Technology and the Societal Domain

This piece was originally conceived based on observations and musings during a summer abroad in 2001 and became the basis for the theoretical portion of my fifth year thesis in Auburn’s School of Architecture. It has remained the foundation of my work and thoughts ever since.

01.08.12 / 02.05.05 / 09.02.27

The built environment codifies belief systems in physical form.  A result is that the built form makes itself available as a priming agent for aspects of a belief system.  A way to describe how this is possible is to categorize our environment into two interrelated domains, the physical realm and the metaphysical realm.  Both environments are explored through the senses, intellect, and emotions.  But exploring the physical realm relies more heavily on sensory input than exploring the metaphysical realm. Conversely, exploring the metaphysical realm relies more heavily on using the intellect to decipher structural patterns in thoughts, actions, and the environmental context.  It is also important to understand that all phenomena in the metaphysical and physical realms are proportional/scalar systems.  An implication of this condition is that all systems of these two realms are in some way relatable to each other.  They must be.  It is not possible for the various faculties of a person to be aware of two phenomena whose variables are completely indefinable in terms of the other system’s variables.  If two or more systems present themselves either through the intellect, emotions or through the senses, then they already have something in common.  They are both appreciable by means of the same limited faculties and so must have some common variables and be in some measure definable in terms of the other.  There could be undefined aspects of a given system.  Nonetheless, all we discover in the metaphysical and physical realms are proportional/scalar systems which are definable in terms of each other through the creation of mediating proportional/scalar systems.

The next pair of fundamental terms are civilization and hypostasis.  They are discrete  conventionalizations of the one entity – human society – that exists within both the physical and metaphysical realms.  They are technologies of humanity with the purpose of facilitating the exploration and rationalization and utilization of the physical and metaphysical realms.  The hypostasis describes a constantly adjusting range of potentialities within the two realms.   These potentialities include the ephemeral and not yet conceivable as well as the obviously inevitable.  The civilization describes a constantly adjusting range of actualities within the two realms.  It also encompasses a range from the barely conceived of to the fully actualized.  As variables are discovered and evaluated through exploration of the two realms, awareness of their existence and recognition of their functions allows for the revelation of other possible combinations and constructs.  The potentialities of the hypostasis feed the development of the actualities of the civilization which reconfigure the potentialities.  In a way, the civilization functions as a protective shell for humanity and the hypostasis is the softer outer tissue, just developing…a lubricant that facilitates a steady and controlled growth of the civilization…an externalized womb.  It offers many possible avenues of exploration and explanation, in short, of growth.  A mature civilization relegates its endeavors to what the hypostasis offers.  The health of the civilization is directly proportional to the health of the hypostasis.  A very plush hypostasis has the potential for a robust civilization which allows for secure and comfortable people who feel less stress and are more resilient.  An emaciated hypostasis can only support a weak civilization that fosters confusion, nightmarishness, and self-destruction.

Civilization can be divided into three subcomponents – proper object technologies, abstract technologies and interpretive technologies.  Proper object technologies are manifestations of civilization in the physical realm.  They include all tangible technologies, and rivers, mountains, & other natural features which may be manipulated and utilized by people.  In addition to their formal functions, proper object technologies also act as symbolic predecessors to and future signifiers of the abstract technologies.  Abstract technologies are manifestations of civilization in the metaphysical realm.  Abstract technologies include:   language, religious ideas, scientific ideas, philosophic ideas, popular sentiments, daily routines, institutions, standardizations & conventions, laws, government, etc.  They are civilization’s modes of parsing data.  As both proper object technologies and abstract technologies are proportional/scalar systems, they can be defined in terms of each other.  The contemplation of these technologies, definition in terms of each other, and subsequent assimilation into the civilization is the work of the interpretive technologies.  Interpretive technologies work through the fine arts, popular arts, and the sciences and serve to contextualize instances of proper object and abstract technologies within civilization as a whole.  The interpretive technologies are the agents responsible for regulating the recapitulation of the hypostasis and the civilization.  As a result they play a crucial role in determining what potentialities and actualities are reaffirmed and cultivated and which are de-emphasized and culled.   Interpretive technologies are dynamic functions.  They reconfigure as the quantity and rate of change of proper object & abstract technologies and the scale & complexity of the hypostasis and civilization fluctuates.

All three component technologies and the larger hypostasis and civilization which incorporate them can be explored as distinct proportional systems, interrelated, but which treat issues of change at differing scales of complexity and over different durations of time.  Such relationships can be thought of in terms of inertia.  The proper object and abstract technologies treat manifestations of change at a scale and over a duration that is very immediate (historically speaking) and limited.  They have the least inertia and are therefore the most responsive to change.  Interpretive technologies treat manifestations of change at a greater scale which involves mediating greater inertia and results in slower assimilation times.  Civilization is the conglomeration of these systems. It is them working in conjunction and embodies a tremendous amount of inertia to be overcome by a manifestation of change.  Lastly, the hypostasis doesn’t treat manifestations of change but rather anticipates them.  It offers itself as an entity at once enormous and yet ephemeral so that its magnificence occurs as an ethereal pervasive non-entity without which awareness, knowing, and operationalization is not possible.

The duration of relevancy of a technology is inversely proportional to the rate at which technologies are innovated.  Technologies useful through greater durations (per quantity & complexity of change) have a greater probability of attaining profundity, clarity, and refinement.  In such cases, the hypostasis, civilization and other technologies have increased potential to grow in profundity, clarity, and refinement.  The tendency is toward a complimentary response.  A more “complete” understanding of the interplay of the physical and abstract realms is possible, giving much psychological comfort to people.  People feel as though they understand their environment.  Healthy inertia tends to be self-propagating.  The result of increased coherence is the ability to “just know” without the constant need for fresh analysis.  It “just makes sense” given the state of all other relevant information that a particular piece “should be” interpreted thus.  In such a mode, “folk knowledge” is powerful and relevant across a wide spectrum of tasks.  For beings of finite cognitive capacity, energy is not expended continually deciphering new context and/or “re-inventing the wheel”, so to speak.  Expenditure of cognitive functioning is optimized.

But people have the capability of innovating proper object and abstract technologies at a greater rate than interpretive technologies’ abilities to assimilate them into the hypostasis.  When this happens, the recapitulatory qualities of the interpretive technologies and the cohesiveness of the hypostasis fracture.  A result is that psychological stresses increase.  The world of proper object technologies seems to lack relation to our abstract technologies and our explanations of ourselves and our things.  Interpretive technologies seem impotent and there seem no consistent underlying themes on which we can build for an extended period of time.  We live in an agglomeration of foreign objects & ideas without a comfortable basis with which to value and judge them.  This condition spurs the reactions of excessive nostalgia and a fundamentalism on the one hand and an anxious techno-theism and infatuation with the new on the other.  The former cultivates revolt; the latter cultivates enslavement.

Our ability to produce technology is not a justification for doing so.  We are now incapable of evolving our civilization at the rate necessary to assimilate our innovation of proper object and abstract technologies.  A short-sighted remedy to this predicament is to try assimilating technology with more technology.  The result is a society which becomes increasingly fragmented, one-dimensional, and self-referencing. This is the metaphysical equivalent of sensory deprivation.  Lack of stimulation by means of overwhelming stimulation.  Stratify, iconocize, homogenize, reduce.  It is under these conditions that we are able to keep up this relentless pace of technological advancement.  The result is an increasingly dogmatic, iconographic, militaristic, compartmentalized – and hence fractured – culture existing on many shards of one-dimensionality.

The prevention is a hypostasis, civilization, and their components that have achieved a certain critical proportion/scale which is maintained by governing rate of change of constitution, scale, and complexity.  That is, the hypostatis, civilization, and their components must attain enough profundity, clarity, and refinement (inertia) that they act as governors for the rates of change occurring within the systems of systems.  If the governor is too restrictive it will inhibit the salubrious flow of most technologies and stifle healthy change.  If it is too loose it will allow unassimilated change to flood the system.  An equilibrium must be met that regulates the flux of technologies to optimize assimilation…making a profound, agile, resilient, hypostasis that contains the most technologies possible balanced with the most profundity, clarity, and refinement, or rather, delineation of a multitude of viable perspectives based on the manifested technologies.  This is the real key; comfortable options in as many situations as possible.  We feel safe and powerful when this is the case.  There is low internal stress.  Cognitive functioning maximizes return on expenditure for a greater percentage of the population.  Consequently, we are in a better position to mitigate external stresses.  The opposite is true when there is much internal stress.  We can’t deal with anything – as individuals or as a society.  It is critical to maintain balance because every now and again something happens which reminds us that we are not more powerful or durable than our environment.  For such times, it is good to have something in reserve.

What is the implication of this theoretical construct for the potential of built form?  The synchronization of the co-evolution of technologies is facilitated by codifying abstract technologies in durable artifacts, for instance, painting, architecture, theatre, music, landscape, religion, government, etc, where they function as priming agents for people’s behavior, patterns of cognition, content of cognition, and cognitive processes.  With equilibrium and a multitude of perspectives to utilize comes the truest sense of the interrelation of things.  There is not the aggrandizement of technologies merely because they are shiny and new.  Neither is there a killing of important technologies because they demand change.  Agile & powerful technologies with a rich hypostasis function as technological governors and limit the rate of change to manageable.  Humans have limited sensory and analytic capacities that co-evolve and are optimized for a limited domain of potentialities.  It is critical that the rate of development of the domain does not exceed the rate of development of the sensory and processing faculties.  As someone aspiring to be an architect, my interest lies in being an instrument of the interpretive technologies.  Currently I am exploring what the potential of built form is in this regard as well as what ethical obligation I have.

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