin - Engels says - had unconsciously described with bitter irony the human condition under capitalism: there's no place for human activities. Free competition, the struggle for existence, survival of the fittest, the law of the jungle and all the other categories that economists proclaim as the great product of capitalism, are nothing but the specific conditions of the animal kingdom.

Reformism has always tried to intervene, willing to change the state of things to make a ‘better' world, but all it can achieve is to "change the man who's turning the crank of the barrel organ": maybe he will be able to give it a more or less regular speed, but he can't change the music without changing the instrument itself. In the early sixties, Pietro Nenni (Italian socialist politician) stated that socialists had to participate in governing the country in order to enter in the room which keeps the system under control. It is typical, for reformists, to not be able to understand that the cables underneath the ‘control panel wired on purpose to follow a pre-determined plans. By pressing the buttons, no results will be achieved but those the system has been built for. We may say it has memorized all its functions in a defined structure, maybe more complex than the one of a barrel organ or of a cam, but with the same functioning. Its targets are in its form, so, to obtain something different, you have to substitute the device.

The change caused by the revolution of the productive capacities (which is ongoing and already represents one of the structures of the upcoming society) is much deeper than a simple alternation of specific mechanisms that suits different functions. In the new society, there will be a blooming of that kind of social intelligence that gather various gears in one articulated mechanism capable of self-learning, self-improvement and that will always establish new connections between the elements of the totality. This intelligence has no need to be created; it is already into the capitalist world as it is, at its high rate of maturity. Only today (many years after Marx) some scientists are beginning to realize the vanity of reformism in a complex system such as a market economy: the issue is not to remodel the old form, but to free the new one that rises from the self-organization skills of the system. Structures belonging to a new order are beginning to rise from the chaos of the present system. They can't be controlled by the specific organisms of today's relations of production and, by now, these structures do not coincide anymore with these relations. Such structures (as social production does) impress themselves into collective memory and they'll have the power to move humans to real and consequential actions. We infer that collective memory itself can't do anything else but to influence individuals, who are beginning to reason and move on the basis of communist categories (without even noticing it, until now). In Pietro Nenni's "control room", old wiring do not match anymore with the new mechanism that begins to create behind the panel: men are pushing buttons but nothing seems to happen and the machine keeps on going its own way, until a collective conscience rises from the totality of social forces (and, with this, we directly enter into the communist theory of the party).

To deepen the topic of self-regulation capacities and, as next step, of the self-learning capacities of the system, we can get back to the simplest existing gear (a cam), keeping in mind that what we are going to say is also valid for many other gears. As we saw, by changing the cam (the profile that memorizes an intended action) we change the result (the action we wanted). It is possible to mechanically reproduce different memories in order to obtain more complex results (like an embroidery or warp/weft combinations). It is also possible to apply movement through a steam engine, and, if we finally add a Watt's governor (to keep constant the energy of the system by correcting the quantity of steam and monitoring the quantitative of motion), then we obtain a cybernetic machine with a hint of intelligence. It's primitive, but of the same kind of the one predicted in ‘700 for Diderot's self-playing harpsichord that could be theoretically capable of self-reproduction too.

What we got here is simple mechanics (typical of the early industrial revolution), but we already have a portrayal of a self-regulating system following intended control parameters: exactly what capitalism has not been able to achieve in its entire existence with regards to society. Marx's statement on the contradiction between the development of productive capacities and the relations of production becoming a restraint is recognisable even in an archaic factory of the early ‘800.

The exploitation of coal and water energy through steam production would have been problematic without levers and pistons from ancient Greeks or without the 700's automatons, but the adjustment of energy thanks to feedback devices has pushed the entire system towards the first forms of non-animal intelligence. Energy tends to expand in uncontrollable and untamed ways: fire can go out, boilers can blow out and shafts can spin too fast and seize up or destroy machines. The self-control of the system (based on pre-determined parameters and imposed without human presence) is a leap for the functioning of the entire production of the species. It contains the elements of the most modern techniques and all the potential of expansion of the collective memory. It's a real revolution, not yet over. We have the demonstration that nature laws are, under capitalism, still ruling humanity and forcing it in non-historic relations of production. But, above all, we have the practical demonstration that men will be able to rule nature laws by reversing the natural praxis and to harmonize their own existence and production/reproduction with nature itself. All the potential of the future society is already in the specific features of mature capitalism.

 

From books to computers

We've always been interested in modern technology developments, which surpass the basic man-machine relation of workshops to include the whole society. In our texts, we repeatedly indicated the importance of modern productive techniques (especially that network of relationships inside the society that is electronic money, telecommunications, and that neural network represented by Internet). Because of that, we've been criticized as discoverers of meaningless facts and promoters of somewhat esoteric thesis. This is quite curious. Esoteric is one who deals with subjects restrained to very few people, while we were interested in facts that the whole world usually minds about.

We absolutely do not agree with those who claim those aspects being meaningless and even uninteresting. We are absolutely not affected by the bourgeoisie being schizophrenic on those topics (not talking about them but just utilizing the new instruments or, on the opposite, talking about them in messianic ways through more or less improvised or aggressive gurus). Our goal is to probe today's society in order to dig out all its potentials, especially those already imposed from the rising forces of the future society. One of the living manifestations of them is the self-organization of society following structures imposed by the always increasing socialization of labour and by a heavy dematerialization of the productive apparatus (which need less and less steel, factories, sheds, foundry and so on). This is closely connected to the fact that imperialism is transitional capitalism, as Lenin used to say.

The global structure of communications, the storage of data into extended memories (and their real-time or postponed processing) and the vanishing of time and space in human direct communication, all of this is part of the development of a collective brain. The collective brain that - as we said – the future society will find ready will be already for the great leap, comparable to the one humanity made stepping from harvesting in nature to producing food and artefacts.

Besides, the new techniques simply respond to a need always felt, and, by doing that, they expand old possibilities beyond the quantity/quality traditional threshold, as happened with the passage from ideograms or hieroglyphs to the more powerful and versatile alphabetical writing. It was still writing, but at the same time it was something much more complex and articulated. It is not a paradox for organized complexity to create simple things and that, with more or less thirty signs it is possible to describe the entire universal knowledge.

During the eighteenth century books represent those means of communication which adopt all the possible mnemonic tools related to language, summarizing the whole history of writing and becoming the base for the following process. Indexes, numbered paragraphs with hyperlinks, notes and marginal notes, introductions, historically relevant dedications, synthesis at the beginning of chapters, bibliographies linking to other books and so on, already are a complex structure of knowledge. They are the material support for thoughts and memory which have overflowed their natural container.

To its users, the structure of a modern software looks like the transformation of all their needs, exactly as it was for the book readers. Even inside the software, inside the computer itself and within a network of computers interacting with their operators, we can find a similar men-books-men relation. What we will attempt to demonstrate is that the relations developed throughout new technologies are, in a way, invariants (if compared to past ones) but, at the same time, they allow collective memory and communication to make a quality leap.

Printed knowledge has remained essentially unchanged since two centuries and libraries themselves have not really changed, except for today's computerized superstructures. But it's a meaningful change that we simply can't ignore. Even in the classic library the evolutionary process is toward the outside world. Memory escapes the book and become a complex system between books, regulated by dynamic laws. Only potentially, since sometimes costs are insuperable for capitalism, the computerization in modern libraries implies not only filing, indexes or subject division, but above through hyperlinks all the unification of single texts with their totality. Those no longer allow a passive searching (we are not simply looking for what we want) but a learning while searching, which means that a further information is added to the one we had at the beginning. We don't just find single books (even if properly catalogued under coherent topics) but brain-like relations between books and topics, books and books and topics and topics.

It couldn't be otherwise. Collective memory has reached such a quantity of cumulated knowledge that it's impossible to pretend from a single brain, or isolated groups of brains, the acknowledgement of even a single field of knowledge (imagine the content of all libraries). This means that knowledge is memorized out of the humans that have produced it, once and for all.

Capitalism is unable to treasure this knowledge. Ancient books forgotten in improper places get irreparably lost. Sometimes, the existence of immense resources of knowledge is noticed after its destruction, due to floods, fires or earthquakes. Important modern contribution can remain unnoticed, since nobody is able to control hundreds of thousands of scientific works published every year. Yet, knowledge printed on the paper-brain, memorized and linked together in the brain-library is self-reorganizing thanks to the new techniques. We say self-reorganizing advisedly, because, as millions of computers enthusiasts work for free to develop software that companies will sell for crazy profits, in the social brain anonymous enthusiasts bring back to light forgotten treasures, translating and publishing them at their own expense on the Net.

 

The external cerebral cortex

Huge investments are made for few minutes of silly advertising, but no founds are available to preserve the memory of the species. So, while the State organized monsters don't work out (as the Mitterrand's library in Paris) or have problems of gigantism (as the Library of Congress in Washington), the real subsoil based on the productive capacities is going on, and spontaneous memory is giving signs of self-organization by recording, copying, entering the super-protected capitalist temples, mocking copyrights, secrets and producing software remaining outside the market. Inactive knowledge contained in the collective book of humanity has became dynamic thanks to instruments that (allowing to consult texts regardless of the place they are in) make obsolete those enormous collections that can be destroyed one for all by fires or catastrophes.

Today's computerized collective memory is just an embryo of a much higher potential. It could be possible to enter this memory through screens, multiplied and disposed at will. The content of a certain field of knowledge (indexed, catalogued, summarized, linked and referred to the originals and other texts in a click) would become immediately available. This net is already made of hubs capable of virtually unlimited expansion and elaboration, so that any kind of construction or reconstruction of interactive paths is possible. This medium naturally includes the ancient instruments (such as indexes, catalogue and cross-references); it empowers the relatively recent ones (files) and links them together so that it ends up in representing a real "external" cerebral cortex even if rudimentary and still developing. In fact, the true cortex is much more complex than the one in embryo in the human society marching towards his liberation from the slavery of necessity. If on one side indexes, card filing and libraries are memories by all means; on the other they do not have the capacity of self-memorization: they contain only what humans put in. Therefore, somebody could argue that, as long as we are far from the realization of an artificial intelligence, this kind of collective brain will be always a reflex of the kind of society men lives in (the capitalist one in our case). So in the end we could say goodbye to our social brain as an anticipation of the future society.

That is true, but we wouldn't be communists if we took no interest in the potentials of the phenomenon. As we are concerned about the social brain, and as we start from the supposition that new society won't rise thanks to god's will but as a consequence of the accumulation of forces in the old one, we have to investigate the union between capitalist humanity and the anticipated forms of the future society.

In our heritage there are already sufficient indications to define our research, we just have to enucleate them and follow the thread:

1) Factory doesn't produce goods exchangeable with others equivalents. The passage from a phase to another takes place accordingly to the requirements of the production plan; and the control of the whole process is obtained calculating the number of produced pieces, which is not accountancy of value: the product becomes a commodity only when introduced in the market. An enormous portion of society is, therefore, potentially out of the laws of value (and therefore of the laws of capitalism).

2) The development of capitalism makes the capitalists themselves superfluous, replaced as they are in their original functions by remunerated functionaries. At this point, proved that the target of the Capital is to reproduce itself through the socialization of production (and not to enrich capitalists), the "potential non-existence of capitalism" is proved too.

3) The persistence of capitalism produces a huge waste of social labour which can't be reduced by the simple distribution of profits amongst everybody. At the present stage of development, social production capacity is already adequate to resolve all the problems of humanity (being either immediate or not), so the present society only survives for political reasons not for other tasks to be carried out.

4) Therefore, inside the present society, elements corresponding to the features of the future society must already exist. Otherwise, any attempt to make it blow would be quixotic.

This situation, just outlined with statements which have been and will be developed in other texts, necessarily produces the instruments needed for the functioning of the future society; an anticipation of that social brain that will be the party of tomorrow's humanity after the extinction of States, classes and parties.

 

Einstein, Marx and the social brain

Even if the production of intelligent machines is still far, the problem is not just a simple newsmagazine curiosity. The point is not to make hypothesis about a specific machine with faculties that can be assimilated to human intelligence, but to establish if intelligence is a prerogative of an individual/machine or if it springs from a system made of individuals and machines interacting with each other.

Being a problem involving the evolution of our species and of our intelligence, to deny the existence of a social brain means to deny that the Australopithecus has evolved in the following forms and intelligences. It means to deny that the Homeric aoidos has evolved into Tucidide.

It is time, therefore, for the individual to accept that his biological parcelled intelligence is obsolete since humans have become social animals throughout the production necessary to their reproduction. The ‘private' brain of an individual must stand a comparison with the collective one belonging the species, exactly in the same way as, without complaining, his hand stands a comparison with the force of a fifty tons excavator, or his steps with a jet. We're so used in thinking of our brain as the key of our success as a species, that we forget the real sequence: brain has evolved after bones and body, and after the acquisition of the erect posture. The brain particularly developed after humans learnt to live and reproduce through the social labour, even if at the beginning it was primitive. It's just in relatively recent epochs that the brain developed in complexity, in parallel with the fabrication of tools, the use of fire and the development of hunting techniques with improved weapons (such as slings, propellers, arches or boomerangs). The brain was built by the labour and it is the social labour that keeps the social brain growing.

This shows that humans become living fossils as long as capitalism persists, still so attached to a typical natural society's behaviour. Men have already produced a social brain which is applied to production just in order to increase capitals. They see it and analyze it, but are unable to use it for the benefit of the specie and its harmony with nature. It will never happen without the rise of a new society able to upset either the way of thinking and the ideology shaped by the ruling class in the epoch of the complete subsumption of labour (and of human life) to the Capital.

The individual brain, with his cortex and neurons, is certainly a wonderful organ, but is now insufficient, as insufficient are now hands, teeth, eyes and the language itself. The definitive detachment from the world of necessity for the one of freedom presupposes the defence of this freedom in order to not regress, as happened in ancient civilizations. The detachment and the passage wouldn't be possible without the development of the social brain. On the other hand, if man remained as he is today, without the development of the social brain and of a new society using the social brain's benefits right to their full potentials, this brain would inevitably prevail over him, as in a sci-fi novel. At his times, Marx observed human slavery increasing through the capitalist machine, but that was a formal slavery, of an increased exploitation. Today's slavery is finally complete and real, as long as men are fully integrated in the cycle and can't escape from it, whether they are productive or not, factory workers or capitalists, or even member of a not-specifically capitalist class, like farmers owning a single small parcel. The fact that psychiatry is, today, forced to face pathological man-society-machine relations is a meaningful sign of this worst slavery, since humans are really 'freed', permanently freed from work because of the machines. They are, in fact, excluded from the productive cycle as they are unemployed or fictitious employee, mere grain of sand in the mass of relative surplus population. The externalized power of humans has evolved and, if society doesn't change, machines as a system will sound the death knell for the biological specie much earlier than Diderot's harpsichord could manifest self-reproductive capacities.

There are incredible proofs of the functioning and accomplishments of the social brain. We mentioned Vaucanson, Jacquard, and Watt. We could mention other great scientists and inventors, but only until a certain point in history. Roughly until the time when Lenin too wrote that social labour had taken over the world. Since that point, individuals have lost their functions, even as instruments to concentrate other people's knowledge. What remains is labour related to social production: in research, invention and in the technological progress (more and more anonymous and linked to industry). After the First World War, there was no longer science not being the product of a collective brain. The most remarkable but not alone example is Einstein: he benefited from the physic and mathematic of previous epochs and (in a certain way, as Marx did) reached the highest results: he did not discover something new, but he linked up what others had already discovered.

 

The party: a social class organ, a species organ

For example, nobody "invented" computers. They are the result of parallel intuitions born in America, England and Russia, later applied to military researches. Moreover, nobody can claim as his the further developments such as software, or the first rudimentary operating systems. Nobody can claim to be the "inventor" of any specific "invention", as long as what we are talking about sprang directly from the collective work of thousands, and that every partial result was meanwhile shared with other thousands. The precursors of the logic standing behind computers, the inventors of microchips and also the first Internet developers are all unknown to the general public, and, moreover, they didn't become rich.

The evolution of computers and programs has mostly taken place out of the firm's offices. It is the result of millions of free working hours, of games, of a passion that has been infecting an enormous quantity of anonymous enthusiasts, who were out of every specific productive cycle. For the first time in the history of capitalism the spontaneous unfolding of a collective research (based on individual social cells far in space, but linked by technical results and with a common goal) preceded the commercialization of cognitive and technical results. These results have been lately taken by industries as a possession, and exalted through specific researches and investments. IBM itself, progenitor in the production of big computers, has been the last one to understand the potentialities of "personal" computers, and this adjective itself shows how far they were from imagining the spread of this strange machine, which simulates mental processes quite badly and that is less smart than an amoeba. In the epoch of maximum socialization and of fast telecommunications, on the other hand, "personal" computer became quite soon a non-sense: probably the future of this constantly evolving instrument will be prosthesis of human senses, capable of connecting with the universal web of a dynamic knowledge with no need for "personals" hardware and software.

It's also interesting to notice how this genuine product of the social brain is totally underutilized in a society that, after all, can't really understand its functions. Today's kids use to play with much more powerful computers than those who made the space missions possible, and most of the users only uses computers to write letters every now and then or to chat.

The meaning of the development of relations in a more and more integrated world (in which the Net stands out) deserves a careful examination starting from its productive and social premises. That is because the question about the expansion of the neural network of the social brain is strictly connected to the primary function of the revolutionary party and to its development. This party is not just to be intended as a specific organisation to direct the fight against the opposing classes, but it has to be meant as the political organ of the last revolutionary class in history, the one that will have the duty to stop the succession of class societies. When its historical duty will be accomplished, the revolutionary party will extinguish itself together with the State. Things would be different if we considered this "party" as the specific future organ that will shape itself on the previously developed social intelligence, the one that will have the duty to finally harmonize men with that nature they are a part of. In this sense the party never dies: it is handed over through invariants and transformations, and it always represents a collective memory; a class memory at first, and then the memory of the species.

 

RECOMMENDED READINGS:

 

- Karl Marx/Friedrich Engels, German Ideology, Chapter 1 "Feuerbach" (on the overcoming of the "sentence" in the study of phenomena, and on communism as a real process instead of an ideal).

- Karl Marx, Grundrisse (on the present relationships already adequate to the future society).

- Karl Marx, Capital, Volume 1, "Machinery and modern industry, 1. The development of machinery" (on the importance of the communication network and of the global automaton represented by the system of machines).

- Communist Left, Riconoscere il comunismo (Italian only), (on the death of philosophy, and on the necessity to understand communism as the anticipation of the future society through the organic party).

- Denis Diderot, D'alembert's Dream (a powerful anticipation on topics like the overcoming of individuals, and the development of universal relations; a text used by Lenin in Materialism and empiric-criticism).

- André Leroi-Gourhan, Gesture and Speech (on the evolution of humans through the material development of external - and therefore social - memory and intelligence, instead of an evolution concerning biological individuals).

 

Source

Rivista n. 0 del 2000

Level of Control (1-5)

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