…And End (Philosophically Speaking)
If Mother Nature is the craftsman of biological life, then it is under her jurisdiction that all life forms fall. However, it was during adolescence of the conscious and intelligent man that he decided he had outgrown Mother Nature’s nurturing. Through technology and language, he strode a trajectory that promised relentless conquest and parabolic evolution of his own making. Man had become god, commanding and orchestrating the environment as deemed fit for the relentless progression offered by technologies. As man fabricated the technological tools that drove his own technological evolution, he became subject to its self-perpetuation. He was subjected to the promises of the all-knowing data machine and was unaware of the destruction left in its wake. Man’s hubris elevated him above Mother Nature, apathetic to its ecological anguish and threat of retaliation. Thus, man became the architect of his own demise. Only when man’s actions were summoned before the celestial order of causation would he come to realise the magnitude of his dominance of the natural and the repercussions awaiting.
Discuss how the ideas of cybernetics, science fiction and organicism come together in architecture.
If organicism is the idea that the global environmental ecology is that of an organism, endlessly interwoven, and interdependent then cybernetic theory, as outlined by Norbert Weiner in Cybernetics, or Control and Communication in the Animal and the Machine is the understanding, navigation, governance and appropriation of organicism. It is after man’s departure from Mother Nature (the natural course of evolution) that he designed tools of science and technology to compartmentalise and exploit her. In doing so, man’s naivety and ruthless conquest adulterated the natural, conflating the organic and inorganic. Consequently setting into motion a chain of events through his perturbing activity that must play out globally. Man’s largest technological asset, architecture, must bear the brunt of climate and ecological hostility.
The term ‘technology’ originates from the words ‘techne’ and ‘logos’. Techne means craft, or the method in which one gains. Logos means word; in our terms, the manner in which we communicate – language. If techne is the craft and method of ‘gaining’ then it is Mother Nature that we must refer to as the craftsman. Mother Nature uses negentropy (ordering of chaos) to construct organisms (life) from the universe’s tendency toward entropy (chaos).
If techne is the construction of life then logos is the awareness of this process. Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey portrays this when a primate uses a bone as a tool. Man appropriates and adapts tools from Mother Nature to extend his capabilities. Kubrick demarcates this point as the time where man left Mother Nature’s nurturing. The awareness of her craft (i.e. the logos of the techne) instigates the technological (techn-logo) evolution. When the primate uses the tool as a weapon we see a change in course from need to greed. Kubrick illustrates this transition as the birth of conquest by having the bone, thrown into the air, transform into a spaceship. Man’s first tool becoming a weapon implies that the evolutionary leap in time we see is simply a leap in scale of conquest. A leap in sophistication of technology; primitive tools will become engineering marvels. Man’s technological achievements forthwith allowed him to transcend immanence, to outpace natural evolution’s course.
Man’s new technological toolkit allowed him to deconstruct the world and fulfil the mind’s propensity to imply order on the world (sophisticated language). As intellectual man emerged from the Pleistocene Era he began reassessing his environment. Man began to examine, intervene on and exploit Mother Nature with more sophisticated technologies to fuel his relentless conquest and progression. Norbert Weiner’s cybernetic theory states that
“…the boundaries of what constitutes a human being are not given by nature, but that they are culturally constructed instead.” (Goicoechea, pg 4)
Man relentlessly reconstructs the world; he superfluously terraforms – exploiting the natural for the sake of inquisitiveness and conquest. Jean-Francois Lyotard outlines this concept in The Inhuman, Reflections on Time
“The striking thing about this metaphysics of development is that it needs no finality. Development is not attached to an idea.” (Lyotard, pg 7)
Humanity’s unrelenting expansion and progression has no goal; it seeks no enlightened state, but is perpetuated by its own existence. The more man learns, the more he is aware of what he does not know. Kubrick’s transition from bone to spaceship addresses society’s reliance on its artifices (technologies) as apparatus for conquest (enquiry) in what Buckminster Fuller refers to as “Spaceship Earth”, drawing upon the limited resources available to sustain man’s exponential progression (Fuller, 1968).
Man applies his own modes of conduct and research through his technologies. As chemist Humphrey Davy elicits:
“Science has… bestowed upon [man] powers which may be called almost creative; which have enabled him to change and modify the beings surrounding him, and by his experiments to interrogate nature with power, not simply as a scholar, passive, seeking only to understand her operations, but rather as a master, active with his own instruments…” (Goicoechea, pg 2)
Thus, man is active within his prosthetics, his machines. He is fully dependent and integrated into the operations of architecture, technology and science. “A cyborg is a cybernetic organism, a hybrid of machine and organism.”(Haraway, 1991, pg 1) His blurring of the human and non-human is transgressive. The conflation of matter becomes a global pandemic, exploiting and appropriating as needed for continued progression. This is what biologist Rene Dubos refers to in Man-Made Futures:
“…what is really peculiar to the modern world is the belief that scientific knowledge can be used at will by man to master and exploit nature for his own ends.” (Leiss, pg 21)
Science is not merely a lens to view the world but an active reconstruction of it. However, applying our own order of language and science on Mother Nature is a reductive act, and we act upon this knowledge in acquiring resource. By acting on misinterpretation, man moves within the natural world with his tools, and his parasitic chain of disturbance is systemic.
The worldly conflation of matter is so omnipresent as to elicit a new geological epoch, induced by man. This period is called the Anthropocene. Man’s actions and mining of resources are so widespread that Mother Nature is perceived in a newly adulterated form.
“…nature was not immune to the contagions of technology, that technology was part of nature conceived as everyday social relations.” (Haraway, 1990, pg 12)
Thus, we see a parasitic chain stemming from man’s technology to the irreversible deconstruction of Mother Nature’s craft from which man arose.
Mother Nature is reconceived, idealised and constructed as fits with man’s persistently progressive trajectory. Man frees up resource through exploitation by geo-political systems (capitalism).
“At an extremely deep level, nature for us has been reconstructed in the belly of a heavily militarised, communications-system based technoscience in its late capitalist and imperialist forms.” (Haraway, 1990, pg 12)
Humanity’s pressure on Mother Nature risks unprecedented de-stabilisation. The self-perpetuating lust for progression outpaces the biological impetus to negentropy and Mother Nature’s ability to undergo ecological haemostasis – its ability to re-establish order. Once man outpaced the governance of negentropy he became subject to the celestial governance of causation. This idea is shown in the Matrix trilogy when Neo travels to ‘the source’ within the final instalment. Originally guided by a figure known as ‘The Oracle’, Neo is sent to meet ‘The Architect’ after the cataclysmic anomaly he produces reaches an unprecedented scale. What the architect outlines within this dialogue is that “if I am the father of the matrix, she (the oracle) is undoubtedly its mother.” (Matrix) That it becomes his duty to impose universal stability and balance once the mother cannot manage the anomaly. Man’s conflation of organic and inorganic has set into motion a celestial chain of events that are now irreversible.
“For the first time in human history the threat of general annihilation, as well as a threat to the genetic future of the species, has become a real possibility.” (Leiss, pg 24)
Man’s technologies (prosthetics) elevate him above all other organic life, immunising him from the hostilities of the world. The idea that nature could now pose a threat is almost laughed off. Humanity is elevated to a god-like position. Kubrick illustrates this notion in 2001 with a floating foetus that hovers above planet earth. Man’s omnipotence is his hubris, and his hubris is his undoing.
“The cyborg is the last being, without umbilical cord, completely liberated from all dependence, alone in space.” (Goicoechea, pg 10)
The issue initially facing man is not one of capability but of awakening. Man is shaken from his semi-conscious and techno-romantic state. The cyber faculty has become so wholly integrated that although its promises of interconnectedness and all-knowing lure the user, it alienates him from the reality. It speaks a different dialect. Thus our day of reckoning will be issued to man from the very tools that brought about its coming.
“An exaggerated need for control can paradoxically isolate the cybernault, who is bedazzled by technoromantic promises of total connection but who remains alone, like Narcissus, in front of the computer and cut off from his immediate surroundings.” (Goicoechea, pg 10) Here Narcissus is reminiscent of Neo in The Matrix when, slumped against his computer in the opening scenes, he is awoken by the words “Wake up Neo…” upon the screen. His salvation is brought to him from the platform that ultimately suppressed and alienated him from reality. It is then of little doubt as to why Jean Baudrillard’s Simulacra and Simulation appears in the scene only seconds later to affirm this perception of reality through technology.
“The real is not only what can be reproduced, but that which is already reproduced, the hyper-real.” (Baudrillard, pg 146)
This is what Baudrillard refers to as the “dessert of the real” and what Morpheus welcomes Neo to, following his awakening as he perceives the denatured world outside the Matrix, governed by machine.
Although Neo and select others have awoken there remain those who choose to be submissive. This is represented by the character Cypher, who states “Ignorance is bliss.” This is also what the Greek philosopher Epicurus implied when he states that “If death is present I am not. Therefore I have nothing to do with it.” (Cook, 1996) Thus the challenge is how to elicit a methodology provocative enough to instigate reaction whilst also being virtuous.
“Yet I can’t forget that an obsolete meaning of ‘virtual’ was having virtue, i.e. the inherent power to produce effects. ‘Virtu’, after all, is excellence or merit, and it is still a common meaning of virtue to refer to having efficacy. The ‘virtue’ of something is its ‘capacity’.” (Haraway, 1992, pg 16)
The virtual is something that codifies and reconstructs the real. Its virtue is in the perceiver’s ability to redeploy and re-conceive reality; to unshackle himself from convention and pragmatism. This is what I believe to be a role of architecture as an orchestrator of what Donna Haraway refers to as “actors”; systems that man, in his cyber-fuelled state, interacts with at a global ecological level. Architecture operates as a technological tool of man, yet is the most slow to change. This is why architecture may employ hyper reality (virtual futures) to bestow virtue upon the present. To allow the slowly trundling tank of architecture to steer a new course before it is late in the day.
The architectural researcher’s (academia) role within the Anthropocene may be to construct monsters, to make prominent impeding hostilities through constructed fictions. An example of this is my own design project entitled ‘Resi[lience]stance’, that anticipated a future where global cities would surrender strategies for resilience to major weather events in favour of protecting citizens and resisting damage. By examining how cities react to major storms and resultant storm surges, the project posited that global cities’ inability to form coherent resilience strategies through urban design was not only possible but also probable. In effect this became the brief, this qausi-fiction founded upon research, that the design reacted to. As a result, the design proposed fleets of ocean-going devices that tracked, mapped and protected vulnerable and low-income areas of city coastline from pending storm surges and tsunamis. Constructed narratives allow the architect to operate within designed parameters, a virtual environment and fabricated brief that allows architecture to respond to pending global crisis. It is not possibility that matters but probability. Thus we anticipate what Donna Haraway refers to as “monsters” and Liam Young refers to as “Architectural Monsterology” in Landscape Futures:
“…monsters, a word that shares more than its root with the verb to demonstrate. Monsters signify.” (Haraway, 1991, pg 22)
We tease out anticipatory monsters. Fabricating probable scenarios predicated on scientific research and insight. Constructing contingent scenarios in which to attenuate architectural decision and conduct. This is what Gilles Deleuze refers to in Architecture and The Anthropocene:
Gilles Deleuze: “Problems get the solutions they deserve according to the terms by which they are created as problems.” (Turpin, pg 10)
The solutions that are proposed are formulated on the data at hand, on the information whereby the situation is identified as a problem. Thus, the problem has arisen and is delivered via the very technological artifices that instigated it. However, to respond to the problem with yet more technological might and achievement will simply exacerbate the issue and allow progression to foreshadow prudence. Architecture’s response to fabricated realities allows responses to be tested and verified computationally before the probable scenario arises. Its virtue is in its ability to corroborate strategies, test responses and articulate problematiques. Creative acts are not always successful and it is architecture’s intimacy with the biosphere that demands it succeeds in its course of action. Thus, architecture requires time to fail out with reality’s consequences. If the built environment stumbles gingerly toward facing global warming then it requires time to test and to fail, and in turn steer a more favourable course of action.
“The power-differentiated and highly contested modes of being monsters may be signs of possible worlds – and they are surely signs of worlds for which “we” are responsible.” (Haraway, 1991, pg 22)
We must, after all, remind ourselves who initiated the unbalance, whose thirst for technological progression and self-improvement undermined the environment. Man is the creative animal, whose decisions impact widely and who is consequently responsible for his actions. It is man’s tools that equip him with history and also future, to simultaneously perceive events that led to the present and anticipate events that will carve the future. This, in itself, is creative, so why not imagine the anticipated future and respond to it having studied the historical lineage of responses that lead to the present? Reflection, after all, is not restrained to past tense.
“… [o]nly nature knows neither memory nor history. But man […] is the story telling animal.” (Opperman, pg 249)
This is what we see as Neo speaks to the architect. An array of monitors surrounding him portrays alternative thoughts and probabilities of action before one is taken in the present. However, his perception of these possible trajectories is based on the history of events that brought him to the present. His reflection is simultaneously of the past and future. The camera then proceeds to zoom into one of these possibilities as a platform to move forward from. This then becomes the new reality within the conversation. The TV screen is deployed as the arbiter of these conversations; film is the objectified reality, constructed through an array of technological instruments employed to distort, colour and conflate the real and surreal. These are some of the tools at disposal within architecture; from the instance the designer’s pencil touches paper or mouse manoeuvres Photoshop, this is a creative act. The real is immediately distorted and re-imagined, reconstructed upon the designer’s interpretation. What Neo perceives are virtual realities. The effect of this is what Neo’s epiphany statement implies: “Choice, the problem is choice.” (Matrix) Choice is an act of consciousness. The virtual realities provide virtue in that they affect the consciousness of the present. Though man’s initial consciousness led to the conquest of nature it is not beyond his means to remediate or empathise with the situation. It is man’s ability to recall history while imagining future that places him in control of his own evolutionary course. The choice is then between man’s love affair with relentless technological progression or more sustainable conversations with nature. If man is granted the clairvoyance to know all moves across a chessboard before making his, he is then granted prudence in constructing his own trajectory or strategy.
We have a love affair with evolution, with technology as driver and catalyst, a technoromanticism that eludes us from the destruction we conspire in its wake. Once awoken from our subjection to relentless progression we are challenged with an irreversible set of events that must play out whether we are here or not. It is thus the role of the architect, amongst other designers of technologies, to awaken society and instil degrees of prudence that allow humanity to carve a more prosperous and sustainable trajectory regarding our role both within natural (Mother Nature) and celestial order.
The architectural academic studio is an appropriate platform for the fabrication of contingent scenario planning. They instil within the architect what Immanuel Kant refers to as “Reflective Judgement”. That the modes of conduct pursued forthwith are formed “reflexively” (Oreck, 2004). By responding to a fabricated set of parameters, the designer is able to discard convention and paradigms in exploring innovative solutions, given that the fictional reality provides enough time for risk. Design requires time to gamble, to risk and ultimately fail in the path to innovation. However, this is what is not provided in reality. Architectural actions are so cumbersome and affect so much that large-scale testing – that which is required to greet global warming – is left to the domain of the constructed reality, fictional scenarios predicated on scientific insight.
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