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FleshFactor: the moderator reappears

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

No, I haven't disappeared.  I've been right here with you, every word.  It
has been about a month since I posted my "mission revisited" message.  We
have come a long way since then, weaving a quite an immense collective
grid of perceptions about the other side of the machine, our side, the

Over the past month I've tried to be a good moderator, by staying out of
the way when the discussion was intelligent and passionate and pretty much
on course. This has been a remarkable experience of communication and
expression.  I have learned a lot and many people have shared with me
their fascination, while scratching their heads, sometimes bewildered,
with the twists and turns and insights and energy of this meta-

There are more questions to be asked and things to say.  Before I get to
the things I would personally like to see explored next, I would like to
call your attention to a few texts featured in our reference section, the
FleshFactor Substrata area:  <http://www.aec.at/fleshfactor/flsub.html>. 
For the philosophically inclined, Patricia Smith Churchland has forwarded
a text called "Feeling Reasons".  Pat felt this text addresses many of the
issues I was touching on back in my "mission revisited" muse: 
<http://www.aec.at/fleshfactor/arch/msg00027.html> If you will recall, I
was referring to Tom Wolfe's article in Forbes, "Sorry, But Your Soul Just
Died", in which he so masterfully probes just about all the ways we might
feel uncomfortable with the applied or inferred specifics of sociobiology,
genetic research and neuroscience, as they call into question free will,
and perhaps absolve us, dangerously, from our decision- making

Churchland's "Feeling Reasons" interrelates "three vintage philosophical
theses with new data from neuroscience:  (1) feelings are an essential
component of viable practical reasoning about what to do, (David Hume) and
(2) moral agents come to be morally and practically wise not by dint of
"pure cognition", but by developing through life experiences the
appropriate cognitive-affective habits (Aristotle), and (3) agents need to
acquire the cognitive-connative skills to evaluate the consequences of
certain events and the price of taking risks, and hence must be treated as
responsible agents (Hobart [1934], Schlick [1939]).  Each of the theses
has been controversial and remains so now; each has been the target of
considerable philosophical criticism. Now, however, as the data comes in
from neuropsychology as well as experimental psychology and basic
neuroscience, the empirical probability of each seems evident." 

There are other valuable texts in this Substrata area;  texts by Dj
Spooky, Adilkno, Christian Kokai-Kun, Lev Manovich, Stephen L. Talbott and
finally a text by yours truly.  My text, "A Statement from Inside the
Cultural Industrial Compound", deals with the potential loss of self due
to overwhelming opportunities for the expression of identity, i.e. self
manifestation (exhibitionism) leads to self annihilation.  And this text
begins to ask questions about surveillance and appearance as fundamental
cornerstones of identity. 

Last week Sean Cubitt stated, in his "How many bodies in the umwelt"
contribution, "Identity is a surveillance technology, not a biological
category..." That really struck me as interesting as it inverts the way
most people think about identity, that it's usually an internal,
subjective thing, not that it's totally determined by surveillance (how
you look to those observing you).  This for me also resonated with Dinka
Pignon's view that the "introspective nature of the individual...[is} a
fundamental psychological property (and existential need)...not to be
relinquished for anything" (from her "Theoretical Ghosts" message); or
later she wrote "...the better (more abstract) grasp you have of yourself
and your environment, the more isolated you get.  Outstanding people whose
minds we admire so much have always been very lonely, always striving to
go one step further away so as to achieve a better vantage point from
which to view the (already virtual) world, to establish new links and
extract new concepts from it."  Again, surveillance and identity. 

Gerfried Stocker wrote (yes, back to his loaded text!):  "In a society
defined by the psycho-sociology of surveillance, our media are a second
skin at the periphery of the body, a body whose sentient pores are formed
by surveillance cameras, image recognition systems, 'eye in the sky'
satellites, personal data record systems, networked databases and
intelligent agents." 

There are indeed eyes (and ears) on both sides of this second skin.  Who
is watching me while I'm watching you?  This is another primary
psychoeconomic aspect of our contemporary existences.  How far out there
is too far (placing oneself under surveillance), but then what
satisfaction is there in just lurking?  And this need to observe and be
acknowledged for observing extends further inside into our most private
moments, into our relationships with our machines.  Our most trustworthy
friends--our very best listeners.  Whether you baby your hard drive,
talking about 'his' age and memory problems but calling him affectionately
by his first name; or whether you are a twelve year old girl sneaking your
cyber-baby into school, so that you can nurture your sweet, but demanding
little egg of a 'puter...these are the signs of a fundamental human need. 

We have all this wonderful technology but it ignores us.  And we need to
be acknowledged, recognized, sensed needed and appreciated. 

"Identity as a surveillance technology..."  I for one would like to see
this expanded.  All the other tracks will of course continue to remain
open--mind-body, are people machines?/what is a machine?, balancing two or
three natures--none of these tracks have been exhausted or fully
resolved...  But what about this fundamental human need to be sensed or
maybe more?  Can we build machines that will learn to like us or maybe
even love us...even just a little bit? 

Tom Sherman, moderator, FleshFactor Net-Symposium

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