Friday, 9 April 2010

Extending Sunrise

- i can’t not mention the digital economy bill, and wikileaks stellar work which should still be on the front page of every newspaper, and news website, but remains resolutely low key wherever it appears. neither item should stay ignored -

Related to the last post I’m now reading Andy Clark’s Natural-Born Cyborgs, and, like his paper with David Chalmers, ‘The Extended Mind,’ it’s making me think about all sorts of things I haven’t read enough yet to parse properly. I need to get through tool-use in Heidegger, objects in Merleau-Ponty, and Clark’s Supersizing the Mind. I also want to read Sherry Turkle’s Evocative Objects, and Graham Harman’s Tool-Being and Guerrilla Metaphysics: Phenomenology and the Carpentry of Things, and investigate OOO in general. Maybe then I’ll start getting somewhere with all of this. Maybe not. Whatever, I know they’ll set me straight on my embryonic ideas. For now I’m thinking this:

Most of us are relatively happy with the adage that we are ‘the sum of our experiences.’ It seems to speak a kind of rough and ready truth. But we probably mostly conceive of it in terms of the consequences of the births, deaths, loves, and losses that we find ourselves subjected to. In short our ‘experiences’ are just the big tangible edifices of Life. I also think that we are the sum of our experiences, but that they are not all big Life events; some of them, most of them, are just life events, things that just take place day to day. Reading Clark, and also Merlin Donald, and starting to brush up on Graham Harman’s great blog, has made me think a lot about how we interact with the things around us, and I’m beginning to wonder why the act of putting socks on, everyday, for my four-score-and-ten, counts for so much less in our conception of things than some girl I quite liked in college. The presence in my life of toothpaste, or soap, or shoes, or, more easily perhaps, my mobile, has probably had as profound an effect on me as certain breakups, or other ‘formative’ experiences.

Deleuze and Guattari, at the opening of A Thousand Plateaus, when trying to describe who they are, say that using their names is just a convenient shorthand, “because it’s nice to talk like everybody else, to say the sun rises, when everybody knows it’s only a manner of speaking.” The sun doesn’t rise; a name doesn’t define us; and conceptualising ourselves as constrained beings, the ‘skin-bag’ as Clark describes it, no longer makes sense. So, I’d like to define my sunrise a little better: I’d like to define myself historically as the sum of all of my experiences, banal and profound, and that would include my conception and subsequent development, my combination of genes, environment, and interaction with the world. But such a conception also has radical implications for my current experience. Following Clark, I’d like to say that at this moment ‘I’ am my past, my present, my culture, this keyboard, this computer, my clothes, my watch, my haircut, the air in my lungs, the food and water in my system, my evolving thoughts, ambient and core temperatures, as well as everything I can touch, see, smell, taste, and hear, plus all of my other senses, and all the functions occurring all around my body, chemical and electrical, and I’d also like to include everything that I know is readily available to me, like my notepads, my annotated books, my dictionary, and the pages I know well online. That is ‘me,’ where the blurry boundary line of things I incorporate into myself extends to, and no further and no less, and always changing.

If you were to come into my room and take away my senses, take away my thoughts, if you were to cut my hair or skin then most everyone would agree that you were affecting ‘me.’ But if you came in here and burnt my books, disconnected my internet, stole my watch, or took the shirt from my back, then you’re also affecting what I thought of as ‘me.’ Sure, I can adapt, I will very quickly make a new ‘me’ (thought not instantly), but just because a system is in flux doesn’t mean that any damage to the system at any time should only be thought of as damage to a part. If someone is lost from a faculty, a family, a friendship group, a scout group, or a support group, then damage is done to the tribe, though they are always liable to change on their own terms frequently. In the same way: you don’t just burn my books, you burn me. You can’t ever freeze a moment to see what or who a person is, because thoughts change, bodies change, but also the environments wrapped around them change. Whatever exists in our sensory sphere, but also what we believe we can rely on, constitute ourselves and describe our future history. As Clark puts it:

“our sense of self, of what we know and of who and what we are, is surprisingly plastic and reflects not some rigid preset biological boundary so much as our ongoing experience of thinking, reasoning, and acting within whatever potent web of technology and cognitive scaffolding we happen to currently inhabit” (Natural-Born Cyborgs (hardcover) 45).

I know I’m pushing Clark’s ideas quite hard here, taking them a little further than he might appreciate, forgive me, but I’m starting to learn just how radical the implications are for what he’s saying.



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