I just read “On The Existence of Technical Objects” in a reading group and I wanted to jot down my ideas before I forgot them.
This is a book about technicity – which is sort of like tools and automation. How is technology created, what is the role of technology in society (and economics)? Spoiler – its central.
Some specific thoughts
The language of the book
The language of the book is theoretical. Simondon makes an assertion that something beings (either human society or tool making)in a unity that has the structure of “magic.” This then becomes bifurcated into technics and religion with their point of bifurcation being called aesthetics. Technics and religion further bifurcate into practical and theoretical. The theoretical for technics is inductive reasoning, for religion it is theology. This type of thought is labeled – “scientific reasoning”. The practical for technics is an implied (or perhaps deontological) ethics, and for religion it is a value ethics. Some people interpret the practical as a distinction between applied ethics and normative ethics, but I disagree. This is labeled ethical reasoning.
So the language of technics is the language of religion – likewise we could talk about religion in the language of technics. This is perhaps what is happening when we talk about about yogic “technology” (like certain breath work).
There is the notion that technics emerge through a process of individuation. This individuation process is based in work. This is opposed to the grounding of at least ancient greek philosophy in leisure and contemplation. Through the process of individuation the technology becomes itself.
I am really interested in the relationship between this – individuation and psychology because my favorite psychologist – Jung- is all about individuation. Jung is also influenced by metaphors of alchemy – who’s goal is “the work” the philosopher’s stone or something like that, not just the contemplation. I would at some point like to formally explore this.
Science and Individuation
I am currently influenced by Owen Barfield, since I read him a few weeks ago. and the relationship between observations and science. I am also influenced by Vaclav Smil, and his history of technological innovation in the 19th and 20th Centuries.
The interesting thing to note is that – per Smil – in the 20th century innovation happened based on scientific models. They were a reification of theory. Prior to that, innovation happened by trial and error, or tinkering, etc, by ‘working’. So this 20C transformation, where is the work happening in technics? Is the work happening in the instrumentation that has us record the data that leads us to develop the models. The technics here are the the instruments. But then also technics are related to moments of rupture when the resultant technology breaks. The model turns out to be inadequate -as most models are – and we have to work, in a trial and error tinkering fashion to complete the technic individuation process.
I am not going to talk about what Simondon does to place technics at the center of social and political thought – but I am going to note it and revist it.
There are other questions of alienation and economics that do not interest me that much – but I am going to put them here in case at a later point I want to revisit them. If it is true that alienation comes not from selling our labor (per marx), but in not fully understand what our labor is doing via the black box of the tool (my interpretation of Simondon). Then instead of abolishing money or the market economy, we should just open source all tools and technics and make all related education free, accessible and integrated into society so that people that use the tools/technics. Perhaps we cannot release new tools/technics until people can understand how they work.
A coda… fixing bugs and troubleshooting software and hardware systems to me is a process of tinkering. When I was a yeoman developer someone told me – a complete idiot and fool if you ask me- that if you write good software you dont need to test it. This is like saying all models will produce technology that always work. This is just not the case. Software in particular is in a constant state of individuation (refinement through fixing defects), and this can be considered the beginning transindividuation. Yet another point for another time, but the notion that we should not relate to tools as mere use (contra Heideigger), but the creation of the world as interaction between technics and humans. (a little bombastic – but i cannot help some rhetorical flourish now and again(