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Cary Bass 2006. Source: Wiki Commons

Potency and Partial Knowledge. An Exercise

While the vast macro and micro scales of the technosphere can be difficult to grapple with, so too is the complexity of its many interactions. The artists Andrew Yang and Jeremy Bolen propose a modest attunement exercise to counter this inaccessibility, an alternative to the abstractions of magnitude and scale through which the Anthropocene is so often perceived, by a sensitization of the partial and embodied.
Technospheric understanding requires us to extend our sensory capabilities to reconsider modes of attunement, representation, and habits of perception by investigating the soundscape. As technology historian, Emily Thompson writes: “Like a landscape a soundscape is simultaneously a physical environment and a way of perceiving that environment; it is both a world and a culture constructed to make sense of that world.Emily Thompson, The Soundscape of Modernity: Architectural acoustics and the culture of listening in America, 1900–1933. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. 2004.
But what are the limits of embodied inquiry, into a soundscape, or otherwise? The technological objectivity of instrumentation is meant to be a prosthetic for my own subjectivity, and objective knowledge about our vast, phenomenal universe (that is, making scientific sense of what otherwise cannot be sensed) reveals hidden unities and complexities that elude our habitual awareness.
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Film still from Powers of Ten (1977) directed by Charles and Ray Eames.

At least, this was the quasi-sublime insight that the Charles and Ray Eames film, Powers of Ten,Charles and Ray Eames (dirs), Powers of Ten: A film dealing with the relative size of things in the Universe and the effect of adding another zero. New York: Distributed by IBM, 1977.
seemed to offer me when I was a young biochemist. It begins on a fair autumn day in my home city of Chicago. The couple on the grass picnicking are strangers to us, nobodies, just as we the viewers seem to be of no particular body. Instead, somehow, we are perfectly disembodied with a picture-perfect vantage from above, the view from no-where. As we begin to float and zoom out and out, we begin also to pass through abstract windows of size and scale – the world framed as graph paper. Soon we are going faster than the speed of light, to the very outer limits of the observable Universe, then come to a full stop. Then we reverse and collapse back onto our planetary and urbanized frame, slowing down on our approach to the body of the man sitting on the grass, but then simply entering him without pause – through microstructures of cells, onto DNA, and then further still to the material fundaments of the cosmos on the subatomic scale. The View from NowhereThomas Nagel, The View From Nowhere. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.
is the ultimate access to everywhere, freeing us from our fickle, fleshy, subjective perspective. Without this no-where view, we are stuck simply now-here, feeling the weather without knowing the climate, being a part that has no sense of the whole. Theorist Peter Haff claims: “As parts of the technosphere, a rule of inaccessibility distorts our perception of the Anthropocene,” and that,
“the clarity and immediacy of our experience tends to overshadow the importance of the more diffuse and harder-to-visualize technosphere.Peter Haff, “Humans and technology in the Anthropocene: Six rules,” The Anthropocene Review 1, no. 2 (2014): 126‒36.
This can be true, but I believe not true enough to abandon techniques of embodied imagination ‒ the most intimate of materialisms that are latent and potent within my human frame ‒ a body that is as speculative as it is physical. To be physical is to be discerning. The aesthete, she who is committed to aesthetics, is like the athlete who is committed to athletics – both training to the limit of their embodied capacities, at high altitudes and in the thin air of possible self-knowledge. We inhabit something beyond our conceptual reckoning and yet live through it all the same. As parts, how can we make best use of our partial knowledge?
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When you are ready, please open your eyes.

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This raisin exercise is an expansion of a meditation devised by American medical professor Jon Kabat-Zinn, who had himself modified it from a Buddhist exercise.Jon Kabat-Zinn, Full Catastrophe Living: Using the wisdom of your body and mind to face stress, pain, and illness. New York: Penguin Random House, 2013.
Re-investing in the potential of immediate and embodied experience is not merely sensory; it is a way to make sense of things more complexly. It is training to reduce the unforgiving abstraction if our Reductionism, to seek expansive meaning without denying all the holes in our Holism.
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Diagram of external relations taken from Thomas P. Kasulis, Shinto: The Way Home. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004. Thomas Kasulis 2004.

A scientific understanding is supposed to be an impartial understanding. But as parts of an inescapable, technospheric whole, it is important to consider the virtues of being partial, and what potency partial knowledge can have for parts, and participants, like ourselves. The raisin is itself just a small part, but perhaps with coaxing it can also function as an access to the inaccessible ‒ as a holographic part of a whole. I borrow this conception of the “holographic” from the philosopher Thomas Kasulis and his analysis of particular ritual objects and sites in Japanese Shinto practice.Thomas P. Kasulis, Shinto: The Way Home. Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 2004.
Unlike the externalized relations between things, creatures, and events that dominate our conventional view of complexity ‒ nodes connected through networks ‒ Kasulis points towards the view in which parts within a whole are internally related to each other as forms whose identities overlap as well as differentiate. Holographic relations go farther still, recognizing how the whole can be evident ‒ and present in every part ‒ be it a person, a raisin, a cloud, or the ocean. As Kasulis writes:
“The part reflects the whole; the whole is in every part. To see this form of connectedness, the vantage point is not at a distance but through close examination of a single piece of evidence that functions as a holographic entry point opening to a grasp of the whole.Kasulis, Shinto.
These exercises are intended to be experiments in the recognition of the potent, interpenetrating, and holographic relations among all things, as physical as much as they are metaphysical. Instead of falling for the overwhelming character of the technosphere and its view from no-where, perhaps we can take advantage of the partial view of the now-here to make sense, and sensation, of this emerging everything.
This piece is an adaptation of a talk given during the Wisdom Techniques investigation at the Technosphere × Knowledge event at HKW, Berlin, April 16, 2016.
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