ARTS3091 Blog 4 – How do we know what is real?

March 27, 2012 § Leave a comment

Virtually virtual

The virtual is:

The indeterminate potential of any given moment
as the entire weight of the world moves through it’
(Murphey, n.d.)

This sentence is a brilliant summation of the concept of the virtual. To truly understand it however, you have to read murphy’s article a few times, or flush the sentence out a bit more.

On first reading, I thought the virtual was better conceptualized as an ‘unimagined’ reality, rather than a ‘potential’ reality as murphy describes.  As I reread the article I saw how ‘potential’ reality was a more concise term. As well as this I came to understand how the virtual is in fact real, or at the very least, I came to see how you could refute that the virtual is not real.

Murphy’s statement can be split in half.

The “indeterminate potential of any given moment”  (Murphey, n.d.) refers to the multiplicity of the concept of the virtual.  There are virtual memories: our memories which we are not actively remembering all the time and which we ‘throw ourselves into’ to ‘actualize certain individual memories’. The same could be said to apply to concepts or thoughts.

We could apply the concept of the virtual to Scott Rosenberg’s article where Mark Zuckerberg discusses the metaphorical map of technology:

I think that the biggest part of the
 map has got to be the uncharted territory.”
(Rosenberg, 2010)

Zuckerberg is essentially saying that the biggest part of technology exists in the virtual, waiting to be actualized in the form of new technology.

This brings us to the second half of the sentence, ‘as the entire weight of the world moves through it’(Murphey, n.d.). This phrase explains that the virtual is affected by reality. When a potential reality is actualized, it is through a physical (or real) medium. For example, a memory can be actualized by a smell, a thought/concept can be actualized by words on a page, or an entrepreneurial man or woman can actualize a virtual technology.

This is why the term ‘potential’ reality is more fitting than ‘unimagined’ reality, as it has the potential to become truly real, not just imaginarily real. In other words, we cannot deny the virtual the status of ‘real-ness’ or real-ity’ when it is transformed by things we claim to be real.

References:

Murphey, A. (n.d.) Arts3091 Course Notes – Week 5 [Accessed 27th March 2011] Available at: http://arts3091.newsouthblogs.org/course-outline-and-readings/#weekfive

Rosenberg, S. (2010) “Your map is wrong”: Zuckerberg lights out for the territories. Wordyard. [Accessed 27th March 2011] Available at: http://www.wordyard.com/2010/11/17/your-maps-wrong-zuckerberg-lights-out-for-the-territories/

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ARTS3091 Blog 3 – Extended Mind

March 21, 2012 § Leave a comment

Extended Percept

This week I am blogging on Alva Noe’s readings & vlog, David Chalmer’s  lecture and the class lecture. I’ve decided to argue against the philosophical concept of the extended mind.  The extended mind argues, in a nutshell, that cognitive processes aren’t (all) in the head. That external processes (media technologies especially) are replacing what is normally done in the head (Chalmers, 2009). That our sense of self is controlled by our interactions with the external world (Murphy, 2012), and ‘that thoughts, feelings, experiences of taste and the like’ do not take place in the head at all(Noe, 2009).

I argue that instead of media technology extending the mind, it extends percepts.

Noe makes an analogy between the car and self, comparing the brain to the engine. He argues that driving takes place in the whole car not just the engine, and that as such ‘being’ or ‘self’ takes place in the whole body, not just the  brain. He is arguing that our senses are part of our extended (exterior) mind. This is partly true, but is by no means definitive. It is a commonly known fact that we can have a perception, without a percept. How would you explain basic illusions, or more complicated perceptions without sense such as dreaming, blind sight or phantom limbs? Perception can be purely internal, without external actors.

Chalmer’s main example that cognitive processes take place outside the head is that he can ‘remember’ numbers in his iphone. He also states that arguing against this fact is self defeating, but I disagree. Memory is a three part process. Encoding, storing and retrieving.  A media may be able to encode and store, but it cannot retrieve. (stay with me here)

I am arguing that media technology extends percepts, rather than our mind, through space and time. Chalmers argues that by writing down things we are extending our memory. I argue that we are extending the percept of the thing we are writing down. If someone tells us an address we are able to access that perception, albeit through a different medium, at any time and place. It does not extend our mind but rather extends the percepts of the world.

In summation; I believe that rather than extending the mind, we are extending percepts available to our mind in both space and time.

Embodied

References

Noë, Alva and Solano, Marlon Barrios (2008) ‘dance as a way of knowing: interview with Alva Noë’, <http://www.dance-tech.net/video/1462368:Video:19594>

Noë, Alva (2010) ‘Does thinking happen in the brain?’, 13:7 Cosmos and Culture <http://www.npr.org/blogs/13.7/2010/12/10/131945848/does-thinking-happen-in-the-brain>

Chalmers, David (2009) ‘The Extended Mind Revisited [1/5], at Hong Kong, 2009’, <http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8S149IVHhmc>

Murphey, A. (2012) Week 4 ARTS3091 Lecture, University of New South Wales

ARTS3091 Blog 2 – Levinson reading

March 13, 2012 § 1 Comment

The Medium Controls the Message

‘Sometimes an idea can be too big for a medium to convey’  

Before this reading, McLuhans famed statement, ‘the medium is the message’, was lost upon me. Paul Levinson’s reading and the contextualization he provides really helped me better understand this statement.

The piece begins by analyzing hieroglyphics and their logographic properties; ‘the components of each hieroglyph were usually rooted in some visual depiction of the word’.  This notion is difficult for us, with our modern alphabet, to understand. This is because logographic text could only ‘preserve the spoken word’ with symbols rooted in visual depiction. It may have been easy to write about the nile or the pyramids but how would you write down words such as liberty, justice or democracy?

Levinson looks at how this affected the societal notion of ‘God’ or omnipotent things.  He notes that while written communication was rooted in visual depiction (logographical), ‘Gods’ were associated with physical things, for example the sun God, Ra, was literally the sun, while a falcon depicted Horus.

Levinson then analyses the phonetic alphabet, particularly Hebrew, and how this allowed for re-imagination of ‘God’, that which we use today. ‘By breaking communication up into tiny letters, they correspond to nothing complete and recognizable in the world’ making them ‘meaningless individually, but therein capable of meaning anything in proper conjunction’ (16) This new medium allowed for a much more complex notion of ‘God’ to emerge, one who is immanent (with and within all things) yet also transcendent (outside time and space), along with many other complex characteristics.

Hieroglyphics were unable to communicate such a complex notion of God. The idea of an omnipotent God, as we know it today, was too complex for the medium of hieroglyphics to convey.  [I’m a poet and I wasn’t previously aware of it]

Levinson’s analysis of how different mediums affect the complex notion of omnipotence stop here, but it definitely got me thinking. The notion of today’s God may have seemed difficult to convey through hieroglyphics, but in comparison to scientific concepts such as gravity the idea of God seems quite simple.

McLuhan believed three inventions reshaped the world, the phonetic alphabet, the printing press and the telegraph. It could be argued that the printing press mediated the more complex ideas of science, much like the phonetic alphabet helped mediate the more complex notion of ‘God’ as we know it today. While there are many other forces in play, it is interesting to look at the dissemination of printed text, in comparison to what is considered the scientific revolution and the enlightenment. The scientific revolution is associated with the 16th and17th century while ‘the enlightenment’ is considered to have occurred during the 18th century.

As you can see by this graph, the distribution of printed books throughout this period grew predominantly. It is clear that there is a correlation between these two factors, but does this imply causation? If so it would be a clear example of technological determinism.

A more interesting question to ask however: were people’s ways of thinking prohibited by their method of communication? Did Egyptians not have concepts like liberty or justice, or where they simply unable to ‘memorialize the spoken word’ which articulated these concepts. Does the medium in which we communicate truly affect the way we think, or simply affect our ability to communicate our thoughts? It is an interesting question to consider, one which cannot be answered here, however this reading has prompted many thoughts for me.

Reference:
Levinson, Paul (1997) ‘The First Digital Medium’ in Soft Edge; a natural history and future of the information revolution London: Routledge:11-20

The chicken or the egg? (or evolution?)

March 6, 2012 § Leave a comment

Excerpt from ‘The Matrix: Reloaded’ 

Councillor Hamann: Almost no one comes down here, unless, of course, there’s a problem. That’s how it is with people – nobody cares how it works as long as it works. I like it down here. I like to be reminded this city survives because of these machines. These machines are keeping us alive, while other machines are coming to kill us. Interesting, isn’t it? Power to give life, and the power to end it.

Neo: We have the same power.

Councillor Hamann: I suppose we do, but down here sometimes I think about all those people still plugged into the Matrix and when I look at these machines, I.. I can’t help thinking that in a way, we are plugged into them.

Neo: But we control these machines, they don’t control us.

Councillor Hamann: Of course not, how could they? The idea’s pure nonsense, but… it does make one wonder just… what is control?

Neo: If we wanted, we could shut these machines down.

Councillor Hamann: Of course… that’s it. You hit it! That’s control, isn’t it? If we wanted, we could smash them to bits. Although if we did, we’d have to consider what would happen to our lights, our heat, our air.

—————————————————————————————————-

This week I have decided to blog on the concept of Machinic Flow, as explored in in Chapter 1 of Murphey et al.’s (2003)  book, Culture and society.

For brevities sake, I will define technological determinism as where technology drives advancement in society, while cultural materialism can be defined as where different societal pressures; political, cultural and economic, drive technological advancement.

Machinic flow, quite simply, can be seen as a combination of technological determinism and cultural materialism. To expand upon further, how both technology and society change together over time. “Like rivers and streams, they flow into each other, accumulate in larger rivers or split into some deltas” (Murphey et al. 2003, p.34)

For example a technology may appear in the flow, such as the printing press in 3rd century China, yet not be carried by the political flow of the time, only to resurface later in 15th century Europe when the political flow was more suitable (Murphey et al, 2003). Conversely, cultural phenomenon, such as globalisation, were not made possible until the relevant technology allowed.

This is an effective metaphor, however I believe it is practically flawed. While technological determinism is too simple a reduction of a more complex ‘flow’ or network, society has become increasingly dependent on technology. If we took away technology ‘we’d have to consider what would happen to our lights, our heat, our air’.

While cultural, political or economic forces may drive societal change – even technological change -these forces have all become technologically mediated. By this I mean that the flow of culture, politics, economics and technology travels over a technological bed.

While technology may not drive societal advancement, it is a restricting or controlling factor in society – a scaffold on which everything is supported. It flows with these forces as Murphey et al (2003) discusses, but in contemporary society it should perhaps be considered part of the river bed and banks than the flow itself. It is eroded and changed over time by societal flow, but ultimately supports advancement rather than strictly driving it.

That and transformation.

References

Murphie, Andrew and Potts, John (2003) ‘Theoretical Frameworks’ in Culture and Technology London: Palgrave Macmillan: 11-38

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