David Bates



PhD (History), University of Chicago

Image of David Bates


7315 Dwinelle Hall

Office Hours by appointment

Research Interests

European Intellectual History
Media and Technology
Cognition and Epistemology
Political Thought
Artificial Intelligence

I received my PhD in European History from the University of Chicago. Since coming to Berkeley in 1999, I have been working on two main research tracks: one on the history of legal and political ideas, and the other on the relationship between technology, science, and the history of human cognition. My undergraduate courses and graduate seminars are usually divided between these two main topic areas. My new book project will bring these interests closer together, as my research now focuses on the connections between reason, technology, war, and political organizations as they develop in the age of cybernetic systems theory and the rethinking of the living organism in that context.

I am now completing a book, An Artificial History of Natural Intelligence, that probes the emergence of human thinking as an entanglement of machine technologies, somatic processes, media practices, and social/political organization. Beginning with an examination of Cartesian robotics and early modern reflections on automaticity, I go on to show how “artificial intelligence” in fact marks a peculiar stage in the history of reason, one that privileges the isolated mind and/or computer. A critique of contemporary models of automatic cognition requires unwinding a certain history of automaticity spawned by this moment, in order to rediscover another, longer history of the “human” constituted within and against technical systems.

I was the director of the Berkeley Center for New Media (2010-13) and founded the BCNM lecture series History and Theory of New Media which I co-organized, with Abigail de Kosnick (TDPS), from 2011-19. I chaired the Rhetoric department from 2014-17.


“The Political Theology of Entropy: A Katechon for the Cybernetic Age,” special issue on Cybernetics and the Human Sciences, History of the Human Sciences 33:1 (2020): 109-27.

“Automatisation et erreur,” in Bernard Stiegler, ed., La verité du numérique (Paris, Editions FYP, 2019).

“Rousseau and Schmitt: Sovereigns and Dictators,” in Helena Rosenblatt and Paul Schweigert, eds., Thinking with Rousseau From Machiavelli to Schmitt (Cambridge University Press, 2017). (pdf)

“Insight in the Age of Automation,” in Darrin McMahon and Joyce Chaplin, eds., Genealogies of Genius (McMillan Palgrave, 2015). (pdf)

“Automaticity, Plasticity, and the Deviant Origins of Artificial Intelligence,” in David Bates and Nima Bassiri, eds., Plasticity and Pathology: Formations of the Neural Subject (Fordham University Press, 2016). (pdf)

“Catastrophe and Human Order: From Political Theology to Political Physiology,” in The Time of Catastrophe, ed. Austin Sarat et al. (Ashgate, 2015). (pdf)

“Penser l’automaticité sur le seuil du numérique,” in Digital Studies: Organologie des savoirs et technologies de la connaissance, ed. Bernard Stiegler (Editions FYP, 2014). (pdf)

“Unity, Plasticity, Catastrophe: Order and Pathology in the Cybernetic Era,” in Catastophe: History and Theory of an Operative Concept, ed. Andreas Killen and Nitzan Lebovic (De Gruyter, 2014). (pdf)

“Cartesian Robotics,” Representations, 124 (2013): 43-68. (pdf)

“Enemies and Friends: Arendt on the Imperial Republic at War,” History of European Ideas 36 (2010): 112-24

“Super Epistemology,” in Dan Edelstein, ed., The Super Enlightenment: Daring to Know Too Much (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2009)

“Creating Insight: Gestalt Theory and the Early Computer,” in Jessica Riskin, ed., Genesis Redux: Essays in the History and Theory of Artificial Life (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2007), 237-259 (pdf)

“Political Theology and the Nazi State: Carl Schmitt’s Concept of the Institution,” Modern Intellectual History 3: 3 (Nov. 2006): 415-442 (pdf)

“On Revolutions in the Nuclear Age: The Eighteenth Century and the Postwar Global Imagination,” qui parle 15 (Fall 2005): 171-195 (pdf)

“Crisis between the Wars: Derrida and the Origins of Undecidability,” Representations 91 (Summer 2005): 1-27 (pdf)

“Political Unity and the Spirit of Law: Juridical Concepts of the State in the late Third Republic,” French Historical Studies 28: 1 (Winter 2005): 69-101 (pdf)

“Legitimität and Légalité: Political Theology and Democratic Thought in an Age of World War,” in Religion und Nation / Nation und Religion: Beiträge zu einer unbewältigten Geschichte, ed. Michael Geyer and Hartmut Lehmann (Göttingen: Wallstein, 2004)

“Cartographic Aberrations: Epistemology and Order in the Encyclopedic Map,” in Daniel Brewer and Julie C. Hayes, eds., Using the “Encyclopédie”: Ways of Knowing, Ways of Reading (Oxford: Voltaire Foundation, 2002)

Creative Negations: Defining the Space of Politics in Revolutionary France (Berkeley, CA.: Doe Library, University of California, 2000) (Morrison Inaugural Lecture) (pdf)

“Rediscovering Collingwood’s Spiritual History (In and Out of Context),” History and Theory 35:1 (February 1996): 29-55


“États d’urgence: une théologie politique de la decision à l’époque automatique” [States of emergency: a political theology of decision in the automatic era],  pharmakon.fr séminaire Paris (via Zoom), June 4.

Seminar on “War and Knowledge,” Bennett-Polonsky Humanities Lab, New York University, Oct. 25.

“Error, Intelligence, and the Cybernetic Legacy,” Center for Human-Compatible AI, UC Berkeley, Oct. 2, 2019

“Spaces of Decision in the Cybernetic Age,” Department of Geography, UC Berkeley, September 18, 2019.

“L’entropie et le politique,” Info-tropy: Information and Entropy, INRIA (French National Institute for Computer Science and Applied Mathematics) and Institut de recherche et d’innovation, Paris, June 20, 2018

“Human Minds, Intelligent Machines: the Contemporary Crisis of the Humanities,” plenary lecture, Our Uncommon Ground: Modern Languages and Cultures for the 21st Century, Durham, UK, April 16, 2018.

“Thinking Machines: Exosomaticization and the Embodied Mind,” Exemplary Affect: Rethinking the Roots of Modern Sensibility, Indiana University, Bloomington, April 6- 7, 2018.

“Thinking Outside the Body: On the Technical Evolution of Intelligence,” The Stephen Straker Memorial Lecture, Science and Technology Studies, University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada, March 7, 2018.

“Un réseau peut-il être intelligent? Raison à l’age de l’apprentissage profond,” Les entretiens du nouveau monde industriel 2017, Bêtise et intelligence artificielles, Pompidou Center, Paris, Dec. 19, 2017. Video available

“A Katechon for the Cybernetic Age,” Political Theory Workshop, Political Science Dept., University of Pennsylvania, Oct. 12, 2017.

“Le Katechon et le concept du politique cybernétique,” [The Katechon and the cybernetic concept of the political]  Académie d’été de pharmakon.fr, Epineuil le Fleuriel, France, July 24-7, 2017. Video available

“L’intelligence artificielle et l’objectivité de la connaissance: la pharmacologie de la boîte noire,” [Artificial Intelligence and objective knowledge: the pharmacology of the Black Box] Intelligence artificielle et épistémologie des « boites noires», ANR-Epistémé, Centre Pompidou, Paris, June 28-9.

“The Critique of Automatic Reason [Malabou /Meillassoux / Machine-Learning],” Speculative Reason: Aporia or Transition?, University of California, Irvine, April 28, 2017.

“Prosthetic Minds: Exosomatic Evolution and the Computer in Postwar Thought,”  Center for International Research in the Humanities and Social Sciences – CNRS/NYU, New York University, March 17, 2017.

“Habits of Reason: The Enlightened Nervous System,” Workshop in Honor of Keith Michael Baker, Humanities Center, Stanford University, Feb. 4-5, 2017.

“ ‘…what worries me is the addition of modern technology to the old system’: On the Pathology of intelligent Machines,” Deep History: A Workshop on Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an Ecology of Mind, UC Irvine, April 21, 2016

“Artificial Plasticity and the Nature of Human Intelligence,” Keynote Lecture, Passionate Disattachments: The Work of Catherine Malabou, Conference, University of Western Ontario, London, Ont., Canada, Feb. 6, 2016.

“Interruption, Failure, Error: Cognitive Systems in the Age of Reason,” Toward a History of Error, Colloquium, Max Planck Institut für Wissenschaftesgeschichte, Berlin, Dec. 17-18, 2015

“Cybernetic Error and the Origins of Artificial Intelligence,” Institute of Culture and Aesthetics of Digital Media (ICAM), Leuphana Universität, Lüneburg, Germany, Dec. 15, 2015.

Invited participant, Blumberg Dialogues on Astrobiology and Society, John. W. Kluge Center, Library of Congress, Washington, D.C., August 5-6, 2015.

“L’inactualité du machiavélisme” [On the irrelevance of Machiavelism today], Actualités du machiavélisme, Centre Raymond Aron, EHESS, Paris, June 9, 2015. Video available.

Seminar Participant, “Philosophy and the Web,” Google, March 31, 2015.

“Esprits, oracles, télépathes: au-delà du mécanisme de la pensée selon Turing” [Spirits, oracles, telepaths: beyond the mechanism of thought according to Turing],  Lire Turing Aujourd’huiDigital Studies seminar, Institut de recherche et d’innovation, Paris, Jan. 13, 2015 (via Google Hangout)

“An Artificial History of Natural Intelligence,” Post-Humanities Series, Humanities Center, Lehigh University, Oct. 23, 2014

Thesis Supervision

Nima Bassiri (PhD, 2010) Dislocations of the Brain: Subjectivity and Cerebral Topology from Descartes to Nineteenth-Century Neuroscience
James Harker (PhD, 2010) The Limits of the Mind: Cognition and Narrative Form in the Modernist Novel
Alenda Chang (PhD, 2013) Playing Nature: The Virtual Ecology of Game Environments
Katherine Chandler (PhD, 2014) Drone Flights and Failures: The United States’s Secret Trials, Experiments and Operations in Unmanning, 1936-1973 (co-chair with Charis Thompson)
Claudia Salamanca (PhD, 2015) The Construction of the Colombian Territory: Images of the Colombian Armed Conflict, 2002-2010 (Co-chair with Samera Esmeir)
Osita (IK) Udekwu (PhD, 2017) Programming Insight: Human and Machine Intelligence in the Petabyte Age
Stacey Moran (PhD, 2017) Feminist Materials: Quantum Physics and Critical Writing Practices for New Material Feminism
Nicholaus Gutierrez (ABD) on the virtual and computer graphical systems
Ryan Ikeda (ABD) Aesthetics and Media Technology
Kathleen Powers (ABD) The Question of Life and Cybernetic Thinking
Thomas Gilbert (ABD) Moral Psychology of the Automated Economy