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The Neuroplastic Dilemma: Consciousness and Evolution

The history of the last fifty years can be read from the point of view of the relation between subjectivity and automation, the replacement of a living process by a technological artifact whose performances replicate the logical and functional succession of human acts. In the history of capitalism, this replacement has a double goal: increasing workers’ productivity and subduing the political force of organized workers.

In the last decades of the century, the digital network became the engine of the increase in productivity in every branch of social production. The worldwide movement of students that culminated in the year 1968 can be viewed as the moment of anticipation and early emergence of this new social potency: students are the living embodiment of the general intellect, and the antiauthoritarian movements were the beginning of a long-lasting conflict between cognitive workers and capital.

The process of automation has not only replaced the physical acts of production: following the introduction of information technology, automation has massively transformed cognitive activity itself. The capture and subsumption of cognitive activity is the basic condition of semiocapital, which is based on the valorization and accumulation of signs (semia) as economic assets. In order to capture cognitive activity (attention, memory, language, imagination), semiocapital must insert automatic procedures into the field of cognition itself. Therefore, automation is not only the effect of the cognitive action that leads to the change of work organization; it also implies the reduction of cognitive activity to algorithmic procedures, and the insertion of automatisms into the social existence of the general intellect.

This process poses a major threat to the autonomy of subjectivation: language, memory, and imagination are more and more performed by machines, and the human learning process is more and more pervaded by the automated process of enunciation.

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