Re: [-empyre-] what is to be done?

Thanks to all of you for your answers and comments. As you may have gathered 
by reading my first post, I, like, you do not have definite answers to the 
questions I asked. 

Here?s a very brief summary of what some of you have written (my apologies in 
advance for what was left out):

According to Jim, machines have shown us how complex human beings are 
(research in AI have clearly proven that intelligence is a much more complex 
structure than first thought).

Brian sums up Bernard Stiegler?s book in which Stiegler makes his case for a 
return to what seems to me a romantic notion of humanity. Brian also asks me 
to suggest some possible answers to the questions I asked.

Brett makes a crucial distinction between beauty and the sublime and suggests 
that a productive strategy would be to let go of the ?our received assumption 
about the ontology of both art and theory?. 

Now what is to be done? How should we tackle the profound transformation of 
our world? As you know, the questions about the role of art and its 
relationship to humanity, are just a symptom of a much deeper metamorphosis. I 
do not use this word lightly. To me, we are in the process of a true 

(there are, all around us, many proofs of that. Kurzweil?s law of accelerating 
return being just one of them.

Alexandre Leupin?s Theory of Epistemological Cuts being another.

According to Leupin, a paradigmatic revolution can be clearly seen when words 
become homonyms. Before and after Galileo, for example, the word cosmos, 
though the same, does not mean the same thing. Before and after Christ, the 
word God means something completely different. Today, words such as life, 
death, consciousness and even art do not mean the same as they did only a few 
years back). 

As Leupin and Kurzweil clearly show, we are right in the middle of a deep 
transformation of the very fabric of life. Xenotransplantation, genetic 
therapy, genetically modified organisms are not just exotic events: they are 
signs of a great alteration in the foundation of life. Life is becoming one 
great genetic pool out of which forms emerge. Some are ?natural? (i.e. age-
old), others not so (i.e. created in labs), but all are present in today? 

Here, then, are my thoughts:

In my initial post, I mentioned technological reality. Technological reality 
is the human/machine perception of the world. As opposed to biological reality 
(which is the physiological perception of reality, i.e. that which is gathered 
by our senses), technological reality lets us see slivers of reality we are 
not cognitively or psychologically equipped to see and understand (the quantum 
level of reality, for example). In Consilience, E.O. Wilson wrote: The brain 
is a machine assembled not to understand itself but to survive. This, I 
believe, is fundamental. Biological reality is our brain trying to decipher 
the world in order to survive. Technological reality is our brain trying to 
cope with the world as technology sees it. But these new levels of reality are 
so alien to our understanding of the world (to our brain?s structure of 
survival), that they become true fiction. We might intellectually understand 
their existence but we cannot truly grasp what they mean (what does 9, 10 or 
11 dimensions, as string theory suggests our world is made of, actually 

Thus, technological reality offers us a perception of the world which is both 
frightening and beautiful. Frightening because it questions all of our notions 
of what it means to be alive, to be human, to be conscious and intelligent, 
all of our notions of what the fabric of reality is. Beautiful because it 
shows us that ?reality? is infinite, that the universe is made of strange and 
exotic structures, that what we thought were the universal (and simple) laws 
of physics are but a tiny fraction of the fabric of the universe. Frightening 
because it suggests that the world is beyond our understanding; beautiful 
because it celebrates the observer (as defined by quantum theory) as an 
essential component of reality. Technological reality does not deconstruct; 
rather, it fragments objects, forms, individuals into an infinite series of 
layers. Technological reality folds and enfolds phenomena until the 
microscopic meshes into the macroscopic. Thus, through technological reality 
the world appears both beautiful and inhuman.

This is why I call our present situation, The Inhuman Condition. I do not use 
inhuman pejoratively (as in horrible) but rather in the proper sense of the 
word (that which is not human). The inhuman condition tells us that since our 
age-old understanding of life, death, individuals, intelligence and especially 
groups and families, are specific to our biological level of reality, since 
these notions are only constructions of our physiology (itself build from the 
challenges of evolution), we must completely redefine what it means to be 
human, we must completely rethink our notions of the fabric of life. The 
inhuman condition also tells us that beauty and the sublime can co-exist with 
the unnatural, the inhuman. To me, the inhuman condition creates many 
troubling consequences. The most obvious one is a deep malaise. According to 
the inhuman condition, what our senses tell us of the world is nothing but a 
familiar and comfortable fiction. We may feel human, we may feel unique, 
conscious and intelligent but science (and technological reality) tells us 
otherwise (as you know, Richard Dawkins has labeled living beings ?survival 
vehicles? for genes. Recent research has shown that the actual genetic content 
of the bacteria living in our stomach is 99 times bigger than our own genetic 
material (Gill, Steven R: The Institute for Genomic Research, in Harper?s 
Magazine, vol 313, no 1876, septembre 2006, p. 13). Thus, are we survival 
vehicles for our genes or for our bacteria?s? Who?s the vehicle here?). 

If humanity becomes inhuman, what, then, are the consequences on the artistic 
process? But first, we must ask ourselves what, exactly, is art? We could, of 
course, spend an entire year discussing it. Let me suggest my own definition 
here (which is as flawed as any other). To me, art is the sensitive 
questioning of metaphysics (science would be the objective questioning of 
metaphysics). But since the fabric of life must be redefine, so must be 
metaphysics: how can we question life, death, suffering if we do not know what 
life is, when death occurs, what or who is suffering? If we don?t even know 
what reality is, where it originates, where it ends? How can we question 
metaphysics if its basis, humanity, suddenly appears to be just one level of 
reality (what are life and death if one is considered an colony of different 
living beings, beings that can actually keep on living after the colony?s 
death? There are more than 200 different living species in each human. Death 
does not occur at the same time for each of them. Further, the actual process 
of life and death is quite different for many of them).

Art, I believe, must address and reflect this deep transformation. How? Well, 
what the inhuman condition tells us is that the world that surrounds us is not 
made of frontiers but of overlapping dynamics and levels (both horizontal, 
between species, and vertical, between levels of reality). Art must then 
search for beauty and the sublime within this new condition, i.e. by letting 
go of the human as its founding and exclusive phenomena. How should it do 
that? I?m not quite sure but I?ll suggest the following: By using machines as 
co-creators. Not only do machines makes us see a deeper, stranger, more exotic 
universe than we ever thought possible, they also help us understand the 
world, make sense of it, they help us extract a new beauty, a different 
sublime out of that world (e.g.: fractals). Machines are not only instruments, 
they have become an extension of our senses (as McLuhan mentioned), they have 
become an extension of consciousness. Thus, they play a vital and fundamental 
role in art. Now, is that something completely new? Well, not really, 
especially if we consider language as a machine, one that opened the world for 
us, made it much richer, much more beautiful, language is a machine that 
filled the world with signs, symbols and representation. The original machine 
(language) is what enabled humans to create art. Today?s machines are doing 
the same, albeit with a different entity, that of the inhuman.

But for that to be possible, we must abandon our notion of humanity, of what 
it means to be human, we must accept that today?s humanity is shaped by a new 
reason, by a new rationale, one which might seem irrational to our age-old 
notions of what it means to be human (humanity is now a colony of bacteria, 
genes and memes; it?s a swarm of many collective intelligences, themselves 
part of larger collective intelligences; it?s a mass of many different 
survival vehicles, themselves feeding larger collective intelligences such as 
civilization). Once we are able to do so, we will see the rise (I believe) of 
a new form of art, one that seamlessly integrates the inhuman into its forms 
and content. What is the inhuman in art? It?s the sublime that emerges through 
the combination of both man?s and machine?s languages. It?s the sublime in the 
intertwining of forms and contents (the rational with the irrational). Machine 
and humans will feed off each other and produce art forms that reflects each 
other?s needs and questioning (can a machine have a will? Well, not in the 
human sense of the word, but a ?will? to survive, spread and disseminate? Yes, 
I believe so. Machine are survival vehicles for memes, they belong and are 
intertwined in the planetary fabric; they thus obey the structure of 

By the way, digital art, and especially database art, are already a sign of 
these new, emerging art forms, one closer to the inhuman condition than to the 
human one. Digital art show us a different side of metaphysics, where to be 
human is not to be enmeshed in story telling, is not to belong to a linear 
evolution, but to be intertwined in an imploded notion of time, space and 
narratives, where to be human is to be a receptacle of data, is to be an 
ephemeral form, produced by the convergence of different languages (machine?s 
and well as man?s) and levels of reality, where to be human is also to be 
everything but a unique individual, where to be human is to be both ?read? 
and ?written? by machines, where to be human is to be inhuman.

Quoting Brian Holmes <>:

> wrote:
>   What is to be done with a process that helped create our
> > perception of the metaphysical, but whose operations, whose forms and 
> > sometimes even content are now within the control of machines? When most of
> > what art produces today ignores humanity?s need for the transcendent, when
> > what most of what art produces today responds to machine?s perceptions of
> the 
> > world?
> This is a great text, with interesting references and a clear relation 
> to present reality. But I think the onus is on you to give some initial 
> ideas of what is to be done. There is, effectively, nothing in the 
> Western philosophical tradition that will help respond.
> I am currently reading a philosopher from that retrograde country, 
> France, one who writes in the minor imperial language most of them still 
> use over there, his name is Bernard Stiegler. He thinks that the entire 
> European production of technological writing machines in the enlarged 
> sense - the kind of machines with which we cultivate ourselves, along 
> the lines sketched out by Foucault in his text "writing of the self" - 
> should be reoriented so as to basically save the inhabitants of Europe 
> and perhaps elsewhere from a threatening reduction of human singularity, 
> and with it, of any possible ethics. He thinks that capitalism, in the 
> advanced economies, is now primarily cultural, focused around the 
> different devices whereby memory and creativity of all kinds is 
> exteriorized into objects and traces. He thinks such machines are 
> essential, a basic part of the human experience in time, but that care 
> needs to be taken with their production, so that persons can go on 
> becoming individuals ("individuating") in a relation of creative tension 
> with societies which are also constantly individuating. If this care for 
> the social and psychic self cannot be translated into a change in the 
> kinds of machines which are produced, he believes that a generalized 
> disenchantment with democracy will grow more widespread, leading to a 
> collapse of desire into gregarious, instinctual outbursts of destructive 
> violence. His latest book, Reenchanter le monde: La valeur esprit contre 
> le populisme industriel, begins precisely with a chapter entitled "What 
> is to be done?" However, if I have understood the post you sent, this 
> whole approach and anything like it is already obsolete. So I am quite 
> curious what you think is to be done.
> all the best, Brian Holmes
> _______________________________________________
> empyre forum


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