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