The notion of a black box (caixa preta) is one of the main topics of Vilém Flusser’s philosophy of apparatus and programs, the main characteristics of post-history. The black box works like a complex technical system, which can only be decoded by the specialists who programmed it. This creates the impression that apparatuses are autonomous and independent. All we know about the black box is that it works when it is activated, but we don’t know how it works; however, this is enough for us, since we are mere functionaries or operators. The black box nature of apparatuses turns them into toys – and it is only in play that we can explore their innite possibilities. For black boxes also enable “thought games” and can thus imitate human thinking. The black box is also a metaphor for the dark side of civilization and its technological progress. The black box can also be seen as bundling secret knowledge that can only be accessed by the initiated, that is, its programmers. With the emergence of the black box, one could say that after a short time the lights of rationality, with its transparency and visibility, went out. The triumph of free will has become the triumph of programmed external control – we can only want what the program wanted us to want in the first place, as we have no access to the dark universe of black boxes. This means that the black box is basically nothing but the darkness which programs our choices and our decisions – expressed in psychoanalytical terms: our consciousness.
Vilém Flusser’s most famous book, Towards a Philosophy of Photography (1984), was published in German as Für eine Philosophie der Fotografie (1983) and in Portuguese as Filosoa da Caixa Preta [Philosophy of the Black Box] (1985).
Original article by Norval Baitello, Jr. in Flusseriana