culture(s)

A few weeks ago I ran into Sumana at my company’s coworking space. We started chatting about art of py. Art of py was an incredibly successful event that Sumana put on at pycon 2019 to showcase performances based around the culture of technology.

In full disclosure I presented a monologue on creating the prayer blockchain, that Sumana has described as something like a moth storytelling piece. I will put a link to it.

But more interesting was the discussion Sumana and I had the coworking space about tech and art. When most people talk about tech art, people talk about art created by technology.  Examples of this are things like Deep Dream, machine learning algorithms that generate visual art, or realtime music generation like what happens in the algorave scene, or poetry or literary experiment, or even cartographic performance art pieces. I have discussed this before in the blog, and have even coded up some experiments.

But for Art of Py, the focus was on art that reflects on technology, not art created by technology. It is the creation of a culture around technological creation.  Sumana mentioned that actuaries have events where there are songs and skits about being an actuary.  In literature there are a plethory of campus novels.  Gothic cathedrals are homages to the papacy. Culture is culture of a profession. Perhaps it is intended to glorify the profession, in some cases in order to maintain a certain power structure. But culture, mythology, fiction is around certain experiences.

Back to culture…

The idea of one culture, a high culture, or of a high and low culture is the historical narrative.  Marx famously thought that the proletariate would not be able to create its own culture and this would aid in alienation and the ensuing revolution. I am pointing to an interesting paper by Trotsky, who gives one interpretation of this point.

As it turned workers developed a rich culture. And it was not a generic workers culture but cultures – from workers papers to Pete Seeger. Now we could call this low culture, or folk culture, but we have so many cultures – the farmer, the factory worker, the wage slave in a Theodore Dreiser book, the prostitute/sex worker.  In the 21st century every profession can create its own culture; where to forge within the “smithy of his soul the uncreated conscious of his race”, means the uncreated conscious of their profession.

We could track the end of a workers culture with the rise of the managerial class, with operations research, fordism and MacNamara.  We can only tell a story while a profession is still on the gnarly edge of professionalization. While the workers still have a hand in the creation of the narrative rather than being commodified by a bureaucracy. What is the conscious of the tech worker?

We can create algorithmic or tech aided art to help shape the representation of this narrative, but we cannot use it to create the meaning of the narrative. If we think about what tech art is (in the first sense) it looks like it would be culture by and for computers.  But I am interested in what it feels like to be a programmer, either a yeoman, a journey man or a master.

As painting became an art, and painters regarded as geniuses, we see the rise of the self portrait. What is the self portrait of the programmer?

This is what Sumana and I discussed, the need for tech workers, project managers, customer success agents, engineers, and so forth, to create a narrative language around their work. We are the ones building the cathedrals, maybe the stain glassed windows should reflect our own mythology.

 

What is metaphysics? The study of continuous things.

When I was in college, I remember looking through the course catalog and seeing metaphysics. Now that sounded mysterious and interesting.  I did not even know what it was. As it turns out metaphysics is really all those things that you cant really talk about in philosophy these days because they not really falsifiable or subject to the scientific method – things like the nature of being and reality.   We all know how that experiment turned out that tried to prove whether or not light was a particle or a wave.

This week I was reading Reza Negaristani’s new book Intelligence and Spirit and I came upon the following paragraph on p 233;

Metaphysics properly understood is the apprehension of the infinite without any of the static or fixed contradictions that arise from the limitations of the features of our experience or understanding, which, in contrast to reason, can neither accept the identity of opposites nor forgo the representation of the Absolute or unconditioned.

When I read this, at first I stopped at the word “infinite’. Metaphysics is the apprehension of the infinite. Well what is the infinite… that which is not finite, or not countable – it is not measurable.  We can interpret the rest of the paragraph, phrases such as ‘limitations of the features of our experience’ as those things which we can count and measure. Those things we can put into categories  Reason can only be applied to things that we can categorize (not only in the kantian sense).  Reason cannot be applied to the infinite – this is perhaps the realm of mysticism or cbd. Kant would say that we apprehend the infinite through judgement. I dont know why I am talking so much about Kant, but this book talks a lot about Kant and Hegel, so that is probably why.

But lets dwell on infinite. This made me think about continuous, and the age old question is the world continuous or discrete or both or none or all of the above. What is infinite, as I said earlier, is not countable. You cannot make it discrete.  When you take a curve and describe the shape of it with calculus you are making the curve discrete.  To recreate the curve by plugging numbers into a function, you will always have a cloud of points that look like a line but are not a line.

So perhaps metaphysics is the study of continuous things. And then we can leave epistemology to the study of discrete things. What can we talk about when we talk about continuous things, things that cannot be counted and measured? If infinity, and continuous things in general, cannot be subject to reason, and I am not sure that this is the case in all things. I would say that all areas of investigation can be subject to reason, and other modes of apprehension as well.  But, if continuous things cannot be subject to reason, then we are back where we were metaphysics cannot be subject to reason.

I believe there are other paths to understanding beyond reason. But I also believe that reason can be used in realms once labeled off limits. What does it mean to be continuous. Can we create continuous (analog) computers. What does a computer look like that is not the discrete turing machine with states and writing on a tape. but with a long long piece of paper and a pen writing exquisite corpse style in a continuous stream. So what happens when we start to think that metaphysics, about the nature of reality, is really about the nature of continuous things. What does that look like ? 42.

 

 

 

infrastructure

Infrastructure and Organs

Recently I read The Marvelous Clouds, by John Durham Peters.  When I first put it on my list I thought it was about cloud computing, but no. It is more about protocols and infrastructures of communication.   If I were to summarize the book it would be about how media (and by media Peters means clock, calendars, and pencils) produces Being (ontology).

We don’t choose our own Being (in my poor reframing of existentialism), our Being is generated by media.

And then, in a really Haraway-an turn, there is a discussion of the Being of animals (particularly cetacean) which have no media.

Here I am going to engage in a creative (mis)reading of the text. If you imagine dolphins communicating in the ocean, or even humans speaking to one another on land, there is no wire, no infrastructure connecting the participants. There is no interstate that we need to drive down, or fiber optic cable network that needs to carry our communications.  These things would be the infrastructure.

Instead of infrastructure we, and dolphins, have organs.  In the undifferentiated mass of air (or water) our communication is from organ to organ.  I have been meditating about what the different organs sense.  The brain senses thought, the eye, light, the heart, emotion, what about the liver, the kidney, the spleen?  Sensation and sensing is the protocol of organ communication.

When do we need infrastructure and when do we need organs? (I also cannot help but think of the D&G concept of bodies without organs – undifferentiated or unspecialized bodies- D&G is all infrastructure – all logistics )

Do we need both infrastructure and organs? If we think about bitcoin (or Ethereum or some other cryptocurrency), we can imagine that a mining node is an organ and the internet cable, the infrastructure. The protocol, how the transactions are communicated, is like the electron gradient guarding the influx of water through a cell membrane wall. I would say the protocol is part of the organ although it is perhaps structured by the infrastructure.

What is the structure? Is this the topology of the network as whole? In the case of cryptocurrency, this would make the structure the least material and most variable and ephemeral of the entire apparatus.

I am not sure what it means to think about things in terms of organs and infrastructure (and structure) I suppose.  But, I think about the turn that Deleuze makes from the monad to the nomad – the organ to the infrastructure.  Then, today, if we move from the nomad to the damon, to the he electron cloud and the realm of possibility, we can find the natural analog in the infrastructure-less air and water that Peters discusses in The Marvelous Clouds.