Design and Serres

This post showed up in a recent alert and is well worth reading. It explores Serres's use of 'parasite' and what that means for relationships, noise, signal, meaning, and chaos.

We are going to undertake a somewhat difficult project this week, we are going to read an essay from Michel Serres’s book, The Parasite. The chapter is called, “Theory of the Quasi Object”. This essay will offer us another way of thinking about objects, subjects and relations. Serres sets up a distinction of either/or between being and relation. This distinction between being and relation quickly turns out to be unstable, which results in these strange, swerving objects/subjects that Serres names quasi-objects and quasi-subjects. The conjunction of ‘quasi’ with object and subject suggests the perpetual mobility and transfer of these deceptively stable individuals along passages of relation toward the possibility of the formation of collectives of all kinds.

Noise as the necessary soil from which meaning can emerge is an interesting idea and fits well with complexity theory notions of non-reducibility. I remain very interested in the idea that if emergence means that lower-order interactions lead to higher level properties that are not reducible, it may well be that such emergence continues up beyond our human scales. We see it in galaxies but what if we scale up beyond that? What are the larger emergent characteristics of the universe?


Transhuman, Cylon, Progress

This post on the term transhuman sparked further thoughts about what constitutes human progress. Whether technophobe or technophile, our collective habits reveal our vote for technology as a means of progress. Remembering when our cell phones were the size of suitcases, we marvel at the elegant digital dance of our iPhones and BlackBerries. We have learned to vote for the party in power - science in this case - and welcome the seduction of Moore's Law and all it implies.

Our ability to measure the progress of our social fabric is less clear and thus it is more difficult to establish real progress. Some question the larger framing that definitive progress requires. Others point out that we have made great gains and it's hard to disagree when cases of enlightened governance are compared with previous oppressions. But a larger measure social fabric strength is not easy to establish.

Computers didn't exist a couple-hundred years ago so the fact that we have them is proof of technological gains. The human ills that beset us today have a much more persistent history. In the case of Battlestar Galactica, the Cylons demonstrate one vision of transhuman development that isn't exactly benign. Our own abilities to enact injustices of all kinds reveal that our own lesser augmentations have, in a similar way, failed to change the some of deeply engrained habits.

Serres has a lot to say about technology and human social inequalities. Are we making progress?