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Technologies of Sin & Salvation



To feel beauty is a better thing than to understand how we come to feel it.


BASHO, THE NOTED JAPANESE SAGE and nature poet of the 17th century, once composed the following haiku:

Looking closely,
An herb appears,
Flowering in the hedge!

The wholly quiet, unostentatious presence of the flowering herb evokes Basho's wonder, and inspires him to put the moment to verse. It is a moment absent self and intellection, of utter openness to that which is sublime, beyond measure or reason, in this most inconsequential instance of beauty.

____Some two centuries later, the British poet laureate Alfred, Lord Tennyson encountered another small flower by the side of the road and recorded his response in the following verse:

Flower in the crannied wall,
I pluck you out of the crannies
Hold you here, root and all, in my hand,
Little flower - but if I could understand
What you are, root and all, and all in all,
I should know what God and man is.

____Language is a technology both of our making and unmaking, of sin and salvation. As with all technologies, the word may serve to alienate or to enact a world of beauty and aesthetic consummation. Humanity and nature, humanity and technology, subject and object may be cast in fixed opposition or in flowing coorigination. The Tibetan sage Pema Chodron once noted that, "Happiness lies in being able to relax with our true condition, which is fleeting, dynamic, fluid, not in any way solid, not in any way permanent." It has been the purpose of this study to seek insights into what potentialities, virtualities and realities might emerge as such ancient theories of meaning converge with emergent technologies of meaning within a new perpetual innovation Affect Economy.

____In a recent issue of Businessweek Magazine was a report titled, "Why the World Needs New Thinking." In the article, the editors noted that,

A once-in-a-century confluence of events is turning our world upside down …Not one but many institutions are changing before our eyes, and we don't know yet exactly how or what final form they will take … In these tumultuous times, ideas have never been more needed and more important. In the '90s, ideas shaped our world of entertainment, communication, and finance. In this more uncertain period, ideas have greater gravitas (Businessweek August 2002, 66).

The report listed "25 ideas for a changing world," which included greater corporate "transparency" and improved accountability through "open cultures." Noting that virtual assets such as "brands" and "intellectual property" have come to comprise well over half the market value of public companies in today's economy, the authors argued that these intangibles must inevitably find a place in corporate accounting and financial reports. These points all touch upon themes which have been central to this present study, and which are intimately tied to the use of ICTs, humankind's imbedded and emergent technologies of value and meaning. Throughout the Businessweek report is the implicit-and explicit-acknowledgement that the greatest danger within a political economic paradigm which depends upon rapid innovation for the generation of capital value is be "scared stagnant." Today, the only thing to fear is fear itself. The authors argue that the key to innovation lies in "hiring diverse, even eccentric people, mixing them up in unexpected ways, and asking them to do something unusual." The article ends by asking,

Do you want good ideas? Do you want to spark good ideas in others? … Relax. Play music. Break bread with a colleague. Read a poem. Open yourself to eccentricity. Listen to someone else's story. Laugh. Resist the tyranny of drones. Seek catharsis. Get vulnerable. Do something risky. Be a rebel, with self-confidence. And, yes, with love" (Businessweek August 2002, 169).

____These are all fair suggestions for spurring innovation and new ideas. Yet when an entire global infrastructure of capital value increasingly rests upon a foundation of human figurative transformation, it is necessary to more thoughtfully consider our methods. This study has argued that the first crucial step must be to elucidate the historical, epistemological parameters and constraints of the West's most fundamental notions of value and meaning. Only then might it become possible to avoid projecting into our shared future what Eckhart Tolles described as the "collective mental illness" of the West's past and present theories of meaning. Neither tomorrow's children nor the global ecosystem which must sustain them should have to bear such a burden.

____A great many scholars of virtuality are today seeking the means to improve upon these epistemologies of the past, to dissolve contemporary cognitive barriers to a more aesthetically integrative human experience. From the New French Theorists such as Derrida, Foucault, Lyotard and Baudrillard, to the American and other perspectives sited throughout this book, it is clear that the technocultural paradigm which has been emerging over the past several decades has us straining at the bit of the traditional dialectic method. We want a new method, a new embodied metaphysics.

____If the "Virtual Subject," as Hayles and others suggest, is increasingly "formed through dynamical interfaces" with our communications technologies (1999, 93), the communications imperative within the capital-driven social network has been expressly to co-opt these subjectivities and representational forms into fully-integrated, purpose-designed networks of production and consumption. This has traditionally been the primary work of corporate communications and of all those who research, design and manage such information systems. In today's capital construct, the "real" is built around highly defined, strictly articulated profit objectives. "Corporate culture" is management's deliberate construct. Just as "brand" is the deliberate enaction of value and meaning. And, very much like the institution of consumption into which we must each be acculturated through advertising and marketing, individuals must similarly be inculcated in the institution and supportive ideology of today's rapidly shifting modes of production.

____Within the context of today's imbedded and emergent virtual networks, power lies in the ability to focus attention, direct behavior, and increasingly to harness individual and collective affectivities and sundry representational forms to greater innovative efficacy and enhanced creative, productive capacity. These corporate communications systems have traditionally been structured as manifestations of the "Darwinian machines" described by Levy (1998). Sophisticated and self-evolving, the Darwinian machine is a biological metaphor for any self-organizing, self-propagating network of sufficient complexity. As with Complex Adaptive Systems, the metaphor of Darwinian systems is too often applied to human groups of producers and consumers, and even to the ecology of the individual human psyche. Levy, however, warns against taking the metaphor too far, warning that, "There is nothing in the definition of Darwinian machines which … implies subjective experience or the dimension of interiority characteristic of sensation, in other words, affectivity" (129).

____Yet, as this present study has argued, capital's Darwinian machines are rapidly morphing beyond their former dimensions into embodied, external manifestations of once internal self-modifying processes of human cognition. Our internal networks and the epistemologies which give them form and meaning are very rapidly being manifest, evoked, enacted in the external digital networks which both sustain virtual capital value and define real human worth. These capital and digital technologies of value and meaning are evolving beyond our capacity to comprehend their new forms and dynamics with traditional methods of analysis. In a land of excess supply, capital merely turns to new modes of producing and consuming new resources, new forms of value and meaning, new subjectivities which are fully, three-dimensionally human. And yet they are human in a new sense.

____For the past 100 to 200 years, capital valuation has relied on a human subject which was a container that could never be filled, a story in which the subject strove tirelessly for its commodity object. In a very short period of time, capital has rapidly spread these metaphors of self, as well as its methods of reason and efficiency, on a global scale. But even this is changing. In the perpetual innovation Affect Economy, the human subject is reconstituted, opening itself to a newly embodied web of dynamic figurative transformation. This is a new chapter in the human story and a fresh set of metaphors. And humanity must ensure that its virtual theories and methods are capable of grasping this political economic reality and anticipating its meanings.

____This study has contended that, within the traditional Western dialectic, the virtual political economy appears flattened, confined to that dimension suspended between dyadic contradictions. However, when the sphere of inquiry and ontological possibility are extruded into something which more fully reflects the three-dimensional cosmos of human embodiment, cognition and vast cognitive unconscious, the virtual emerges as a vital and imminent space in which to purposefully explore new eco-cognitive technologies, enabling new meanings, and opening new dimensions of being. This study has thus attempted to articulate the dynamics supporting its early contention that a key impetus driving this extrusion may well lay in the unlikely alchemical convergence of capital and digital in today's political economy. It has attempted to show how our two-dimensional systems machines must evolve beyond their current twin obsessions with efficiency and size in order to survive in this new digital climate. This study has also sought to convey the rare opportunity which now exists at this unique juncture in time to transcend what we now know. The enduring quality of Keats' evocative equation, "Truth is beauty and beauty truth," is illustrative of the timeless and insatiable human appetite for integral meaning and aesthetic experience which may be humankind's own best hope to join in the evolution which, if this analysis is correct, may already be preceding us apace. As Erich Fromm once noted of scientific and technological "progress" generally,

The pace of science forces the pace of technique. Theoretical physics forces atomic energy on us; the successful production of the fission bomb forces upon us the manufacture of the hydrogen bomb. We do not choose our problems, we do not choose our products; we are pushed, we are forced-by what? By a system which has no purpose and goal transcending it, and which makes man its appendix (1955).

This book proposes one possible means of establishes an open-ended, humanistic framework for extricating ourselves from this postmodern dilemma, conjectures what a new mode of aesthetic inquiry may look like, and how the method could work toward more purposefully designed eco-cognitive technologies and statistical metrics for these unfolding realities of the digital era. In the postmodern world, it may be natural to lament the absence of a foundation and framework to imagine, much less to direct, our possible futures (Stein 1997). Yet some still challenge us to identify "the ethical content of the cultural identity we are building with the digital aesthetic" (Gigliotti, 63). Some still defy us to find the means to reintegrate our representational and embodied dimensions of experience:

The illusion that information is separate from materiality leads not only to a dangerous split between information and meaning but also to a flattening of the space of theoretical inquiry. If we accept that the materiality of the world is immaterial to our concerns, we are likely to miss the very complexities that theory at its best tries to excavate and understand (Hayles 1999, 94).

____Yet this present study is not as optimistic about the future as it is about the successes of the ancient past. A great deal of further articulation and real world testing of three-dimensional modes of inquiry and eco-cognitive technologies such as those presented here clearly remains to be done. One crucial and difficult step, for example, would be to further detail and articulate the statistical methods required for adoption in science and industry. Yet such efforts to flesh out and seek a continuum of integral human experience must be pursued. For this method's simple, essential proposition is that our external networks of mediated representation may be made to better reflect, integrate and empower the full range of our embodied humanity. If it does not provide sure answers, this study should at least present some interesting opportunities to continue the cycle of inquiry.

____For example, if many of the time-tested eco-cognitive technologies span the full range of body, cognition, affect (and beyond), is contemporary virtuality already so inherently two-dimensional in its own embodiment and primary metaphors that it cannot help but flatten and fragment our human worlds of representation and experience? (Turkle 1995, Diebert 1997). Assuming the internal contradictions within capital here described are borne out in further research, will capitalism find a way to evolve into its next morphological state, or will it eventually and inevitably implode? And, if so, what might take its place? Will the new virtual networks serve to more effectively mine human creativity for value with technologies ever more evolved, subtle and penetrating? Or might our human worth one day be measured and rewarded through instruments wiser, more just and more humane than we can yet imagine?

____In looking for answers to these questions, it is both instructive and humbling to bear in mind that men and women throughout the ages, and from disciplines ranging from philosophy to biology, have sought to transcend reductionist, two-dimensional thinking and Darwinian machines by imagining more fully human epistemologies and technologies.

____In De Anima, Aristotle dared to step outside Plato's doctrine to develop his conception of a living entity's "vital function" or "Entelechy," which he proposed manifested the actual from the merely possible, linking idea and reality. In the 17th century, the mathematician Gottfried Leibniz sought support from Aristotle's entelechies for his concept of "monads," the animating force and ultimate reality he believed to be the essence of all material beings. In the early 20th century, the embryologist Hans Driesch sought to offer an alternative to the mechanics of Darwinism and to stem the tide of reductionist biology, becoming the last great proponent of the theory of "Vitalism." Today, biologists working in "edge-of-chaos" theory argue their position that the Darwinian machine is incomplete in its description of life. In The Garden in the Machine, in which Claus Emmeche argues for the viability of artificial intelligence, the author cautions against the temptation to ascribe life with "mythological meaning":

Today, complex-system research is itself at risk of being driven into an advanced form of essentialist thinking with its continual assertions that life is a collective property of complex self-organized systems that can emerge from many media. To a certain extent, biology … has always contained arguments against an all too metaphysical view of its problem areas and empirical domains (Emmeche 1994, 165).

And yet, at the end of this text, Emmeche himself allows that, "Life itself, of course, is something completely different. Artificial life will hardly mean anything for the way we experience a nightingale" (Emmeche, 166).

____Just as Emmeche and his research colleagues are justified in their scientific pursuit of taking the Darwinian machine to its logical extreme, it may be argued that we are similarly right and justified in scrutinizing both ancient and modern theories and technologies of meaning and in nurturing those which empower rather than disenfranchise the dimension of human affective-embodiment or soul.

____In the absence of art and emotion, the German dramatist and philosopher Friedrich Schiller feared a time when "material needs reign supreme and bend degraded humanity beneath their tyrannical yoke." A time in which "we see not merely individuals, but whole classes of men, developing but one part of their potentialities, while the rest, as in stunted growths, only vestigial traces remain" (1796, 167). It should follow that the work of evolving our as yet nascent information and communication technologies to full compatibility with the three-dimensional human being must be seen as a central responsibility of each generation, using every possible tool at its disposal-ancient or modern, virtual or real, global or local-rather than a pursuit to be carried on at the edges of science and industry. We must collectively seek and find new ways to experience virtuality in the flesh. Perhaps the lives and labor this study seeks to expand and explore can best be expressed in the following passage:

In the end, what is important is our ability to promote a sense of artistic concern, genuinely aesthetic criteria, a spirit of creation within the very heart of political action, as in the most "purely technical" branches of engineering, or-and why not?-economic practices (Levy 1998, 189).

And so, perhaps it is appropriate to end with the playful verse of an ancient Japanese poem which has (perhaps appropriately) outlived the identity of its author:

The fruit of the pear tree
And the pear
Are the one fruit of this tree.
In eating it,
There are not two tastes.

The original Japanese verse is full of word play, so that it may also be read as follows:

The body of existence
And non-existence
Are both this one body.
In emptiness
There are not two tastes.

The poem seems to ask, can one know the taste of the pear by studying it intellectually and theoretically? Can one sustain the life of the body-mind through reason? To truly know the taste of a pear, and to receive its sustenance, one must grasp the fruit, and bite deeply into its flesh.


Language is a technology both of our making and unmaking, of sin and salvation. The word may serve to alienate or to enact a world of beauty and aesthetic consummation.



_ | Summary
0 | Introduction
1 | The Affect Economy
2 | Meaning Within Reason
3 | Meaning Beyond Reason
4 | A Return to Beauty
5 | Designing Value & Meaning
6 | Real World Case Studies
7 | Virtuality in the Flesh