PLANET Teleconference (November 1978 - February 1979)
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Table of Contents
Metabasis eis allo genos
To begin with, a few propositions-definitions as to what we're up to. What follows is essentially a prologue to a "systems architecture" for the free-play of metaphor and trope. How wide a swath of collective unconscious can be cut into and re-assessed/re-stated/re-valued in re-appreciated light? All this is analogous to adaptive behavior between differing biological niches. Thus I would first distinguish following instructions from obeying rules.
Rules are formulated with regard to typical, and shared situations, since their purpose is to order and codify shared ongoing exchange activity.
Instructions are employed to prescribe certain definite performances and thus can be reformulated and communicated with relative unconcern about the context within which the activity is to take place.
My experience--frustrating as it originally was--with the "instructions" for operating the computer terminal, for instance is a prima facie case for the instructions to become unconscious in order for conscious rules to naturally emerge.
Group communications among artists has never been systematically explored. Teleconferencing creates an extended space net that crosses time zones as well as cultural boundaries.
Two examples of the several forms this kind of communication could take:
1) Artist-Artist Networks: groups connected on the basis of common aesthetic interests.
2) Mentor Networks: an extension of the open-university concept wherein the possibility of "students" apprenticing to artists could be facilitated without regard to limitations of time and space. Not only would it "educate." but would also allow artists to be anywhere they choose.
Re: the open university analogy, I can conceive of some kind of subscription which would permit the subscribing individual or institution (art institute, museum, think tank, university, gallery, etc.) to tap into the active exchange of participant signal traffic and receive summaries and update reports on the state of the game.
The meta-space of the computer exchange (the pausing, phasing, the rhythm of the waiting, the receiving, the sending, the waiting again) is formidable in part because the terminal itself is so self-unassuming--all one's perceptual habits are somehow affected by the "typewriter" look, e.g., all this meta-spatial exchange finally comes out on a single flow of two dimensions (in the strictest sense, three dimensions since paper has width) which is enough, mind you. But what it does require then is a set of constraints (contingency rules) that can be optimized in two dimensions but compatible with more dimensions and/or other flows of three or two dimensions.
Terms for description: (The work of Kenneth Burke, Michel Foucault, Ross Ashby are the resources that immediately come to mind.) A new kind of kinematic graph is what we're groping for here--a mapping of the exchange of flow--to indicate its experiential novelty.
A modal unit is what is necessary, a unit of measure, of criteria analogous to the octave for the musician, the arithmetician's double, the geometer's circle.
In classical aesthetics the quest is for the elementary forms of intuition. How would such equivalence of the "elementary forms of intuition" be engaged as a common pool of criteria serving the tissue of contingencies that is play?
The scale of a thing/process refers to the number of distinctions within the system described.
Scale: The distinctions between identical parts is numerical. The distinction between non-identical parts is the degree, or measure, of difference.
There are parallels here to the laws of combination in geometry. The attributes of geometric space according to Poincare are: (1) It is continuous; (2) It is infinite; (3) It has three dimensions; (4) It is homogeneous, that is to say that all its points are identical to one another; (5) It is isotropic.
How analogous are these attributes to the meta-space or the epistemological playing field of this exchange? In a sense, these first primitive exchanges (about exchanges) are the beginnings of a natural history--complete with a future archaeology.
How do we arrive at common terms of description? For a start I would suggest distinguishing art from science. A definition of objective evidence in science is equal to evolution of a private sensibility in art. A new mythopoetic strategy would flux between the hard ("in the metal") evidence of the world's constituted parts and the "soft" private sensibilities of individual expressions of that world.
"The substance of man is obscure to himself" - Jacques Maritain
I think the first part of this three way metalogue could be an introduction of terms. To begin to restate the sentiment and mythic-key of Genesis at the next pass in the trajecting spiral.
Much of this, I think, has to do with a primal sense of play and conceptual alchemy. To rearticulate the mystery and terror of "being" at all, in the belief that anything exists at all, is the first realization of difference. As existence (in the character of human consciousness) posits non-existence, existence posits art and eternal search.
I take it that the kind of
aptitude for what is called "verbal behavior" (which includes
the acquiring of symbol-systems generally, such as music, painting, sculpture,
dance, etc.) can be posited as the differentia that defines us empirically
as our specific kind of animal. Such "arbitrary, conventional"
symbol-systems have come and gone since the days of pre-history when our
kind began developing these aptitudes, the ability to do so being grounded
in the body as a physiological organism. This minimum equivalent of what
in metaphysics or theology would be called "mind" or "spirit"
would involve a social or collective medium. Anthropologists would assign
it to the real of "culture" as distinct from "nature,"
though in its primitive states the two realms might not look much different
from each other, as adjoining things seen from a distance seem to merge.
As our terms for images, concepts, ideas, properties, attitudes, paradigms, perspectives, situations, processes, relationships, etc. took form, they became in effect a universe of their own. Also, the mediums using these purely symbolic devices made possible the kinds of attention and communication that gradually led to the invention and distribution of tools (with corresponding methods and attitudes). And thus we now confront the gradual accumulation of man-made new-things that constitute what we call the institutions of "technology." - Kenneth Burke, "Variations on 'Providence'"
Certainly, as a proposition,
the division between true and false is neither arbitrary, nor modifiable,
nor institutional, nor violent. Putting the question in different terms,
however--asking what has been, what still is, throughout our discourse,
this will to truth which has survived throughout so many centuries of our
history; or if we ask what is, in its very general form, the kind of division
governing our will to knowledge--then we may well discern something
like a system of exclusion (historical, modifiable, institutionally constraining)
in the process of development.
It is undoubtedly, a historically constituted division. For, even with the sixth century Greek poets, true discourse--in the meaningful sense--inspiring respect and terror, to which all were obliged to submit, because it held sway over all and was pronounced by men who spoke as of right, according to ritual, meted out justice and attributed to each his rightful share; it prophesied the future, not merely announcing what was going to occur, but contributing to its actual event, carrying men along with it and thus weaving itself into the fabric of fate. And yet, a century later, the highest truth no longer resided in what discourse was, nor in what it did: it lay in what was said. The day dawned when truth moved over from the ritualized act--potent and just--of enumeration to settle on what was enunciated itself: its meaning, its form, its object and its relation to what it referred to. A division emerged between Hesiod and Plato, separating true discourse from false; it was a new division for, henceforth, true discourse was no longer considered precious and desirable, since it had ceased to be discourse linked to the exercise of power. And so the Sophists were routed. - Michel Foucault, The Discourse on Language
It is also clear that many of the tests used for measuring "intelligence" are scored essentially according to the candidate's power of appropriate selection. Thus one test shows the child a common object and asks its name: out of all words the child must select the proper one. Another test asks the child how it would find a ball in a field; out of all the possible paths the child must select one of the suitable few. Thus it is not impossible that what is commonly referred to as "intellectual power" may be equivalent to "power of appropriate selection." Indeed, if a talking Black Box were to show high power of appropriate selection in such matters--so that, when given difficult problems it persistently gave correct answers--we could hardly deny that it was showing the behavioral equivalent of "high intelligence." If this is so, and as we know that power of selection can be amplified, it seems to follow that intellectual power, like physical power, can be amplified. Let no one say that it cannot be done, for the gene-patterns do it every time they form a brain that grows up to be something better than the gene--pattern could have specified in detail. What is new is that we can now do it synthetically, consciously, deliberately. - W. Ross Ashby, An Introduction to Cybernetics