michael’s research

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Prosthetic Tethering; Subliminal Clouds

The integration of human and object, is what Bruce Sterling refers to the biot in his Shaping Things. He, as well as many depictions of the ‘cyborg’ usually create definition by examining the level of connectivity between the human and object whether it be some sort of external augmentation, embedded technologies, or intrinsically integrated beings. What this does not take into account is the mind/body duality described by DesCartes’ dictation of ‘I think therefore I am.” And to paraphrase the latter’s further description that the very fundamental conception of thinking means that I exist, but I can imagine myself elsewhere (in a dream, lucid thought, etc) and so although the mind is associated with one given body, the mind is separate and can be projected elsewhere. Our vast info-exchange networks can submerge our consciousness into experiential exchanges and very real subjectivities.

Embedded within this debate is the well-known metaphysical and philosophical dilemma known as the mind-body problem. Emergent from this dilemma are two bodies of thought; dualism (which can be further broken down into substance dualism and property dualism) and materialism/physicalism. Dualism describes the mind and body as two separate entities, substance dualism being the direct derivative of Descartes position.

Materialism holds that mind and body and both composed of matter or energy; that all things composed of material and all phenomena (including consciousness) are the result of material interactions. Matter is the only substance and reality is identical with the actually occurring states of energy and matter. I will assume that an individuals mind, consciousness, thoughts, are virtual by nature and thus run inconclusive to ideas of materialism, and that the body is a prosthesis or an extension of the mind. Clarifying this relationship will also be critical to the thesis.

The prosthesis allows us a phenomenological reach as well as a physical one. With the level of interconnectivity of today’s gizmos and objects, it is possible to project that prosthetics will be capable of similar or more advanced networking than are experienced by the smartphone and laptops of the day. As we create subjectivities or virtual realms around these devices, it is possible then to conceive of a networked or tethered subjective experience.

When looking to define subjectivity by creating a graphic to illustrate my intentions it is useful to examine Søren Kierkegaard’s idea of subjectivity; a closeness, believed and perhaps most importantly desired understanding of another’s presence or reality. In his particular definition of subjectivity he demonstrates his relationship with God, although the description not need be of a deity, but could certainly exist as some sort of élan vital or natural sentimentality. Kierkegaard’s visuals of external phenomena are more than simple illustrations of his ideas, they are clear and legible provocations of subjective qualities or methods of achieving inwardness that are manifest in the physical realm. He describes how strong one’s faith must be in order to establish a proper relationship to God, with passion so immense “so as to remain out upon the ocean’s deep, over seventy thousand fathoms of water, and still believe.” Particularly in this thought, Kierkegaard expresses the greatness and vastness of the ocean encompassing a finite and discrete singular individual. The dark of the ocean below, unsurrendering waves and an infinitely stretching ocean should do nothing to deter even the strongest believer (implying a desire to believe).

Without representational tools that illustrate externalized phenomena, Kierkegaard’s idea of infinite passion cannot be accurately represented. While it may be understood as lifelong dedication in totality to establishing a proper individual-God relationship through subjective understanding, it is not understood in a way that places a mentally palpable and expressible idea to the viewer. Without a real conception of the consequences of Kierkegaard’s passion, he cannot accurately express the magnitude of his infinite concern. The philosophical concept of the Sublime is a device Kierkegaard uses to visually demonstrate the importance of subjectivity by allowing individuals to construct a tectonic representation based on an a priori and knowable, physical reality.

What then, becomes the relationship of the individual and the subjective; one’s desires, beliefs, and perspectives? These projected realities that exist in our minds that we believe to be real or project into our physical domain, could be hacked, or altered by other individuals. Our desires could become parasites to others, confusing us about by blurring our true motivations or desires from those of others. Or perhaps in a the relationship becomes like that of a hive; and all knowing and all believing or all desiring human exocortex of a reservoir of potentials and projections.

Monday, November 5th, 2012

Phantom Limbs and Reach

Post-humanism can loosely refer to the conscious continuation of the human species through the next stage of evolution; in which most post-humanists believe technology (either physical or virtual) will take an active role. While there are many different forms of post-humanism, from philosophical post-humanism which critically refutes the the foundational assumptions of Renaissance Humanism and its relationship of body to nature to trans-humanism; an ideology that actively seeks to make available post-human technologies that eliminate aging and have the potential of greatly increasing human cognitive and physical capabilities.

Katherine Hayles, posits that the positioning of oneself as a post-human and actively accepting this fact is in fact the beginning of post-humanism. In many ways we have already tampered with the body; extending our physical limitations as means of creating a much greater and enhanced ‘reach.’ This reach is a capability; and when in the context of the human body and its envelope, reach refers to what we are able to extend our presence upon and also what we perceive that limit to be. The physical body, for an example, with its nerve sensors and feedback input devices, as an organ in totality is an extension or prosthesis of the human cognition.

Tools, as extensions of the arm, have continuously evolved through an iterative design process to make up for our impedition of the human biological process. It began with simple stones to smash, cut, and create fire; tools that bagin to evolve into hammers, arrowheads, and knives. And these tools became replacements of what we once had; prosthetic limbs reoriented those who had lost or were born without limbs.

“Prosthetic technology alternated between producing substitutes for the body parts that military weapons had destroyed and producing these very weapons. All weapons are prosthetic. Like all prostheses, they are always mechanisms of both defence and attack.” -Mark Wigley

These extensions replace the ‘softness’ of our physical envelope and provide greater reach into our environment and making resources available to us. These objects now exist as virtual and physical extensions of our humanely presence on earth; we have connected ourself into vast networks of information exchange and data visualization. But post-humanism states this will go even further, as technologies that enhance our physical abilities and mental cognition, they will become integrated with the human envelope. In place of this futuristic condition, filling this milieu in the next stage of humanity is architecture.

“We all need means of supplementing our natural capabilities, since nature is indifferent, inhuman (extra-human), and inclement; we are born naked and with insufficient armor…The barrel of Diogenes, already a notable improvement on our natural protective organs (our skin and scalp), gave us the primordial cell of the house; filing cabinets and copy-letters make good the inadequacies of our memory; wardrobes and sideboards are the containers in which we put away the auxiliary limbs that guarantee us against cold or heat, hunger or thirst…Our concern is with the mechanical system that surrounds us, which is no more than an extension of our limbs; its elements, in fact, artificial limbs.” -Le Corbusier

Architecture acts as one of the many extensions of the human envelope, providing shelter from the atmosphere and generating a wide range of psycho-perceptive affects and experiences that act as extensions of the mind. The phantom limb that is architecture allows us to project what we desire or need from spaces that we cannot obtain ourselves. As does the phantom limb exert a sensation of virtually created pain, architecture creates the imaginary projections and feelings of inhabitation, dwelling, and affect.

Wednesday, October 24th, 2012

Where Humans Stopped, Tools Evolved

“Whenever one can describe, between a number of statements, such a system of dispersion, whenever, between objects, types of statement, concepts, or thematic choices, one can define a regularity (an order, correlations, positions and functionings, transformations), we will say, for the sake of convenience, that we are dealing with a discursive formation – thus avoiding words that are already overladen with conditions and consequences, and in any case inadequate to the task of designating such a dispersion, such as ‘science’ ‘ideology’, ‘theory’, or ‘domain of objectivity’.” Michele Foucault

In an age of information and technology, how do we progress as a people? Our time defined by biological evolution has quite arguably ended, yet we continue to progress as a species. We possess advanced cognitive capabilities that have allowed us to manipulate matter into apparati; extensions of the human envelop. As a result we have been able to transcend the very fundamental environmental drivers of biological evolution and in the place of our physical bodies, the tool (both epistemological and technological) has subsumed the role of evolution. The tool is both epistemic and technological because these tools are both manipulations and articulations of physical matter as well as virtual ideas. Now in the silicon age, and with the advent of diverse inter-networking technologies tools have become connected through virtual domains and interfaces.

These technologies have also shifted the way through which we talk, share, and collaborate in order to undergo the process of reshaping the objects around us to suit immediate needs that our biological clock cannot keep up with. We participate in discourse, which as Foucault describes, is not simply a set of articulated propositions but rather the relationships between these propositions. Discourse, in-and-of-itself, is a precursor to knowledge, opening up the possibilities to illustrate “what we think we know is contingent on how we talk about it.”

Each discipline has its own discrete semiotic catalog of discussing the knowledge; architecture through drawings, diagrams, columns, walls, among other things. It is through these languages that we express our ability to understand (and control) the universe. Whether our epistemic understanding of the universe is true or not, we justify our manipulations of matter through the various theories and ideas we have constructed to give order to the universe; it is how we control. Our unique relationship to epistimae and techne is the manifestation of these various languages; discursive formations of bodies of knowledge and tectonic formations of materials as a representation of technology. The intertwining of the two, could possibly be illustrated by Sir Francis Bacon’s Novum Organon, which some argue marked the beginning of the scientific revolution. Through instrumentalist empiricism, Bacon posits that progress cannot be achieved by either the epistimae or the teche (although not explicitly in these terms), but by the relationship of these two, the method.

In many and most cases, we have struggled to find information to further understand the universe around us in some cases; and in others we have excelled in defining the laws and constraints of our immediate contexts; in places we cannot gain this level of control we typically assign supernatural identifiers (for example, God, to explain the creation of the uncertain beginning of the universe). We control, in the reality that is our own plane of existence, the universe through knowledge and our vast -scapes through techne. And our methods are retrieved, stored as an archive of some sort, and then passed down to apprentices, students, offspring, or other counterparts. It is the evolutionary process of information.

Take for example Rembrandt’s painting of praelector Dr. Nicolaes Tulp. An early commission to Rembrandt, the painting depicted an anatomy lesson involving the dissection of a male criminal (as such a dissection was only legally performed on male criminals considered outside of the Church and subject to public hanging). The anatomy lesson began with the forearm (unusual in most cases), but thought to be so because of new discoveries revolving the lymphatic system and white veins as described in a popular anatomical Latin text on the subject at the time.

The anatomy lesson is public to a group of individuals also included as subjects in the painting, however it can be alluded that there is a larger audience observing the dissection. This is not only a testament to the embedded curiosity of the human species, but as illustrated through the various media (books, posters, notebooks) in the painting, of our willingness to expand on our body of knowledge through the passing down or dissemination of knowledge. This intellectual lineage can be traced back for centuries with new methods and information arising as our technology exceedingly excels and progresses to new highs.

Whether or not we are headed in the correct direction towards a telos of understanding the Truth, we continue to develop theories and technologies that have casting increased the complexity of our world. And so I return to the question of ‘how do we progress as a people?” The biological equivalent of this is to evolve and meet the needs of the environmental context. Genetic speciation and the mechanisms for evolution are inherently tied to the environment as a primary driver for the evolutionary process to occur. What are the new mediums through which we define our ability to engage in discourse? Many theorists argue that, because we have replaced technological evolution in place of our slowed biological evolution, the role of technology will play an active role and more radically.

Jackob von Uexküll states, “All animal subjects, from the simplest to the most complex, are inserted into their environments to the same degree of perfection. The simple animal has a simple environment; the multiform animal has an environment just as richly articulated as it is.” The tick for example, although placed within a very complex world, is limited in its sensorial understanding of that world, and thus is subject to a less complex world due to its ability to only understand a limited number of stimuli and react accordingly.

The world however, and these states of the environment he speaks of, are not static in any sense of the word; they are continuously changing at rates and in ways we cannot imagine. The technology that we create (and soon that artificial intelligence will be capable of equally creating) will vastly change the complexity of our world. For this reason, a philosophical body of thought called post-humanism has emerged, with a number of different types. In order to meet the equally increasing complexity of the world, in order to become subjects of this new world order, we must as well adopt a vehicle through which we can become more complex: the body.

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