Generating the Past, Present and the Future
‘’For unless poetry can absorb the machine,’’ wrote Hart Crane in 1930, ‘’i.e., acclimatize it as naturally and casually as trees, cattle, galleons, castles and all other human associations of the past, then poetry has failed of its full contemporary function.’’
Author’s note: It is impossible to write a piece on communication, theory, art, operating systems and computing that completely satisfies the demands of rigorous argument, exciting writing and approachable plot that keeps anyone awake. I have attempted to split the difference, leaving all audiences likely unsatisfied in some facet. My objective here is not so much to prove nor entertain, but instead simply to make a case and invite engagement. My advice to non-technical, non-specialists readers: just read the words and get the gist, look up what you may need more context on. For specialists: also read for the gist, find alternative sources for detailed technical arguments, rebut as you see fit.
Non-Operation of Everything Before Now
There does not exist a beginning to the argument that makes sense as the beginning. Instead what’s proposed here is just some statements to jostle loose some collage of argument and evidence. A statement of a theory, at the beginning, is one way, a particularly modern academic way, to generate a discussion. But as will become clear no matter how one reads this essay a theory cannot be stated in any meaningful way anyway.
So we jostle.
Operating systems really never operated anything. Language does not describe anything. Senses do not sense anything. Society doesn’t order people. Science does not define reality. Economics does not facilitate resource exchange. And no, this is not the statement that map is not the territory nor all models are wrong but some are useful.
The map is the territory and all models are reality — that is the maps and the models are as much reality generating as the stuff of reality that we don’t map and model. Models make more models, maps make more maps. Following a map in a car, millions of times, terraforms the surface of the earth — remakes the territory. Modeling reality based on a previous model makes more reality.
Yet most of our science, most of our technology approaches, most of our language, most of our culture, most of our interfaces between aspects of reality chases a mechanical fiction.
What have we jostled?
We have a mechanical bias. And have for a couple of hundred years.
Modernity’s complexity has returned many people to mechanical ontology — a perspective that the universe (including people) is mechanical and full of mechanical entities that can be understood, predicted and controlled. The re-invigorated misunderstanding of the interconnectedness of everything and the over-reliance on prediction and control systems particularly with persons holding great power brings us to another confusing moment in human history and in our own individual lives.
There is a reason we re-develop this bias.
Our challenge, as it usually is, one of awareness and ontological strategy and it was brought about by an explosion in reality without a corresponding explosion of ontology. Our ability to contemplate and make use of all this new reality lags. In periods where there is an explosion of technologies, trade, species collisions, rapid geologic and climate shifts, humans return to mechanical approaches as an efficient survival strategy. This is not unique to humans and human systems — all complex systems respond to chaos by pathologically attempting to simplify. It is more fundamental that even the idea of “responding” systems go through cycles of complexification and simplification — perhaps unchangeably so. Change the system? Or change what systems we’re aware of? There may not be a functional difference.
We need to escape the bias, again. Or not.
And, as we have re-learned many times before, we should deploy soft strategies to re-integrate ourselves into our maximum possible futures. The issue isn’t a moral, ethical, epistemological nor existential issue — those are yet more of the mechanical models that don’t do much actual work — and our resolutions won’t be of those kinds of things.
In order to better integrate the convergences and divergences of our present-future we require new, non-mechanical, non-operating approaches to everything we do. If we, and the other species on Earth, are to continue to thrive through the cycles of instabilities we have to use ecologically-grown adaptive tooling that increases our ability to recognize salient changes to our situation and explore possible adaptations. The days of bending ecosystems to our current stasis never really worked and most certainly aren’t working now. It is we who must change. It is we who must become more. Not operate, not predict, not regulate, not command, not control. Become Aware, Become Different. Adapt.
Humans collectively, repeatedly recognized, dealt with and then forgot this soft aspect of reality. Individually we lose sight of it many times in our life. We have devised all manners of soft strategies to cope with reality and remind ourselves of it from storytelling, theater, various arts, games and all manner of play. Philosophy, religion and science have been our more formal treatments.
These are unavoidable responses and emerge from the underlying reality. They are, in direct effect, the actual point of reality. The points at which reality can exert anything at all.
Prediction and Control systems are the strongest denials of reality. Systems of technology, systems of thinking and systems of socialization that attempt to control and predict are brutal attempts to stop the complexity by outright force. These systems evolve at the apex or the very edge of chaos, in response to the chaos. These systems are also necessary to the redistribution of complexity. Being part of the wider whole and not above it all they act as brutal perturbing conduits to new states of reality.
Ultimately though, these systems are integrated and diffused back into the unending flow of complexification and entropy through our softening strategies — the narration of possibilities that allow our awareness to drift to new realizations.
what was once technology evaporates into art.