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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.

Thoughts in Response to Reading Blake’s, “The Garden of Love”

01.06.15 / 06.15.01

Partially inspired by a reading of William Blake’s, “The Garden of Love” 

I laid me down upon a bank,
Where Love lay sleeping;
I heard among the rushes dank
Weeping, weeping.

Then I went to the heath and the wild,
To the thistles and thorns of the waste;
And they told me how they were beguiled,
Driven out, and compelled to the chaste.

I went to the Garden of Love,
And saw what I never had seen;
A Chapel was built in the midst,
Where I used to play on the green.

And the gates of this Chapel were shut
And “Thou shalt not,” writ over the door;
So I turned to the Garden of Love
That so many sweet flowers bore.

And I saw it was filled with graves,
And tombstones where flowers should be;
And priests in black gowns were walking their rounds,
And binding with briars my joys and desires. 

———————————————————

Metaphor and analogy are useful tools in exploring the potential of abstractions.  An example of this is the use of an image of a garden circumscribed by a wall.  The garden represents the domain of an individual or individual society and the wall represents the boundary of the domain.  The individual or group exists in and explores the garden and wonders what is beyond the wall.  The wall’s existence is taken as incontrovertible.  Approaching/engaging it carries significance in relation to the concept of boundary.  Any passage through the wall, if such is possible at all, receives a proper, formal aperture; i.e., appropriate cultural significance is granted through the degree and complexity of ritual which approaching and engaging the wall requires.  But the nature and existence of the wall is more intriguing than this.  The existence and nature of the wall itself is, to an extent, the product of the mind(s) which recognize its existence.  This reveals an aspect of its nature which is watery and ephemeral.  The wall is mostly an intellectual construct tied in some way to a physical phenomenon which comes to represent it.  It functions as an inhibitor or governor for the individual’s as well as society’s explorations of its domain.  The greater part of the constitution of this wall as recognized by an individual or society is a descriptional construct which only approximates the nature of a wall and only to varying degrees.  The wall as an intellectual construct functions as a self-transmogrifying delusion which serves as a boundary for and contextualizes disparate but relatable perceived phenomena.  It is a relatively static pattern within a realm of potentialities which tends to delimit a given grouping of interrelated patterns of lesser duration.  Bearing in mind this description of the wall and its relation to the garden, moving beyond the wall is really about reconceptualizing one’s relationship with the wall; about sufficiently adjusting one’s perception of the wall so that it ceases to function as a delimiter.

At first, moving beyond the wall may instill a sense of being immersed in “the unknown”…the wilderness outside of the familiar domain.  Initially being beyond the wall can feel new, strange, nightmarish, exhilarating, etc.  But before the passage of much time and event, recognition of patterns begins again…elements of the garden are recognized and the concept of the garden is recapitulated to encompass the added domain.  To an extent this is just realizing that the garden already existed beyond the wall.  The domain of the garden wasn’t really increased, just the domain of perception.

What then is the real delimiter?  The wall was actually illusory even though it felt and therefore existed as an incontrovertible limiting element for a time.  The garden, despite always seeming to have definite boundaries and a definite nature which potentially can be exceeded, in actuality can never be escaped.  Which is wall then?  Which is garden?  Which facilitates discovery?  Which is truly confining?

There are two modes of orchestrating our perception, each of which casts the garden in a slightly different manner.  Each of which has different strengths and weaknesses.  One is a public means and the other is a private means.  The public means is the employment of standard and convention, especially through the use of institutions.  The private means, by its very nature in this binary, is the opposite of all things conventional, standardizable, and institutional.  It is undefinable except over very short durations and within very limited contexts.  It is a mode of parsing reality which does not attempt to accomplish the preceding by processing existence through generalized and homogeneous constructs but rather develops idiosyncratic, emergent strategies and explanations for the singular experiences of a given situation.  It may be apt to term this the phenomenological mode.

Again, each mode of engaging existence offers certain benefits.  The implementation of institutions of standardization and convention facilitates societal dialogue and large group engagement of existence.  It also portends to offer a measure of security to a plurality.  The Golden Cow which standard and convention offer is the ability to predict what will be in a broad range of situations based on an interpretation of the present and past which highlights the relatively static characteristics of existence.  Offering security facilitates taking greater risks in exploring.  Paradoxically, these “riskier” explorations are circumscribed within an inherently smaller realm of investigation, leading to more homogeneous outcomes.  The cost of institutions is the degree to which, in the interests of and need to justify the large expenditure of time and energy required to create and maintain standards and conventions, they must develop generic and static constructs through which to process existence, therefore failing to possess the capacity to differentiate and treat the fine and ephemeral intricacies of actual existence.  The potential danger is that existence will be overprocessed – a form of sensory deprivation.  Overprocessing confounds the individual’s as well as the society’s ability to discern an optimally distorted perception in order to advantageously parse reality.  Instead, overprocessing tends toward redirecting the point of society’s implementation of the institution toward the propagation of the institution itself.  This increases the involvement and power of the institutions (and our dependency on them) as well as providing explanations of all phenomena only as relatable and valuable relative to the institutions.  Over a short duration, this tends to reinforce the illusions which institutions afford…such as a thoroughly explainable and static existence, continuous and ever-advancing progress, process, security, speed, ease, and convenience.

The phenomenological approach also offers benefits and dangers.  It allows an individual or group to engage a particular aspect of or realm of existence very thoroughly and to generate mitigations superbly contoured to those few phenomena.  As such, the individual or group can have an extremely lucid and optimally distorted construct for parsing existence, creating a tremendous sense of connectedness with existence, albeit over a very limited range.  Such a system can support acceptance of the ephemeral and disjunctive qualities of phenomena without taking them as threatening or devaluing them because they do not offer “appropriate” advantages within a hegemonic context.  The failure of this mode of engagement is that it does not facilitate large scale discourse or exploration.  It does not allow an increased pace, the ability to predict, or security by means of perceiving of a multitude of disparate phenomena as essentially similar.

Existence must always be explored through the implementation of both of these techniques.  As one moves away from the vices of the institutional approach in order to regain the optimal distortion offered by the singular approach, one simultaneously loses the means of large scale engagement which would make an optimally distorted view so valuable.  The singular approach minimizes any sense of and dependence on the institutional construct, both those aspects which are good and bad.  As a result, it is impossible to switch to a phenomenological approach without creating the conditions by which the reorganization of an institutional approach seams idyllic.  When distortion is optimized, the potential productivity possible with the tools of institutionalization is infinitely great.  Thus the journey back toward the institutional mode begins again.

How best to balance the two modes is another discussion.  The phenomenological approach would seem ideal for individuals and small homogeneous groups existing as entities unto themselves.  However, it does not address the needs of large heterogeneous groups very well.  It does afford the clearest view into a particular and limited range of events and actions.  The institutional approach then, is necessary for the very existence of large-scale civilization.  However, it can tend to make a civilization course and inflexible as it achieves its affordances by means of oversimplifications and grotesque distortions of existence.  The greatest danger of this seems to be that, as its grasp of existence becomes increasingly out of tune with optimal distortion, it increasingly generates self-referencing standards and conventions which only serve to amplify the illegitimate distortions and thereby makes the task of ascertaining valid interpretations increasingly difficult.