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FleshFactor: theoretical ghosts

A E C  F O R U M - "F L E S H F A C T O R"

I'm an artist. I have no specialized knowledge in cybernetics, physics,
human engineering or philosophy and I hardly dare to open my mouth in this
forum after recognizing the intelligence and complexity of recent
submissions, but I'll close my eyes and do it in spite of all, relying
just on my common sense and assuming that many of my confusions when
trying to comprehend some of this forum are not necessarily due to my
ignorance and poor understanding of the language, but rather to their
adherance to what I believe are empty theoretical premises.  Unhappy as I
am that I could not be more positive in this initial entry to the
discussion, I'll leave it to Tom Sherman, the moderator, to decide whether
my writing is of any interest or value to the forum. 


Not so long ago I read a book about the discovery of Tutankhamun's tomb
and its clearance led by Howard Carter, and was very amused and intrigued
by Carter's definition of amulets - things that pharaohs' mummified bodies
were found richly adorned with in their sarcophagi, to have at hand on
their journey in the afterlife.  Amulets, he says, are magical objects
that people invent to protect themselves from figments of their

Without wanting to sound too harsh, I would say that one such figment of
people's imagination (which many participants in this symposium seem to be
trying to conjour up charms to either banish or invoke) is Stocker's
statement about the Individual and its Western model ("an autonomous,
inward-looking entity") being now "relinquished in favour of a hybridized,
networked subjectivity, within which we are forced to perceive ourselves
as dynamic nodes in a social network of communication". And as a
consequence of that, "a clear distinction between subject and object
ceases to be possible" asserts Stocker.

I cannot from my own experience (environment) see what Stocker is
referring to (what he depicts reminds me of the kind of diagram a network
software company might use to advertise their product), but he is
evidently suggesting that the Network is taking on a higher status and
degree of autonomy than the individual.  It is now the Network, an
artificially created system, and not the mind residing in our body, where
we (in the capacity of 'dynamic nodes', whatever they might be), are
("willy-nilly") to find a sense of self.  This would seem to me to be an
area where one can engender stimulating discussion but very much on
tentative and speculative grounds, while the categorical and extreme
formulation made by Stocker, especially as a 'keynote' statement, I feel
induced people (many of whom took it at face value) to get too caught up
in agitated attempts to unnecessarily maintain and defend their validity
as humans, individuals and 'autonomous entities', leaving very little
space for more useful things like a self-questioning, constructive
investigation of our potential relationship with technology and artificial
intelligence, ideological indeterminacy (a fluid from which meaningful
concepts may crystallize), and so on. 

My first spontaneous thoughts in reaction to the title FleshFactor were
about Eroticism and 'Creative Self-Destruction' (which I see as the
fundamental bearers of Life, Death, Mind and Flesh), but after following
the evolution of this net discussion the (intellectual) "erotic charge",
residing very much in my "inward-looking" self entity, that charge that
once put my FF-thoughts in motion, gradually dissolved into a row of
question marks - questions about the necessity of this charge residing
within me, and my original impulse to express these essential, more
positive feelings got cast into a need to disperse 'theoretical ghosts'
instead - those distracting hypotheses that I can't find grounds to
believe in...

What is it out there that we sit here and so helplessly fear? 

What are the parts or aspects of human beings that are(?)/will be(?) hybridised
with the Net in a way (what way?) that would make the distinction between
subject (defined as what?) and object (defined as what?) impossible? Can we be
specific when stating this and that about our new subjectivity, identity and
subject-object relations, or does our fear in the face of our marriage with
technology and its future consequences for us arise from the unforseeability of
how things will really evolve, leaving too much free space for us to imagine
monsters from which we will have to defend ourselves. (Have you seen "The
Forbidden Planet"?). 

What is 'networked subjectivity'??  Are the thoughts I am trying to
present here an expression of my 'networked subjectivity' (versus my
personal subjectivity), as this is a Net-symposium?  Would they be more so
if it was moderated by 'intelligent agents' instead of Tom Sherman? (sorry
Tom, I didn't mean to imply you are not intelligent).  What's the big deal
with the Net (as it is at present) that makes such a crucial, qualitative
difference to our communication and has such a dramatic effect on us as
humans and individuals?  We are given the space, the tools and the
protocol, an artificial environment to inhabit, navigate and share, but
the way we relate to ourselves and each other there is pretty much the
same.  The conventions haven't changed appreciably.  They are and will of
course - and so shall we - but the rate of change has not been and will
not be such that we notice it.

I can imagine all sorts of sophisticated interfaces conducting and
mediating our communication (Derek Robinson's submission has been most
helpful!), our brains wired directly to these interfaces and our bodies
becoming more and more 'virtual', but no matter how far I go, and I can
only extrapolate from what I already know, I still perceive myself as
autonomous, and the subject-object distinction remains to me as clear or
unclear as it always has been.  However radical the changes which might
ensue in my perception and behaviour, in my relation to the world, I
cannot, as is evident even from the structure of this sentence, envisage
being any less "me inside myself".  Referring to Derek Robinson's remarks,
I have no objection to the idea of a cyborganic synthesis of myself and a
machine, but I cannot by any stretch of the imagination see me becoming
less autonomously me, however different I may become, and nor, I think,
can Stephen Hawking either. 

Back to where I was (and this in a way is my point): I don't perceive the
introspective nature of the individual as "the Western model", or any kind of
model for that matter, but see it rather as a fundamental psychological property
(and existential need), and as such not likely to be relinquished for anything.

So here goes again:  What is networked subjectivity/identity?  Or (without
taking into account speculations on the future) maybe I should put it the
other way around: Is it really news?  Haven't we been, in our behaviour,
thought and communication, conditioned by the society (and its networks)
ever since civilization began, and to such an extent that many have almost
no other identity/subjectivity but the social, the same way we now imagine
(and fear)  being conditioned by the Net Systems? 

I can't help making a digression here to remind you of the hilarious and
most pertinent scene from Monty Python's "Life of Brian", when poor Brian
is forced to give a speech to the worshiping crowd and says in

- Don't follow me!  You don't have to listen to anybody!  You must think
  for yourselves! 
- We must think for ourselves, repeats the entranced crowd in chorus.
- You're all individuals!
- We're all individuals, says the chorus. 
- You're all different!
- We're all different!

And then a little old man raises his single voice from the crowd
and says: I'm not!


I will continue to avidly read contributions to FleshFactor.  I welcome
its injection of intellect into a field dominated by rapidly advancing
technologies in the absence of critical thinking, or often any kind of
thinking.  Now that I've sounded off about theoretical red herrings, I
hope to come back soon with some more positive thoughts from another point
of view. 

Dinka Pignon


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