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Philosophical Thought

The legacy of P. Feyerabend: a look from the digital realities of the XXI century

Kolesova Ol'ga Valentinovna

ORCID: 0000-0001-6274-2323

Doctor of Philosophy

Kolesova Olga Valentinovna Ph.D., Associate professor of Department of Information Technology in Humanities Research of Lobachevsky State University of Nizhny Novgorod National Research University

603155, Russia, Nizhny Novgorod region, Nizhny Novgorod, Kovalikhinskaya str., 62, sq. 18 G










Abstract: The article analyzes the ways of expressing the methodological message of P. Feyerabend, implemented by modern digital reality. The object of the study is the specifics of digital reality, and the subject is the forms of implementation of P. Feyerabend's methodological message in it. Using hypothetical-deductive and hermeneutic approaches, the author correlates the positions of P. Feyerabend's epistemological anarchism with the features of modern cyberphysical reality. The comparison of the first "counter-rule" the principle of proliferation is carried out in relation to the understanding of hybrid society and the metaverse. The principle of incommensurability, understood by Feyerabend as a condition for the absence of criteria for assessing the truth of the theory, is compared with the heterogeneity of the digital environment. The main conclusions of the study are the highlighted parallels between the principle of proliferation and the constant transformation of the actors of the digital society, evaluated from the standpoint of expanding the possibilities of creativity. The principle of incommensurability is compared with the constant generation of new conventions by the digital environment, the presence of heterogeneous modalities. The modern way of thinking is positioned in the discourse of the given "counter-rules" as the implementation of complex network thinking. Feyerabend's premise for the perception of archaic man correlates with the idea of cybernetic animism. The scientific novelty of the work consists in fixing the parallels of Feyerabend's theoretical premises and the reality of the modern hybrid world with its ways of thinking, revealing the internal contradiction of Feyerabend's position and the ambiguity of the embodiment of his methodological guidelines in a modern hybrid society.


epistemological anarchism, proliferation, incommensurability, digital reality, actor, complexity-network thinking, heterogeneous modalities, artificial intelligence, cybernetic animism, counter rule

This article is automatically translated. You can find original text of the article here.


2024 marks the centenary of the birth of the Austro-American philosopher of science Paul Feyerabend. The second half of the XX and the beginning of the XXI centuries are associated with the understanding of his methodological heritage from positions that cannot be called unambiguous. Along with his recognition as a bright representative of positivism, it is noted that various interpretations of the philosopher's work make his figure both attractive and repulsive [10, p. 422]. A. Sokal and J. Brikmon point to his deep knowledge of works in such disciplines as physics, history and philosophy of science, but at the same time note that Feyerabend was no stranger to the role of a buffoon, which was sometimes attributed to him [11, p. 75]. The philosopher appreciated the ability to accept paradoxes [15, p. 79], the position that he has the right not to know [13, p. 195], testifying to the responsibility of the scientist. His virtues included the ability to rise above trifles [7, p. 28], his determination [8, p. 6], the ability to feel the pulse of time, expressed in relativity and equality of all cognitive practices [12, p. 13].

In his research, the author has already positioned P. Feyerabend's method as an indicator of the mental expression of European science in the space of postmodern culture, having designated conceptual, normative and value components in it [4, 202 p.]. In connection with the upcoming anniversary of the birth of the philosopher, there is a reason to once again comprehend the method formulated by him, which has become the "banner of postmodernism". Bearing in mind that for P. Feyerabend, the problem of the scientific method is eliminated from the context of science into the context of culture as such [4, 194 p.], we believe it is possible to analyze the significance of the philosopher's research method as a kind of ontological attitude that has a value expression, manifested not only within the framework of science, but also implemented in culture. This study is part of the general study of the problem of the dynamics of the mentality of culture (culture is understood as a way of being a person), carried out by the author.

In this regard, it seems relevant to analyze the main provisions of the concept of "epistemological anarchism" proposed by P. Feyerabend from the point of view of their implementation in digital reality as a form of modern culture. The basic characteristics of digital reality are its descriptions given in the materials of the online events of 2021 initiated by the Internet of Things Research Center (Moscow) and the Department of Philosophy and Sociology of the Southern State University (Kursk), dedicated to the philosophical problems of cyberspace information technologies.

Considering the fact that the philosophical understanding of the concept of "digital reality" is a debatable problem, we will proceed from its understanding as a new quality of reality in which a person interacts with other objects thanks to electronic digital devices. Thus, the object of our research is the specifics of digital reality, and the subject is the forms of implementation in it of P. Feyerabend's methodological approach as a value ontological attitude.

The purpose of our research is to identify the forms of realization of P. Feyerabend's methodological message as a value ontological attitude of human activity in modern digital society and cognition.

The scientific novelty of the work consists in fixing the spread of P. Feyerabend's methodological ideas on the reality of the modern hybrid world with its ways of thinking.

The methodological basis of the article is axiological, hypothetical-deductive and hermeneutic approaches, as well as general scientific methods. The axiological approach allows us to position the functioning of culture as a system of values (objective meanings, according to G. Rickert). The hypothetical-deductive approach (P. A. Sorokin's version) allows the author to assume that the main ideas of P. Feyerabend, associated with the "expansion" of classical rationality, act in modern society not only as cognitive guidelines, but also as principles of the organization of life. The hermeneutic approach (G. G. Gadamer's version focused on the growth of knowledge) is used by the author in explaining the correlation of the main provisions of the Feyerabend concept with the phenomena of digital reality.

The main part

P. Feyerabend 's Epistemological Anarchism

The main provisions of the approach proposed by Feyerabend are connected with the rejection of the rationalistic tradition formed within the framework of the philosophy of science. Proceeding from the fact that any methodology is limited [12, p. 51], and calling for the expansion of the possibilities of cognition, Feyerabend proclaims the principle "everything is permissible" [12, p. 48]. He introduces "counter-rules", that is, rules opposite to those that lead to productive actions in the traditional sense. The principle of proliferation is the first "counterrule". It calls for encouraging hypotheses incompatible with confirmed and recognized theories. Feyerabend, including the sociological context as the basis of his methodology, believes that all people can put forward versions, regardless of their worldview and mental characteristics. The principle of proliferation contains, according to Feyerabend, "a necessary property of discovery" [12, p. 68]. He places great hopes on the pluralistic methodology, believing that it coincides subjectively arbitrary with objectively natural [12, p. 68]. He denies science the search for truth, believing that the movement of the whole (the development of knowledge of O. K.) is reduced to the premise of the sophists "to make the weak stronger" [12, p. 50].

The principle of incommensurability is the second "counter-rule". According to him, it is possible to develop hypotheses incompatible with the results of experiments [12, p. 50]. This allows any new theory to formulate facts that are not comparable with the facts of other theories that cannot confirm or refute what goes beyond its own limits. Compliance with the "counter-rules" and the implementation of "epistemological anarchism", according to Feyerabend, guarantees consistent coexistence of authors with very different views, since there are simply no criteria for evaluating their versions, that is, everything is permissible.

The rejection of the rationalistic tradition and the rethinking of rationality are associated with Feyerabend's understanding of the need to proceed in cognition from the principles of the pre-reflexive perception of man of the archaic era.Entering into a confrontation with traditional rationality, he imposes on the Mind all the "costs" of contemporary culture. In particular, his anger is directed at the oppressive concepts formed by reason, which, from his point of view, keep a person in fear, such as "Truth", "Justice", "Love", and finally, the very concept of "Reason". The value criteria of the Feyerabend concept are based on the ontological foundations of culture. For him, the importance is not only the rational perception of a person, but also his ideological and religious attitudes. Pluralism is at the heart of his understanding of humanity. Such piety becomes possible thanks to his vision of the peculiarities of the perception of an archaic person, which is characterized, in his opinion, by "tolerance" [12, p. 250]. The archaic man was not characterized by the intellectual unity inherent in his contemporaries, in which there is a combination of physical and spiritual principles. The ancient man can be described from the standpoint of "lack of compactness". Events for him, according to Feyerabend, were presented as a complex distribution of parts, into which a puppet body was inserted [12, p. 250]. Feyerabend believed that a world in which there are no meta-installations is more humane than the modern world. Archaic man added other people's myths and gods to his description of the world, without resisting them. According to Feyerabend, dehumanization is associated with the development by a person of such intellectual procedures as analysis, systematization, introduction of abstract concepts.

In our opinion, Feyerabend, being disappointed by the modern "one-dimensional" man of Western civilization, as well as in his time K. Jung turned to the archaic, believing that the opportunity to "relive the spirit" [17] would allow through familiarization with the irrational foundations of culture to reach a new level, to overcome the modern crisis.

The principle of proliferation and digital reality

Life is always richer and more unexpected than our various forecasts. Her new horizons turned out to be not a return to the irrational origins of culture, but an aggravation of rationality. This was confirmed by the digital reality created by man.

A vivid evidence of the manifestations of modernity, corresponding to the installations of P. Feyerabend, in our opinion, is the "reading" of the socalled "counter-rules" - proliferation and incommensurability, in the description of cyberphysical reality in the research of modern scientists.

Today, scientists talk about the emerging new reality, which they designate as mixed or augmented, in which the "virtual" and "material" are intertwined [1, p. 42]. They refer to the concept of a "hybrid society" by Stephanie Meyer, defined as represented by people and "embedded" digital technologies. E. Kuznetsov designates the concept of "metaverse", a virtual space built on the basis of physical reality [5].

Many modern authors believe that heterogeneous technological realities and related actors (acting individual or collective subjects) representing this hybrid environment are connected by only one common ground, which is temporal heterogeneity [1, p. 45]. If we recall Feyerabend's sociological reference that the creative process should be fueled by people representing different social strata and even mental characteristics, then today's diversity, represented by people, "bots", texts, artificial intelligence agents, self-reproducing codes, may well be perceived as the realization of this diversity in a new round of technological progress. In addition, there is a constant transformation of this digital "content", as in interaction with each other, actors redefine the environment, form new conventions, protocols and algorithms and update technologies [3, p. 19]. Thus, the field of possible creativity and discoveries is expanding due to the constant replenishment and reformatting of the "acting characters" of digital reality, which is quite correlated with the first "counter-rule" of the Austro-American philosopher.

The principle of incommensurability and heterogeneous modalities

Due to the constant changes and diversity of actors representing the digital environment, for which there is no "common ground" [3, p. 19], a common denominator, the problem of their commensurability arises. Feyerabend justified the existence of so-called "incommensurable" theories. We state today the heterogeneity of the environment, its constant transformation and redefinition, the emergence of new conventions and so on, which implements in practice the lack of common criteria for comparing the results of activities, emerging descriptions of the environment, presented worldviews, etc. The International Research Center at the University of Heimnitz, existing since 2020, is called: Collaborative Research Center "Hybrid Societies: Humans Interacting with Embedded Technologies" [19]. Indeed, we live in a world of self-driving cars, drones, smart prostheses and houses. This hybrid world is positioned as "self-organizing collective systems" consisting of different components (natural and artificial) or people interacting through technical systems [21].

Modern descriptions of digital reality, in which anthropocentrism is perceived as one of the singularities of the general network-centric, monadological (Leibniz) process of cosmocentric evolution, in our opinion, correlate with the principle of incommensurability of Feyerabend. The world in this description consists of heterogeneous modalities.

The changes that are taking place also affect the formatting of the methodological principles of studying the new reality, the tools of thinking. Arshinov and colleagues believe that they are not yet given in their final form, but are assumed to be comprehended together with complexity (V. I. Arshinov's concept of "thinking together with complexity") and require creation, invention, construction [1, p. 43]. Scientists note the increased importance in post-non-classical science of the concepts of "communication", "autopoiesis" and "semiosis". Arshinov points to cybersemiotics, a transdisciplinary metatheory that positions communication as the main form of reality. In it, knowledge is represented by four positions. The description of nature is given by the natural sciences. Human physicality is described by biological sciences. The subjective world of man is the prerogative of phenomenology. Sociality is translated by the social sciences. Post-nonclassical science forms its own epistemology. Its essential characteristic is the functioning of a synergetic observer of complexity that distinguishes between the past, present and future. The concept of "synergetic complexity observer" is defined as an evolving distributed network semiotic concept with quantum-like properties [1, pp. 43-44]. A synergetic observer means a network of observers who are in communication. Thus, a new type of rationality corresponds to a new reflexive subject observing himself, included in specific cognitive-project situations. It is implied that the synergetic observer has the prerequisites of intersubjectivity, i.e. it contains an internal and external observer.

The existing descriptions of digital reality and the ways of reflection on it, the formed methods of thinking, thus, can be quite perceived as an illustration of the second "counterrule" of Feyerabend - the principle of incommensurability. It is concretized by such concepts as "complexity", "singularity", "network-centricity", "synergetic observer", "heterogeneous modalities", which fills it with the specifics of life incarnations.

The Internet and animism

The most important characteristic of digital reality has become the "awareness of the environment" objects "animated" by technology fit into the general cultural context, creating modern digital and cybernetic animism [24]. It should be noted that there are different approaches to understanding animism. At the early stages of its formation, anthropological ideas were sustained in the context of enlightenment ideas and positioned the beliefs of "primitive" peoples as an early stage of human development, which will be overcome in the future. The archaic man appeared to be extrapolating his psychological constitution to the natural phenomena surrounding him, personifying them, giving them names [2, p. 21], creating gods and creating myths [2, p.107], in an attempt to curb-explain-subordinate the forces of nature superior to him [14, p. 29]. The fate of a modern person who implements the principle of "post" (M. Heidegger), that is, involved in the endless process of proving his own existence through the creation of something new, can be described through a different system of interpretations. The principle of "animating" the inanimate by modern anthropologists was formed in connection with the "anthropological turn" of the mid-XX century, which gave a new reading of the concept of "personality". The starting point, the foundation of the turn, was the work of I. Hallowell "Ontology, behavior and worldview of the Ojibwe" [20], which shows that all beings with whom people maintain interpersonal relations act as "animate". For the Ojibwe Indians, the concept of "man" has a narrower meaning than the concept of "personality". In their view, there are "personalities-people", "personalities-bears", "personalities-stones", etc. All these individuals, according to their ideas, have a mind, will, language. Thus, communication is possible with them. The indicator of the animateness of personalities, in this case, is involvement in relationships.

The animistic concept of N. Bird-David is based on these ideas, where "animateness" is associated with the relationships that arise between actors [18, p. 72]. Similar positions are taken by E. Povinelli [23, p. 20].

The important points for our reasoning in this new vision of the criteria of animateness is that any inanimate object can act from the standpoint of the animate, since it is possible to communicate with it.

In the context of the above concepts, D. Proctor's vision of the problem of animism is sustained. It shows that people using the Internet are returning to animism. Proctor considers it possible to position what is happening in this way, due to the fact that space and time divide people on the Internet. To carry out communication, they express themselves through non-human entities (texts, photos, avatars), communicate with non-human entities, for example, "bots" or self-reproducing codes that act in human likeness. He believes that the achievements of artificial intelligence and actions within the given rules make it increasingly difficult to identify the human and non-human in the virtual space. Thus, he argues that animistic practice is relevant again today and Internet users act as agents of cybernetic animism [24]. Johannes Schick gives more traditional arguments in favor of cyberonymism, believing that humanity is going through a stage of development in which digital tools are perceived pre-reflexively as an extension of the human body and consciousness [25]. His interpretation is quite correlated with the vision of J. Vico, who talked about the extension of the inner world of man to the phenomena of nature.

We believe that in this reading of communication, one can see the so-called distribution, since all the actors that fit into the "mosaic" complement the picture of the world, eliminate its centrality, which corresponds to P. Feyerabend's idea of the "tolerance" of the perception of an archaic person.Thus, modern man returns to the archaic through a new understanding of communication and a new vision of communicating actors.

At the open discussion held in February 2021, among many aspects of the consideration of the problems of transhumanism (positioning a person modified by genetic engineering) and the Anthropocene (the era of a high level of human activity), it was also discussed that it is necessary to endow today's hybrid, material-digital reality with integrity. This idea was expressed by U. S. Strugovshchikova (IF RAS). In her opinion, modern society needs strong mythologies, the task of which is, taking into account the multidimensionality and heterogeneity of perception and thinking, the formation of a whole picture of the world. [16, p. 110].

Rob van Kranenburg also agreed with her, stating that animism is an essential source of culture. The time when people stopped animating nature is very insignificant in comparison with the history of mankind. The need to perceive the planet as a living entity is associated with environmental crises and lack of resources. He extended this idea to the world created by human hands, quoting A. Rodchenko that things should be equal to a person, be his companions, with whom a person will be able to laugh, rejoice, talk [16, p. 110]. In this case, in our opinion, two references are updated. One may be related to the understanding of the "mystical involvement of things and events with each other" by K. Levi-Bruhl, which denotes the absence of things in their simple objective form [6, p. 35]. The other correlates with Hallowell's premise about understanding non-humans as a person. The thing, in this case, acts as an actor included in the communication. That is, indeed, "animation" at the modern turn of history correlates with the artificial world of things.

It should be noted, however, that the myth itself is cruel and totalitarian. Feyerabend, referring to the archaic, first of all meant the absence of centering, the absence of reflection capable of creating it, which was expressed in the "consistent" fitting of the puppet body into any context. Today we state, on the one hand, singularity, heterogeneity, complexity, which confirms the conditions corresponding to Feyerabend's ideas for creativity and new discoveries. On the other hand, in the context of this "prosperity" of singularities, trends and justifications are formulated to create some common criteria that serve the interaction of heterogeneities and give "sustainable" development to society as a whole.

The interaction of man and cyber-other in the light of the realization of "epistemological anarchism" as a value ontological attitude

Today we are talking about the need for a co-evolutionary view of the path of development that resists systemic technosocial crises of our time, such as global warming, the COVID-19 pandemic, and economic crises [1, p. 53]. The circumstances set, according to the researchers, the vector of modern practical philosophy in the digital age. The authors draw the features of the "future" cosmotechnics of the reality of the emerging Neocene. It is described as cyberphysical, cyberbiological and cybersocial [1, p. 54]. From the point of view of researchers, the sustainable development of Novacene (the era of superintelligent robots) [22] can be ensured by the use of invariants of thinking of various historical periods of the past in the digital era. It is proposed to reactualize animism, totemism, fetishism and other magical practices from mythological and religious forms. The renaissance can become a source of reinterpretation and use in new conditions, for example, poetic cosmogonies, rationalizing natural philosophies, global social utopias, etc. The new time can replenish modern practices in a modified form with the phenomena of alchemy, rethinking the figure of the magician, religious and mystical currents and non-religious groups, sects, as harbingers of the scientific and technological revolution. The aesthetics of the Renaissance, the ethics of Reformation, the geniuses of the Renaissance can be comprehended in a new way. Modernity has focused the authors' interests on the field of cyber-changes, as well as diversity associated with age, gender, socio-economic and ethno-cultural features.

It is important to note that Arshinov and his colleagues believe that in the diversity represented in the digital society, its significant feature is the need to build relationships with cyber-other and cyber-other [1, p. 53]. The problem seems to be that, in a hybrid world, we are dealing with "smart things" that have subjectivity, and the question arises about extending the field of responsibility to artificial intelligence agents who will be able to "feel", "be aware" of themselves, express "emotions" [16].

It is interesting that in all the multidimensional and constantly transforming diversity, with the regular highlighting of the differences of actors and pointing out their hybridity, correlations with human qualities, dimensions, even ethics are still assumed, one way or another.

Even newly introduced concepts such as non-human entities, for example, "bots" or self-reproducing codes, the concept of "transhumanism", ideas about cyberphysical, cyberbiological and cybersocial reality or Neocene, its continuation and improvement of the Novacene, in the context of the reflections of the researchers cited by us, suggest that non-human entities still act in human likeness and the new realities are a transformation of the old ones, that is, they are comparable.

But there are other opinions about our prospects. For example, T. V. Chernihiv identifies two, from her point of view, significant aspects in the development of artificial intelligence. The first is the incredible speed of his selflearning, frightening the developers themselves. The second is that AI can take a path that will not be understandable to humans [9].

In this regard, in her opinion, it may turn out that human intelligence will remain with all its "sins" and an artificial one will arise, which will be completely different. The question is, will human intelligence be in demand in this case?

Chernihiv sees the value and "salvation" of human intelligence in the fact that it is capable of unique works of art, while AI can create, but within a given algorithm, even if the manner of a genius acts as such.

There is a fear that incommensurability, positioned as a condition for the growth of creativity and discoveries, can become a death sentence for a person.


Summing up the results of our research, we will highlight significant points in it. It must be recognized that the role of P. Feyerabend, referred to epistemology as "the founder of the rational foundations of modern irrationalism", as defined by A. L. Nikiforov [12, p. 13], was supplemented by the fact that his methodological approach in modern digital culture has become a valuable ontological setting of human activity. The main provisions of epistemological anarchism find application both in the functioning of digital culture and in the ways of its thinking. In particular, the first "counter-rule" or the principle of proliferation, associated with the social "diversity" of the subjects of cognition, is quite correlated with the modern transformation of digital "content", the constant redefinition of the environment of actors interacting with each other, forming new conventions, protocols and algorithms, updating technologies [3, p. 19]. There is a constant replenishment and reformatting of the "acting characters" of digital reality.

The implementation of the second "counter-rule" or the principle of incommensurability in a digital society follows from the implementation of the principle of proliferation. Based on the conditions of a complex, hybrid environment, represented by a variety of variants of the living, inanimate, diverse ways of connecting natural and artificial, coalitions and types of connections arising between them, the impossibility of using common criteria for the expression of these subjects, it is necessary to state their incommensurability.

P. Feyerabend's next premise, which is related to the archaic perception of man of the mythological epoch, also finds its realization, embodied in digital and cybernetic animism with its emphasis on the communicative component. In this case, we find the expression of communicative manifestations by non-human entities that communicate in a format similar to a human one. The difficult identification of the human and non-human in the virtual space ceases to be significant, since communication becomes the criterion of animism. Internet users are agents of cybernetic animism.

Thus, it becomes obvious not only the relevance of P. Feyerabend's methodological premises, but also their vital embodiment at a new stage of technical development in modern digital culture. In fairness, it should be noted that the embodiment of the philosopher's main ideas did not make them less controversial. The context of their application has been significantly "ontologized". The idea of the presumption of incommensurability carries a clear ambiguity. This is directly evidenced by alarming forecasts regarding the possible coexistence of human and artificial intelligence. Indirect evidence of the relative benefits of the coexistence of disparate subjects with each other is the search of modern researchers in the direction of endowing today's hybrid, material-digital reality with integrity and the development of various kinds of cosmotechnics that meet this goal.

The conducted research confirms the hypothesis put forward by the author about the functioning of P. Feyerabend's research method as a value ontological setting of human activity, manifested not only within the framework of science, but also implemented in the reality of digital culture. In the context of the general study of the problem of the dynamics of the mentality of culture carried out by the author, the results of this study can be used as an argument to substantiate the value priorities of culture as agents of constructive transformation of its mentality.

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