Thursday, February 14
Niklas Wild-Damiris (Stanford University)
"Overcoming the Cybernetic Worldview while Re-envisioning Post-humanism and Sustainability: Insights from Quantum Physics and Finance for Alternate Economies-ecologies"
Heidegger was prescient arguing that philosophy in the form of metaphysics has culminated and ended in technology understood as cybernetics. Metaphysics is characterized by its generalizing, universalizing concepts. Cybernetics is distinguished by an equally totalizing move: its notions of communication and control applied systematically to animals, humans and machines. “Post-humanism” is one of the many unintended consequences of cybernetics. It does not overcome the paradigm as it claims, but ironically repeats its gesture: it runs roughshod over subtle differences of subject, object, animate, inanimate, nature, culture treating them as dichotomies, instead of as phases in a process of trans-individuation. “Sustainability” is a related concern that emerged as a response to the growing tension between ‘ecology’ and ‘economy’, which it treats ambivalently, leaving us in the dark as to what is sustainable in a world increasingly ‘out of control’.
As Cybernetics became, starting in the 1930’s, both the dominant ideology and meta-science of industrial capitalism, it found an intellectual rival in the then emerging quantum physics. Alas, the latter’s nascent worldview was counter-intuitive, allowing cybernetics to coopt the new physics’ insights, by enlisting its practitioners to its causes: first to help build an atom bomb, and more recently to design financial derivatives, which Warren Buffett has aptly described as ‘weapons of mass destruction”!
Now well in to the second decade of the 21st century, we still find ourselves to be ‘willing slaves of capital’, as F. Lordon has argued; yet inequality is only getting worse as T. Piketty has documented. And to add insult to injury the promise of social media has been hijacked by the companies who currently control the Internet instituting ‘surveillance capitalism’, as S. Zuboff puts it, rather than a knowledge economy.
Given this rather grim state of affairs, I ask: Could insights from the controversial but gaining in acceptance Quantum Physics Worldview help us change our thinking and attitude toward the world? I will answer this question in the affirmative by arguing that the quantum is not weird; it appears so only because we interpret it through entrenched cybernetic categories like ‘information’, ‘feedback’, ‘observation’ ‘data-base’, which become problematic in a world characterized by indeterminacy, negative probabilities, non-locality and measurement effects. Furthermore, this world is not confined to the small as is often claimed. I will conclude my talk by proposing we institute a new ecologically attuned economic practice based on finance approached as a quantum phenomenon! Such an endeavor presupposes that those who will participate in it ‘have skin in the game’ and their aim is not to discount the future, but to enable it by facing courageously its indeterminacy and the freedom it affords.
Friday, February 15
Sha Xin Wei (Arizona State University)
"Golem 2.0: Automation vs Augmentation"
What are the consequences of the mechanization of not only work and thought but the very articulation of bodies? I describe four scenes in the replacement of humans by golems and ecologies by systems. We begin with the heart of the digital (Shannon) and algorithm (Turing), touching on the limits of representation and the mechanization of thought: the replacement of memory by table-lookup, and judgment by rules and pattern-recognition. Remembering Bergson and Peckham (and Foucault), we turn to the relationality of gesture, which challenges any attempt that tries to interpret gesture in terms of isolate movements by isolate bodies. This in turn leads us to consider the replacement of organisms by golems, manufactured beings whose outward form and movement resemble a human but whose interior is matter “brute and inert.” Finally, mindful of the radical open-endedness of the three ecologies, in Guattari’s terms: the environment, social relations and human subjectivity, we consider infrastructure as golem and as living ecology. We contrast bureaucracy as the mechanical use of humans against the speculative use of responsive environments in experimental, collective events.
Michael Beach (University of Washington)
"Emergent Techno-Botanical Networks: Paracosmic Dreams and Speculative Methods"
This project is a web-based narrative experience that explores a speculative posthuman future scenario where synthetic polymers, mesoporous silica nanoparticles, botanical forms, underlying fields, and other materials are transmuted into a living technological network. Inspired by a dream and informed by concepts from domains such as cybernetics, sociology, systems theory, and media studies, I construct a paracosm where technology, nature, and plastics intersect under capricious circumstances and undergo a mutual transformation into new vitality. Through this project, I reflect on the constraints, potentialities, and future implications of my current work -- Sociotechnical Design: co-designing a research infrastructure with a multi-disciplinary group of ocean science researchers for the study of marine ecosystems. I explore the use of speculation in design and more specifically speculation as a design methodology.
Nat Mengist (University of Washington)
"From Regulation to Responsibility: Alchemical Fertilizers, Industrial Pesticides, and the Search for an Epistemic Antidote"
This projects picks up where Gregory Bateson’s Steps to an ecology of mind (1972) repeatedly stumbles, carrying two points forward with careful interdisciplinary insight: (1) investigating specific historical examples of epistemological and axiological fallacies in ‘Occidental’ agriculture, and (2) proposing more appropriate relations between indigenous and nonindigenous ways of knowing. First, tracing a genealogy of chemical interventions in agriculture, from the discovery of phosphoric fertilizers by seventeenth century alchemists through the establishment of the global fertilizer industry by nineteenth century organic chemists, will expose continuities in the regulatory logics that allowed “hubris” to become the dominant attitude driving scientific inquiry and commercial ventures. Second, rather than simply gesturing toward the “innocence” of native peoples, as Bateson does, we will follow the lead of both indigenous and non-indigenous scholars who prioritize ethics over efficacy in the debates around the incommensurability of indigenous knowledge with the sciences and religions of settlers. Finally, this paper suggests that a technical mentality known as the “alchemical frame of mind” shares deep axiological resonances with indigenous epistemologies, insofar as they both present mutual commitments to humility and responsibility in relationship with the earth and its inhabitants. Could this ethical camaraderie be the key to the development of an epistemic antidote capable of creating the counter-appropriative conditions for a “new species of knowledge” to emerge?
Garrett Laroy Johnson (Arizona State University)
"'Why Do You Have to Be So Self-Centered?': Tactics for Disrupting Genealogies of Cybernetic Extension in Sociotechnical Systems"
Starting with Simondon's distinction between two technical mentalities, I will flesh out the first with a genealogy of extension, which follows as such. Wiener prophesied that the concretization of his cybernetic theory in electrical technologies would effect an “extension of man's senses and his capabilities of action from one end of the world to another.” In 62', Engelbart touched on this notion of extension in his report on "augmenting human intellect." McLuhan may not have known Engelbart (or at least not until 1968), but he certainly knew Weiner's work; in 1964 he published his essay collection called "Understanding Media: Extensions of Man," which surmised that all technologies were extensions of the body (electrical media a special variety attuned to the human nervous system).
I will show how extension as a technical mentality (or an experiential logic) is concretized in media systems in the international exhibition curated by Jasia Reichardt "Cybernetic Serendipity" (1968, same year as Engelbart Mother of All Demos). Following I'll give some evidence to suggest that his technical mentality is alive and well in the sociotechnical systems (demonstrating the stakes with some examples from contemporary media systems as well as "nudge" behavioral economics, etc. and powered by Deleuze, Virilio, Marx's fragment on machines, Guattari). Finally we can begin to talk about Simondon's "alternative" technical mentality, which I update by invoking machinic heterogenesis of Guattari and concretize in some examples from my own research-creation with responsive media around the emergence of ensemble and economic systems.
Jonathan Bratt (Arizona State University)
"Humanistic Geography's Cybernetic Blindspot"
Around the same time second-order cybernetics was taking off in the 1960s and 70s, geography was undergoing a humanistic revolution. Responding to the perceived objectivism of the ‘spatial science’ approaches that were dominating their discipline, humanistic geographers drew on psychology, phenomenology, and existentialism to articulate a number of influential concepts: environmental perception, sense of place, body-subject, and so on. In spite of a common interest in perception, embodiment, and milieu, the progenitors of humanistic geography largely ignored ideas from second-order cybernetics occurring contemporaneously to their own. Lacking notions of subjective responsive motility found in cybernetics and offshoots such as enactivism, humanistic geography, both then and now, has been largely concerned with the ‘sensory’ half of the sensory-motor dyad. Rather than loci of enacted sensorimotor circularity, its subjects tend to be receptive endpoints in one-way milieu-to-self processes which result in knowledge, experience, meaning, emotion, or other contents, without adaptation or adjustment effected through continuous motor action. This not only has rendered such subjects incompletely embodied, but also has implied a scholarly practice oriented toward passive attunement rather than active poiesis. How might stronger notions of motile agency, sensorimotor imbrication, or continuous feedback and adaptation change how human geographers conceive of ‘subjective’ encounters with environments? This paper traces the history of humanistic geography’s non-cybernetic subjectivities and considers possibilities for intervention.
Thierry Bardini (Université de Montréal)
"Post (living, machines) and the Journey to the End of the Species"
After the Singularity, Homo sapiens will be but a by-default state. Whoever and whatever can and should lose himself, herself or itself in the posthuman. We will have to get used to it: the posthuman is based on demented technologies, and therefore, we need a form of thinking at least as demented in order to begin to understand it. This is what I propose in this contribution, with the help of a manual of ambiguous provenance, full of elliptic words, and plagued by out-of-sync icons. During the Summer of 2010, Dominique Lestel and I deciphered an ASCII and JPEG , mold-eaten copy of the Guide to Singular Metamorphoses, that we found in a 1973 Oldsmobile abandoned in a wood on the fringes of Québec. Herein, an unidentified intelligence comments on the history of the posthuman, in a combat and training anthology that starts at the Renaissance, or maybe before. In our introduction, we warned the readers: “We became human by accident, we will cease to be so by defiance.” Thanks to an analysis framed by a comprehensive table of the evolution of societies leading to the present genetic societies, I will also consider our present sorry state as Homo nexus, who will eventually appear as the missing link to the posthuman.
Sarah Choukah (Université de Montréal)
"Of Slime, Sweat, and Carbon Valley"
In this presentation, I introduce my doctoral research: an inquiry into creative practices and discourses intersecting computer and biotech cultures. My dissertation queries influential cybernetic metaphors and analogies enabling traffic on both sides of the intersection. It also situates biotech and information technologies as expression media. It follows mediations across their incarnations as codes, both computational and biological, and acknowledges their analogical expressivity and programmability as a process of code convergence. Converging visions of technological freedom facilitated the entrance of computers in 1960’s Western hobbyist hacker circles, as well as in consumer markets. Almost fifty years later, the analogy drives claims to freedom of information —and freedom of innovation— from biohacker hobbyist groups to new biotech consumer markets. Such biohacking practices are understood as individuations: as ongoing attempts to resolve frictions, tensions working through claims to freedom and openness animating software and biotech cultures.
Tensions get modulated in many ways. One of them, otherwise known as “forking,” refers here to a critical bifurcation allowing for differing iterations of biotechnical and computational configurations. Forking informs —that is, simultaneously affords and constrains— differing collective visions of openness. Forking also operates on the materiality and agency invested in biotechnical and computational practices. Taken as a significant process of co-constitution and differentiation in collective action, bifurcation invites the three following questions: 1) How does forking solve tensions working through claims to code convergence and biotech freedom? 2) In this solving process, how can claims bifurcate and transform to the point of radically altering biotech practices? 3) what new problems do these solutions call into existence?
This research found these questions, and both scales of material action and agency, incarnated in three ethnographical journeys spanning three years (2012-2015): the first in a Brooklyn-based biotech community laboratory, the second in the early days of a biotech community group in Montreal, and the third in the world’s first synthetic biology startup accelerator in Cork, Ireland. The inquiry’s guiding empirical logic is neither solely deductive nor inductive, but transductive. It borrows from Gilbert Simondon’s philosophy of communication and information to experience epistemology as an act of analogical creation involving the radical, irreversible transformation of knower and known. Transductive heuristics offer unconventional encounters with practices, metaphors and analogies of code. In the end, transductive methods acknowledge code convergence as a metastable writing games, and ethnographical research itself as a transductive process.
Saturday, February 16
Angela Sakrison (Arizona State University)
"The Cybernetic Nomad"
Whitehead said that the function of reason is to aid in the attack of our environment. An organism persists by living well, and living better by seeking out the “novelties that beckon” to reason. He believed in an upward directionality of life that was in contrast to the downward decay of all matter in the universe. From Spinoza to Bateson, the philosophical roots of second order cybernetics and ecological thought have pushed a certain conception of human-environment relationships that has influenced the way scientists and decision makers talk about complexity under climate change. Climate justice activists also share this language, but note that not all bodies have the same relationship with their environment. Following Glissant's Poetics of Relation I ask if there is a certain violence in making an environment understandable, a certain violence in the language of cybernetics that puts bodies and environments into nonconsensual couplings. I also question the implications of directionality in ecological thought, and highlight three practices that reverse and resist the directionality of human-environment relations inherited from cybernetics.
Muindi Fanuel Muindi (University of Washington)
"(Re)Creating the Self; Or, the Technologies of Self-Parody"
(Post)modern psychotherapy is a cybernetics: it doesn’t coax us to obey the law, nor does it coax us to conform to the norm—instead, it coaxes us to self-regulate. Those who have affective disorders are given treatments to help them regulate their moods, those who have psychotic disorders are given treatments to help them regulate their phantasies, and those who have anxiety disorders are given treatments to help them regulate their apprehensions. By recasting schizoanalysis as a supplement, as a pharmakon to contemporary psychotherapies, as a vector of fortuitous (dis)orders, this workshop will advance a neobaroque ethics of (re)creation that runs counter to cybernetic notions of regulation, and this workshop will affectively dramatize schizo-therapeutic treatments that disseminate moods, phantasies, and apprehensions.
The "archetypal schizoanalysis" to be described, demonstrated, and dramatized in this workshop will be informed by studies of the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud, Carl Jung, and Jacques Lacan and the schizoanalytic theories of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, but the studies informing this workshop have no claims to authority: they are, like Pierre Klossowski’s Nietzsche and the Vicious Circle, false studies. Expect noble recreations, not base representations. This workshop will, itself, be a neobaroque construction: a transversal, syncretic para-narrative that swerves across the work of Freud, Lacan, Jung, Deleuze, and Guattari in a fortuitously (dis)ordered manner.
Adam Nocek (Arizona State University) and Stacey Moran Nocek (Arizona State University)
Phillip Thurtle (University of Washington)
German Idealism still dominates most approaches in theoretical biology. This has led to a conception of organisms as tightly regulated self-forming systems, where the demands of the whole organism dominate how the parts are coordinated. This presentation disturbs this approach by presenting aspects of biology that refuse to be synthesized into a specific whole. I call this approach “goth biology” as it recognizes the murkiness of systems of knowledge, the loosely composite nature of most living things, and the continual haunting of life by death. Methodologically, I use insights gleaned from the history of Gothic architecture and art, gothic literature, and post-punk goth music to explore the role of aesthetics, timbres, and forms as elements of lives that bound disparate times and spaces without providing a unified synthesis.
Josh Grant-Young (University of Guelph)
“"And the Seeds Will be Planted Again...": Love, Strange Ecological Partnerships, and Atomic Posthumanisms in Harvest”
Harvest, a science fiction short story written in 1954 by William M. Gaines and Al Feldstein and illustrated by Joe Orlando, represents a strange aspect of the legacy of cybernetics. While the robot protagonist is indeed a tiller of the Earth who feels an ‘unmechanical’ love for the vegetal life it cares for each season, it lacks the ability to parse its own relationship to the organic world.
Harvest might be interpreted in two posthuman ways. Penned in the Atomic Era, one might literally read Harvest as a cautionary tale of the destructive potential of ‘machines of loving grace’ – the ‘post’ representing the annihilation of human life on this planet in defense of a holistic land ethic. Yet, on the other hand, it is possible in the wake of the posthuman turn to consider the story as an early exploration of a posthuman environmental thought which affirms the possibility of nonhuman affective allegiances.
This presentation will explore these two readings. First, it will briefly attend to the Atomic world which was informed in part by cybernetic environmental thought. Second, it will explore the ‘posthuman’ as the anxiety of human extinction in the Atomic Age. Last, it will turn to a more affirmative vision of ‘machines of loving grace’ coupled in strange ecological partnership with vegetal nonhumans.
Desiree Foerster (Universität Potsdam, University of Chicago)
"On Aesthetic Experience and the Formation of Habit in Atmospheric Milieus"
My presentation will focus on aesthetic practices that heighten our awareness for the materiality of what we might call an ecological cybernetics. Along the discussion of philosophical positions from Gilbert Simondon and Maurice Merleau-Ponty I will explore to what extent aesthetic experience can develop into a new perspective on and participation in ecological systems.