Unreal Nature

June 17, 2018

This Couple Has Arrived

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:45 am

… the technological life consists not of humans directing machines, but of humans learning ‘to exist at the same level as them.’ We must be coupled with multiple machines.

This is from The Philosophy of Simondon: Between Technology and Individuation by Pascal Chabot translated by Aliza Krefetz and Graeme Kirkpatrick (2003):

… ‘Information machines’ are situated at the point where two philosophical traditions intersect. They mediate between a material tradition and a logical tradition. In one tradition, logical reasoning must be expressed verbally; in the other, it must be ‘materialized,’ that is, represented visually and concretely through the use of a supporting mechanism.

… Cybernetics is the meeting point of these two traditions. In computer science, the operation that describes this convergence is called implementation. To implement is to inscribe a logical structure in material form, by programming an electronic circuit.

Simondon distinguishes two ‘layers’ in an object: an internal layer — the technical nucleus (noyau technique), and an external layer. The former is the true zone of technological activity. The combustion chamber of a motor, the engine of an airplane, or the microprocessor of a computer respond only to technological pressures.

[line break added] Hidden from the scrutiny of the uninitiated, they cannot be modified without affecting their performance. They are technological black boxes. The nucleus is covered by an external layer, the superficial form which ‘materializes’ human values and fashions — what Simondon calls ‘psycho-social inferences.’

… He separates the essence from the inessential, the technological constant from social variations. The depth of his analysis is made possible by this bracketing of the inessential. By focusing exclusively on the essence of technology, he discovers its guiding principles.

… This distinction between the essence and the inessential links Simondon to the epic presentation of history [as opposed to the contingent one]. It compels him to distinguish between two evolutions: the evolution of the core of the object and that of its external layer.

… [On the other hand] The contingent presentation of history rejects this distinction. It does not minimize the importance of technology, but it connects technology to the other dimensions. In Aramis, or the love of technology, Latour gives an account of the evolution of a project to build a new metro system in Paris. Engineers, politicians, and financiers all have a hand in the venture. Each of them attempts to impose their interests on the plans for the project. Latour demonstrates that this process of concretization resists the distinction between the technological and the psycho-social.

[line break added] A key figure in his book is the old woman carrying parcels. She haunts the dreams of the engineers, because building a metro also means thinking about her movements as she enters the train car and sits down. The quality of the vehicle’s brake system reflects concern for this old woman, as much as it does the capabilities of French technologies. When the system is considered from a global perspective it becomes apparent that what is essential is not always confined to the interior of the black box.

[ … ]

Simondon sees in cybernetics a way to move beyond the problems posed by previous stages of technological evolution. Information machines no longer replace human beings. They allow for a collaboration, a ‘good’ coupling which realizes the ideal of a ‘technological life.’

The epic of technology moves toward a specific end. Simondon suggests that the technological life consists not of humans directing machines, but of humans learning ‘to exist at the same level as them.’ We must be coupled with multiple machines. Human beings thus become ‘agent(s) and translator(s) of information from one machine to another.’ We are part guardian, part servant. We are, beyond any sense of alienation.

Today, it must be acknowledged that this couple has arrived. The problems which now, perhaps, present themselves are the quality of the matrimonial regime and the education of the resulting offspring.

My most recent previous post from Chabot’s book is here.

-Julie

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