Fire (Cooking)


I was thinking just the other night…and from I know not where entered into my mind those old familiar issues of institution, standardization, and convention.  This time they asked, “How might you symbolize us, and of what might you make an icon most representative of our natures?”  This I pondered momentarily, though really no thought transpired at all, and i thought, cooking with fire.  That fire which was first harnessed by humankind some one hundred thousand years ago.  Here I see the first sign of the human proclivity for standard, convention, and institutionalization.  Here I see the first great instrument of our processing of all that we engage both physically and metaphysically.  Here first we take the proper and respective conditions of various materials and shape them in a way which makes less manifold the ways in which we must be prepared to receive them.  Here first we attain a delusion of control, hence mastery over nature, hence security.  And it is here first that we are also confronted with the aspects of institution, standardization, and convention which process us…which make us less manifold, which begin to reduce our pliability, our dexterity, our vision, our resilience.

Fire cooks…But what does this mean…to cook?  This question is first, the question which proceeds this is, where does the process begin and end?  But lest we get ahead of ourselves, let us return to what it means to cook and what the relationship of fire is to cooking.  When one says that fire cooks what is really being stated is that through the application of heat to material the properties of that material may be altered.  To reduce this statement yet again we may say that when one says that fire cooks, what is really being stated is that through the application of energy to matter the properties of that matter may be altered.  Fire is convenient to humanity because it allows humanity to alter a material’s properties.  Several questions arise though.  Why is this phenomenon useful to humanity?  What are the changes made to the material that are viewed as beneficial?  Of the process of employing fire itself, what role does the exact nature of using a particular application of fire have on effecting materials?  Here we shall begin and work back through the questions.

According to our definition of what it is to cook, we understand the application of fire to be the application of energy.  The question of form of energy becomes important.  Fire, after all, is just one manifestation of energy.  Specifically, when we speak of fire we are talking about 1, the production of heat and light through the dissolution of matter on a molecular level, and 2, the control of this phenomenon.  By control, what is meant is that the commencement, cessation, spread of, amount, duration, and intensity of heat and light produced are not random but orchestrated by the laws of physics and, we hope, humanity’s mastery of fire in some fashion or another.  This heat and/or light then, when applied to another material, changes certain aspects of its structure.  But to say that we cook through application of fire and then to describe what fire is only reveals part of the phenomenon taking place.  After all, the heat/light, i.e. radiant energy applied to the material can be applied in different ways.  The heat and light can be applied directly by insertion of the material into the actual environ of combustion.  The combustion can be kept separated from the material.  The duration of time of exposure and degree of intensity can be varied.  All of these change the effect of the application.  Then in summary, we can say that to use fire to cook is an action actually comprised of two separate but interrelated actions.  The first is the controlled generation of heat and light.  The second is the means by which the material to be cooked is subjected to the fire.

Next, the issue of why cooking with fire is desirable to humanity…What are the desirable effects of the application of fire … or of salting?  First, we extend the usable life expectancy of the food.  It’s increased durability is a result of having made it a less hospitable home to micro-organisms and less susceptible to decay due to moisture and heat.  Furthermore, the more a food is cooked the more resistant to decay of any sort it becomes.  If a food is fired until it is very nearly char…or chemically altered to an extreme like salted meat…it lasts almost indefinitely.  But its nutritional value tends to be inversely proportional to its ability to resist decay.  So the most inert food also tends to be of the least value  biologically…even to the point of being dangerous or unhealthy.  This ability to prolong the shelf-life of food is obviously one of the underpinnings of human civilization.  It is a necessary building block for any kind of advanced societal structure and for the ability to travel into the unknown.

There is a negative aspect to this process though.  If the nutritional value of a food stuff decreases inversely to the amount of cooking or chemical treatment it has undergone, the more cooked food one eats and the more one cooks food before eating it, the more one has to consume to maintain the same intake of nutrients.  (For a contemporary example, think of how a person can eat heavily processed ‘junk’ food in massive quantities but actually be suffering from malnutrition.)

Again, think of the value of non-perishable food stuffs as vital to the ability to explore.  The more one is dependent on these non-perishables the more one has to carry to maintain a healthy nutritional intake.  The increase in cargo is itself an obstacle to exploration.  It is of a totally different nature though than the alternative worry of not knowing if there will be food “out there.”  The obstacle of carrying more is a determinable variable and can be accounted for and therefore lends itself to facilitating a feeling of security in the explorer.  Not knowing whether or not there will be food-stuffs on the trip can not be accounted for ahead of time and therefore produces a feeling of insecurity.  Thus, there is the natural tendency to favor use of cooked (or processed) food despite its lower nutritional value.

The other benefit, ability to change the flavor of the food, is also enticing for the same reason as the above.  A feeling of security is derived from the power to alter an aspect of nature to one’s own liking.  It too has a negative aspect, though.
As one lives in a world of processed foods one loses a sense of the natural properties of the food stuff.  Assuming that there is a somewhat pervasive order to nature, though it be infused with instances of randomness, foods have certain flavors not without justification.  Thus by experiencing the true qualities of a food one learns to interpret an aspect of the world around them.  When the food one eats is altered, this taste/smell-as-information about the usefulness of a food stuff is denied and the complexity of understanding attainable of one’s environment is incrementally limited.  This of course…the limiting of one’s ability to accurately interpolate the environment…creates insecurity.

So cooking’s value must strike a balance.  Without cooking, we cannot explore much or trust the character or safety of food, which limits our options.  Cooking increases our options to a point, in that it makes food more durable, portable, and safe.  However it also reduces nutritional value and dulls our connection to our world.  Hence we can over process food to our own detriment.

As with the strengths and weaknesses of cooking, so too are the strengths and weaknesses of institution, standardization, and convention.  They are like cooking.  They make navigating and using the world more convenient, but something is lost in the process.  The key is finding the right balance.



Yet again, the infamous three, Institution, Standardization, & Conventionalization, came beckoning.  Yet again, they asked, “How might we be characterized?”

Yet again, a notion entered and offered to present itself.  The origins of this notion are the process of mechanical drawing…nowadays, CAD drawing.  First an idea is developed and decreed fit to take physical form.  The idea, even when a fairly in depth conversation is had or a thorough set of drawings produced, is still very much conceptual, and requires birthing unto its physical existence by means of a skilled artisan or tradesman.  To do so requires much work, beyond the actual physical act of making.  To do so requires that very precise measurements for hundreds and thousands of pieces are maintained.  To do so requires that, when necessary, aspects of procuring material, cutting, forming, shaping, fabricating, finishing, and installing are orchestrated so as to produce the finest product with the least expenditure of energy and material.  This requires re-envisioning the conceptual idea so as to make it accomplishable by the means available.  To a large extent, this means that where possible, the project is broken down into an agglomeration of familiar shapes, members, and processes.  Often times when the product is finished these are not all readily apparent merely by an untrained eye’s examination.  In a sense, the process has come full circle and the final product is again appreciable as the concept deigned to be.  In the process however, a group of individuals, the fabricators, were able to gain a livelihood because they possessed the ability to transfer a concept through an operational matrix that produces a physical embodiment of the concept when the process is complete.

This process, if considered for a time, bears a likeness to the process of gastrointestinal digestion.  There is, at the outset, that which has value in it, but which is not readily accessible.  The means to access the value is by breaking down the whole into pieces which can be systematically dealt with.  The broken down elements are then finally reconstituted in a useful way.

So, too, with institution, standardization, and conventionalization.  Institutions metabolize work and culture and things.  Standards are digested chunks more suitable to transport and use by the system.  Conventionalization is to reduce the variability in the processing and to make it repeatable and predictable so that we can trust that the standardized chunks that come out are similar enough that they can be processed and used in a standard way.

Thoughts on Symbolism in the Built World


Stone structures or wood structures are very honest…transparent…about their ordering/organizational system(s) – or they can be.  When a new trick is/was figured out…that is…the ability to configure/utilize space/solid/the system(s) in a new way, it revealed that the system(s) order/organization/pattern(s) are/is more complex/extensive/flexible/comprehensive than previously thought.  When this is realized a wonderful moment of discovery is experienced…a sense of awe/wonder/appreciation for the extensiveness/power/pervasiveness of order/(God????)

If one is in a stone or wood building, made of only stone and/or wood, and if a new configuration/use underlies a previously unrealized aspect of the ordering system, one automatically and correctly assumes that the system was more pervasive/comprehensive/deep than previously understood.   But if the wood/stone uses other things to achieve the effect which seems to defy the rules of the order, i.e., the existence of the order and of its well-functioning requires a more complex set of variables/propositions/proportional systems, this must be expressed so that the ordering system can be responsibly & thoroughly evaluated and correctly appreciated…thenceforth would exist the potential to be appropriately/efficiently employed.  If some of the variables are hidden its okay…sometimes…maybe…as a tease…as is appropriate, for instance, in theatrics.  But if variables are concealed to avoid confronting the increased complexity of the order signified, in effect the experiencer is misled.  If this deception is allowed, an order is reaffirmed, but is more symbolic and less a unity of symbolism and reality.  In such a case, the symbolic aspect shades toward the hue of iconography more than literalness.  It is a distortion.  The designer has just made it more difficult for the experiencer  to maturely understand the actual order of his/her world because there is disjunction between the order espoused and the order actually utilized.

The Field


My thesis is taking shape.  What is it to say that the architect is a storyteller?  What is it to say that an object is a codifier of meaning?

With regard to the field of professionals dealing with such and similar notions, I am beginning to realize those and that of which it is constituted.

These questions really imply several more…and it is these which I find provide some categories for this investigation.  There is the message.  There is the delivery of the message, that is, the system through which it operates.  There is the vessel of this system.  There is the means of perceiving of the message.  Now to recount and explain each of these further.

The message proper…the what.  This is that which is developed through subjection to pop culture, to political, economic, philosophical, religious, scientific theory…whatever serves to form the worldview held.

The system through which the message is delivered.  For this I might look to those who have explored and delineated the functioning of semiotics, symbolism, linguistics, etc.  How does a sign function?  What are the differences in a canonical sense between sign, signifier, signification, signified, symbol, myth, etc?  And by what means do they operate?  It seems at this point that some thorough reading of contemporary French critical theorists is essential to understanding the present state of this discussion.

The vessel of the delivery system, would be the artifact proper.  For this it seems as though engaging the profession in some facet, as well as reading contemporary and old architectural theory are necessary.

The means of perception leads me to cognitive science.  Especially, those within cognitive science who study spatial cognition and the psychological and physiological implications of spatial cognition.  Study in this area also facilitates the understanding…I hope… of just exactly what the relationship between the physical construct in its role as facilitator of spatial cognition and the symbolism attached with such can be…if there is a relationship at all.

A Brief Reflection


Here I sit in my parents house on the day after Christmas, 2002.  I am about to write on some thoughts I had last night during a viewing of, Ice Age.  K__ is here.  Its been a very nice holiday.  And I think with some nostalgia about the…what I like to think of as the focused beginning of my inquiries…Waking up after midnight some three Christmases ago, delirious and aching with the flu, and sitting down at the kitchen table to write in my sketch book.  As I sit here now typing on my laptop, I’m amazed at how far this process has come in three years…and feel that it is not yet anywhere near a recognizable beginning.

Platonic Forms


Often machinery at the automotive plant needs to have custom alterations made to suit the exact functions and processes utilized.  In so doing, often an engineer or a project manager will identify the issues and develop an idea for the solution.  It gets made.  Usually, the solution then needs to be reworked a few times for it to really work well.  This is because often that initial solution is, in a sense, the “Platonic” solution.  It is a solution in some idealized conceptual sense.  But just as the Platonic oak tree does not actually exist, but only this or that type of oak, so too with these solutions.  Once the general prognosis is given, it needs to be reworked into an item or process with a more singular form and function than the conceptual addresses.

Naming God


I think that recently I’ve scribbled some fragments that explore the idea that naming God, that is, of creating the construct of God and substantiating it with a name, is the first preservative…the first and most important construct fixing a logical understanding of experienced reality…precisely because the act of naming God signifies humanity’s observation that there is possibly a deeper structure or order to the environment, including us, of which we are only slightly aware, but which we are able to uncover, use, and revere.   This is significant because, though all living creatures process the world and each other to varying degrees, humans are the only species (of which we are aware) that are conscious of the fact that they process the world.  That is, humans are the only species that are consciously aware that there is likely an underlying order, that they are aware of it, and that they are actively processing it both intellectually as abstract concepts and biologically in order to sustain their bodies.  But it is not fathomable to people to assume that the existence of an underlying order to nature, or our ability to be aware of it or process it was not given to us or created for us.  It is not fathomable that such an order or our ability to process it could be a random occurrence, an emergent property of a complex system, or wholly our own and which begins and ends with us.  No, it had to exist before us and be used before us.  It has to be specific to us, and intentionally bestowed upon us.  It had to be designed for us, and it must predate us.  The alternative is more difficult to process!

In summary, this act of naming God is in effect Processing (personified) looking in the mirror at its own reflection…of Processing reflecting upon itself…of Processing ascribing itself first to something beyond itself in order to explain itself to itself (to the extent that humanity’s processing may be considered the metabolism of a higher-order societal organism of which we are but like the cells and mitochondria).


04.11.07 / 13.02.23

The ability to predict future events based on analysis of past events gives humanity its power over other species and the physical world and gives individuals a competitive advantage over each other in the social arena.  The ability to predict is a major reason – if not the reason – we have been able to develop complex, extensive, useful, and enduring technologies and societal organizations.  In summary, the value of the ability to predict is its utility, and this ability is essential to being human (or any more complex and social form of life).  This ability to predict is also essential for societal organizations.   But what is the locus of the drive to be able to predict?  Is it the organism’s engagement with the world?  Is it the social organization’s need to serve organisms or other organizations in order to sustain its existence?

Perhaps there is a more fundamental, more biological locus for the drive to predict.  An organism’s own self-awareness and ability to function as an individual is organized around its brain’s/mind’s ability to become familiar with its body and to be able to recognize patterns and make certain assumptions about its own internal states.  This would be true even for an organism with no sensory perception of an external world.  No regulation of basic biological processes, let alone higher mental function, would be possible if the brain/mind could not first frame its experience of the sensations of its body’s systems, its sense of self, and its emotions in this moment through some stable interpretation of the phenomena as they occurred in the past.  A brain/mind is first and foremost concerned with the interrelationships of its own systems and its perception of self and proprioception and emotional states and it must be able to recognize and distinguish between enduring versus emergent or erratic internal states and whether or not there are patterns to the ebb and flow of transitions between internal states.  Once such a capacity exists, it is likely an inevitable step that it begin to anticipate future states based upon awareness and knowledge of current and past states and its feel for the patterns of transition between states.

With this hypothesis in mind, the desire to predict and to value the capacity for prediction is recognized as a projection of an internal, biological, organizational and regulatory mechanism – of a brain/mind perceiving of itself, its body, and its emotions and regulating their interrelationships.  Once established for internal self-regulation of systems, this capacity is available for mitigating perceptions of the external environment and becomes useful in guiding the body in interacting with the environment.  If this hypothesis is accepted, then we may say that prediction is the organism’s attempt at establishing homeostasis in its use of its own body first, and its interactions with the external environment second, and with its use of social organizations third.  If this a valid hypothesis, then prediction used for larger societal aims is a byproduct of organisms’ minds’ attempts to use similar means of engaging the world and society as they do their own bodies.  In this sense then, each brain/mind is literally making attempts to annex the world and other organisms exterior to its sensory receptors and enlist these into the same or similar organizational and regulatory structure as that which facilitates its reading and regulation of its own biological system.  Thus there exists a drive to remake the world and our social relations in such a way as to facilitate the probability of the mind’s extension into them and regulation of them as an extension of its own biology.  From this perspective, the world and our social relations are quite literally part of who each of us is as an individual organism – or at least our brains/minds would have it be so – and they want to be able to perceive of and regulate current and future biological states to maintain internal homeostasis, hence the drive to prediction.



What is it that I’ve resisted as I finished school and as I’ve entered the work force?  It is conscription.  There is that tremendous urgency that to get anywhere or to make money or even just to gain employment is to focus immediately and only as directed by someone else.  Which may only be problematic (in an idealistic sense) and not entirely objectionable (in a practical sense) if the point of this focusing as directed were really to efficiently create a specialist and/or make the best product/service.  But sadly, this focusing as directed is usually more insidious.  Usually, the most significant meaning of this focusing as directed — and its primary exchange value — is not the skill you offer but rather the subservience of the individual to the directives of those in charge of the enterprise.  This is what is exchangeable for praise, recommendation, promotion, and monetary gain.  Knowledge, talent, efficiency, people skills, are important, but not what is most valued and most fundamental — and can even be seen as threatening by some employers/professors.  If these assets are not put into the service of the employer/professor as directed — or are developed or put to use in the service of the client to the point where they implicitly highlight the employer’s/professor’s own limitations in comparison, then they can be seen as threatening and there may be no gain for the individual with the employer/professor — just peril.

Essentially, this is how conscription happens, whether in school or at work.  Rarely, if ever, is the development as guided (or not) by the employer/professor meant to really develop the young talent, and never merely for the sake of individual development, professional competency (not to even mention attaining elite professional performance), or in the larger long-term interests of the profession, let alone humanity.  Rather, none of these are the prime motives in too many instances, unless the employee/student is fortunate enough to work for those rare individuals who see and treat their subordinates as more than expedients.  Why is it that urgency, compulsion, imposition, and coercion are always so firmly entrenched in so much of human enterprise?  Why must we enslave each other instead of collaborating and enriching?

At any rate, why submit to this coercion?  Why accept a guaranteed boring, unfulfilling scholarship to the subservient middle?  And why not reject conscription, when rejection of conscription does not deny one the safe banality of the middle?  The middle is still accessible to rejectors of conscription because the coercers do not like to admit to themselves or others that they are coercers, preferring rather to be seen as the good guy/girl, the friend, the one not coercing.  The coercer’s excuse is always, “i don’t mean to coerce you, but it is the nature of what we do, and i don’t have a choice.” –though this is never spoken, only there to be read as the subtext of behavior.  Such sentiments are indicative of someone truly subservient, who once accepted being coerced, and who has failed to embrace his/her own agency.

Actively rejecting the coercion forces the coercer into an awkward position.  Coercers don’t like to think of themselves as coercers.  Rejecting coercion forces the coercer into the awkward position of either allowing the uncoerced to exist within the group, albeit as an outlier, probably making the coercer and those who have submitted to coercion uneasy because the outlier is a constant reminder that they themselves have submitted; or rejecting coercion can result in the coercer escalating the situation — that is, proactively coercing or demonizing/rejecting the uncoerced to force him/her out.  This is unpleasant for the coercer because his/her delusion of being the good guy/girl is exposed.  In conclusion, the rejector of conscription, the one who chooses to resist conscription, is still allowed in the organization — in society — and the middle and at the top — because of skill and performance, though he/she has opened the potential for either better or worse treatment — either persecution to rid the organization of nonsubservients, or conversely, the opportunity to attain a mythic and untouchable position within the organization — depending upon how the experiment in resistance turns out.

A Word on Craftspeople


It has been noted by many, and especially by Hannah Arendt, that life moves at such a pace now-a-days in the United States that proper treatment of almost any endeavor can only be achieved in the intimate realm where means and large-scale coordinated effort are limited — and thus gains are similarly limited.  It has also been speculated that given this situation, the only activities or places capable of attaining depth of meaning, form, or action – of truly birthing new ideas and actions and orders – are located in or related to things generally cast aside by the social realm — things for which the market cannot immediately see the commodity value, and so get left behind.  That is, things are most free to mature and gain depth in the margins of society, where the life is not sucked from them as soon as they are birthed, as happens with so many ideas and products that are born into mainstream America; where they are turned into a commodity and exploited before they ever reach maturity.  A slum for instance, or a business in a forgotten location, or a space under a highway or in some place of no commercial value is more likely to be the home of true innovation and beauty than the corporate office or research lab.  It is in such marginal places that something might be free to grow as it will and as it sees fit without the need to be able to explain and justify its worth, its bottom line, its economic merit, and growth potential, to the client and the market at every moment and every stage of its development.  It is here in the margins, then, where true innovation and artistry happens, that true craftspeople may be able to develop.  After all, to become a true craftsperson means one has to have opportunity to regularly work on true crafts.  This is how I view the master craftsman, G____, K____, B____, P____, S____, and M____, where I work.  They have found a unique niche and are, in every sense of the word, craftspeople, master craftspeople, and what’s more, there is more of an architect and philosopher in each of them than I ever encountered in an architectural firm or teaching at a university.  In the metal shop we consider aesthetics more than we ever did in a firm and as much as we did in school — the difference being these guys have such a refined sense and are not pretentious and their knowledge is grounded in depth of experience — they are not just chirping birds repeating vaguely worded, impressive sounding (but empty) summaries of whatever they just heard is ‘important to know’ in order to seem like one knows what one is talking about.  We are not mere construction paralegals, as I believe most architects are today, nor are we self-indulgent, superficial blow-hards, as too many academics with whom I’ve interacted seem to be.  I am happy then, to develop as an environmental designer / architect-to-be out away from the general malaise of the profession and the academy and at the same time learning some very relevant yet tangential things about construction and the aesthetics of building materials from men who really know what they are talking about.

The same I feel about my position with respect to studying philosophy and my intellectual growth.  At our Hegel reading group meetings people draw parallels with so many other readings and thoughts…and that after only having read a few pages of Hegel! – and probably only a few pages of those with whom they are comparing Hegel!  — All surface and pretense. Why?  This is not love – it is not investment – it is not art – it is not freedom.  The need to satisfy the social realm and turn everything into a commodity, to profess, as these professors-to-be are learning to do, is pathological.  Their behavior is performative and serves a social and professional goal, but it does not honor the work – the ideas – above all else – so what is the point?  Where is the humanity and the dignity in it?  And if there is no humanity and dignity in it, why do it?  For these professors-to-be, ideas are cheapened by making them commodities to be exchanged for a paycheck.  This is not the Ivory Tower!  This is not the Academy as repository and protector of a civilization’s Knowledge and Truths.  These are ambulance-chasers and this is the academy as big-box-retailer.

Mostly nowadays, in neither the profession of architecture nor that of academia is the actual work sacred lest it find a means of accomplishing this after it has satisfied the demands of the social and economic realms or if it is sold on other assets or qualities and the true artistry is / crafts are hidden in the product and left for future generations to uncover.  It will hopefully be safe, after the fact, to reveal that the true purpose and value was hidden within.  Thus neither the architect nor the academic is free to truly be a craftsperson in their respective field so long as he/she is primarily a commodity hocking commodities.

Associating an academic or an architect with a craftsperson may seem odd.  But both work with ideas (the abstract technologies) in as focused a manner and on as fundamental and menial a level as a welder works with metal.  This is surely in the role of craftsperson…a craftsperson of ideas…or at least has the potential to be; for ideas are crafted just as a steel rail or table is.  Yet so many of our academicians and designers, who ought to be craftspeople, are not.  They are forced into a position of regurgitation and passing on to others the revamped, ‘spruced up’, poor replicas of ideas of people who came before…as fashion…and they give in and go along with it.  Thus the potential craft…and therefore…the potential dignity in an intellectual or creative endeavor, is lost to the needs of a sociological and economic process of ‘educating’ and ‘designing’, of producing incessantly just to produce – just to say that one has something new – as Burroughs puts it, they are the Senders, and how tragic is that!

To be a true master craftsperson, contrary to what Plato or Socrates will tell, is indeed to be free.  It is to be forever engaging in work as a means of exercise and enjoyment and not merely to provide for food and survival.  Why are they free to do this?  Because they sell themselves on something other than their ideas, on something other than aesthetics, thus they are able to protect the ideas and let them grow and mature properly.  Unfortunately in our current situation, the means to attain to the level of craftsperson of ideas or aesthetics is by forsaking the public avenues supposedly set aside to that purpose.  Robert Frost said taking the path less worn made all the difference…perhaps in his time…now-a-days I find the only salvation lies in forsaking all paths and walking through whatever might be left of the wilderness.  To become a true craftsperson of ideas and aesthetics, the margins are where it is at!  For as the Han Shan say, “There is no road to Cold Mountain…”

Cognitive Offloading Dances with Critical Theory


Within the last two days I’ve had two thoughts that have decided to dance with each other.  I’ll introduce the partners — cognitive offloading (or not) onto the environment and critical theory.

The dance was initiated by observing the following situation at work.  If someone is in a position of authority and asks a subordinate to do something pointless – that is, the request kind of doesn’t actually make sense, no matter how well-intentioned, because the authority is out of touch with the codes, the client’s intent or goals in this instance, regulations, what the vendors can/will provide, and/or the tools of production – then the subordinate, if given the choice or the opportunity to put it off won’t perform the requested task.  But if the subordinate’s livelihood is dependent upon the authority and the authority demands it – even though we’ve established that it is in fact an ill-conceived if well-intentioned request – then the subordinate will feel compelled/coerced into performing the pointless task.  Many subordinates – too many – will not feel it there place to question the authority, point out the flaw, or have a discussion, assuming instead that the authority knows something that the subordinate does not.  The subordinate will work hard enough and take it all seriously enough that they will in fact generate and/or find something of value and mistakenly think that what they’ve come upon is in fact that enigmatic point which the authority sought.  The authority benefits by playing along as if knowing all along that the discovered element was in fact what was intended.  In this way the authority gets to reap the major portion of the benefits.  In summary, performing work, even if misguided, usually uncovers or creates something of value that justifies doing it.  Which is unfortunate from the perspective that it can mask the fact that the authority did not know what he/she was talking about.

Observation of the workings within an architecture firm made me contemplate this.  The codes, programs, and products change so quickly that a senior staffer cannot possibly know what the specifics of the work at hand entails.  But at one time, the staffer did know.   And that knowledge is similar enough that it allows the staffer to talk authoritatively, at least conceptually.

As I read, Natural-BornCyborgs,by Andy Clark, I’ve thought more about this idea that we (humans) tend to offload significant amounts of information and process into our environment in formats and settings which prime us for accessing and utilizing it quickly, efficiently, and effectively.  In essence, we allow ourselves to become highly dependent on our environments to perform required tasks.  Having such a strong tie to the affordances of the environment increases the stakes emotionally and psychologically with regard to the significance of and changes to the environment, which means we are inclined to believe we maintain the close integration even as it is slipping.  The environment is bound to change.  Certainly in our time, we, for better or worse, accelerate that rate of change, perhaps significantly beyond our ability to assimilate our changes.  This very fact threatens our ability to trust in offloading.  If and when we realize that we have lost the connection, we may feel hurt or angry or decide it is not worth investing in the ‘new, latest, and greatest.’  Then, either we offload less and reduce our productivity, or continue to offload but endure heightened stress as a result of the ever-present uncertainties resultant from the rate of change.  Bringing it back to the scenario I observed of the misguided boss’s request — the boss at one time had a close, accurate, intimate relationship with the details and production of performing architectural work, and relies on that conceptual scaffolding as though it is still valid, perhaps only partially aware, if at all, that those cognitive scaffolds are outdated, deteriorating, or faulty.  The subordinate, meanwhile, has a much clearer, more accurate relationship to cognitive scaffolding for production and the details of the project — his/her scaffolding for production is stronger, newer, more developed and refined — but does not yet (and perhaps never will) have an awareness of and relationship to the larger business and organizational aspects (structures) of the project.  Thus, both parties are operating in an environment in which they cannot trust the scaffolding of the authority as much as they would like.  His/her cognitive offloading is no longer ‘fresh.’  This is a problem.  This is clear to the subordinate but may not be clear to the authority.

A possible reaction is to mistrust offloading altogether and to rely more on only what one can hold in one’s head.  Paradoxically, by reacting against offloading, a person learns to value life without depending as heavily upon the benefits of offloading.  The unintended result is to sharpen one’s selectiveness of offloading.  That is, while we can choose to rely less on offloading, we can never completely divorce ourselves from it, since it is an innate tendency.  Thus if we do it by default, then in reacting against it we are only becoming more selective in how we use it. This is a reaction against the subconscious tendency to get  overly dependent on the environment to the point where one may not fully utilize one’s ‘onboard’ capabilities.  But for the person who rejects offloading, a selectiveness develops — because it is impossible to completely divorce oneself from the influence of the environment and using it to cue and structure thought and action — whereby the person not engaging in offloading as much ends up more soberly seeing it for what it is and therefore more soberly sees where it is truly beneficial as opposed to detrimental.  The lure to re-commence offloading, at first only for those supremely profitable instances, is great, and an anti-offloader will commence offloading more as it regains value, thus the pendulum swings back the other way.

So the realization is that there may be something like a harmonic frequency for human use of cognitive offloading that exists for each of us as a natural frequency of our existence and we do well to respect it.  Human capacity to offload information storage and process priming into the physical environment and to access such through methodological interaction is itself a complex, nuanced, active and changing online system which can settle into homeostasis.

Lastly, it is possible to consider the ‘anti-offloading’ end of the spectrum, from a critical theory perspective and read into it a certain anti-corporeality — that is, a denial of our minds’ uses of our bodies’ natural affordances — which can be seen through a critical theory lens as representative of Nihilistic/Stoic/ascetic points of view and modes of existence – as reactionary to the uncertainties inherent in a time-locked, disjunctive biological process which has slipped out of homeostasis and therefore makes the organism uncomfortable – as a reaction to pressures to exceed the functional limits of the system — that is, it is possible to see the philosophical tendency toward Nihilistic/Stoic/ascetic points of view and modes of existence as part of the homeostatic system itself — as governors helping to regulate our use of cognitive offloading. Such philosophies and modes of behavior are corrective measures to keep our use of cognitive offloading tuned to a range in which it is most lucrative. 

School or Swarm


Let’s see if I can reconstruct this thought chain from my ride home tonight. The setting: my car, driving home from work, listening first to The Sports Bash, with Erik Kuselias, on ESPN radio. On Sports Bash tonight, the predominant subject was the flawed nature of the B.C.S. System in college football. Rapid Fire is the segment on the show that features quick questions and answers with call-in listeners that occupies the last ten minutes of the show. People can get dropped for making stupid comments. There really are not hard and fast rules or structure. But there is a strong sense which organizes perception and decision making. In essence, there is a feel, and there is being in tune with that feel. There can be different takes on the feel, but everyone participates on the same page. This sort of penumbrant organizational schema, somewhat like a subnewtonian fluid, does not exist formally, that is, in the concrete, though from the plasma, the general milieu of what is understood, do coalesce rulings on what is right and wrong, where the limits occur, what works, what’s cool, what’s STUPID, who’s hot.

While listening, I suddenly realized that what makes the segment so great – so fun – so entertaining – so surprisingly complex, is this self-generating, internally consistent, unspoken rule of order. Then I realized that what I just described as so fascinating about this segment on the show is exactly what tonight’s participants and host are railing against the B.C.S. System for embodying. The B.C.S. ‘s flaw is resultant of the same self-generating and homeostatic organizational structure.

Then I realized, this organizational structure is found in other places. It is the value-setting mechanism for most of us in our daily lives. There is a beauty to it, and a tremendous value. I wondered if there have been any studies on this mechanism. I should find them. This societal organization could be analogous to Bruce Lindsey’s emphasis on the significance of the manner in which a school of fish travel together. Everyone is in sync. Also, and conversely, there is the swarm…of bees or ants, let’s say, for which expendibility of energy and of individuals accomplishes the same. More chaotic, less coordinated.

This led me to realize that swarm and school are sort of like opposites. With the swarm, each agent follows the exact same rules but the overall system may seem chaotic as those rules are applied by each agent independent of the activities of the agents acting in close proximity. Conversely, with the school, the coherence of the overall pattern is maintained, but doing so means that each fish may need to vary its behavior as the context changes so that the outcome from the group overall is similar. In the case of Kuselias’ show, the interactions are more like a school, wherein there is variability in how individuals act with other individuals, but the overall pace, tenor, and resulting feel of the show is maintained.

Could this train of thought be used as a segue to discuss the benefits of rate of change occurring at such a rate that allows for the equivalent of the synchronized school of fish as opposed to a more intense, less focused method that expends more energy and uses its populace as expendible? Could studies be found to really illuminate exactly what the organizational structure is which exists in these communities where what’s right and wrong is more felt and sensed than clearly delineated? And how do we ‘just know’ how to navigate the complexities of tasks and environments as described here.