Rough Theory

Theory In The Rough

Cultivating – and Surviving – Networks

Bleary-eyed from lack of sleep, and thoughts spinning vaguely from trying to absorb far too many new concepts during my very short mid-term break, I found myself jolted to full attention unexpectedly this morning, after stumbling across the extraordinary new blog adventures in jutland. With only a couple of extraordinary posts up at the moment, author ibbertelsen demonstrates a virtuosity with asking particularly complex and layered questions – in this case, questions about the interconnectedness of recent, interpenetrating, shifts in theory, cultural practices, and technologies that together seem to draw upon and reinforce concepts of decentred and networked models – whether applied to thought, society, or nature. Importantly, ibbertelsen recognises that the most important question to ask when confronted with these shifts is not the representational question of the truth or falsity of the models – not: are these new models an accurate way of describing the phenomena they seek to describe? Instead, given the resonance or growing intuitive appeal of such models, the key question becomes what the impact of these shifts will be – the ibbertelsen’s own words:

Whether any of this true, and which of the new models are right or wrong (scientifically), is up for grabs. My questions, however, are not along those lines. They rather concern the cultural consequences of new models for thinking, of the multiplications and clashes of “cognitive models” that don’t match, or don’t confirm our necessary assumptions, and the way these models don’t just inform but transform our thinking practices. The jury (in so far as we still have juries rather than brain scans) is out on whether culture can survive the new models, with their new practices and assumptions, whether they are right or wrong or a bit of both.

So here is my question: Can we survive dynamic, networked thought? Networked perceptions? The blurring of thought, perceptions and actions in dynamic networks? Can culture in general (I know, which culture specifically am I writing about … but that’s part of my point), can art, can democracy, science, religion, etc survive the new mobilities in perception and cognition/thinking models, practices and yes – perhaps thinking processes themselves (thinking processes that now include perception, action, affect, sensation all in shifting brain-body -world dynamics, to the point that we may no longer be able to talk about, or even assume, “our cognitive processes”).

Part of this is that as thinking/perception, sensation, affect and action all become more networked, more dynamic, more mobile, they are also more “mobilized” in Isabelle Stengers’ sense of the word, in which models and rhetorics are “mobilized” in order to stabilise certain practices, interests, disciplines, (models of affective and cognitive control in the workplace for example, or education, to help maximise productivity). Can we survive this (often “scientific”) “mobilization” of thought, perception, affect and action?

Sub-question: What are thought, affect, perception and action when they are now so obviously in such complex are fully mobilized circuits? Are they anything stable or even nameable at all? (I don’t claim to be able to answer this question, but a basic beginning might be here).

I might add a question of my own (regular readers will no doubt guess what it will be): how should we understand the resonance itself? Ibbertelsen’s non-representational insight primes this question: understanding the emergence and appeal of any concepts or metaphors is separable from determining the truth value of those concepts (if “truth” brought concepts into being and compelled people to believe them, it becomes difficult to understand the sorts of sudden, interdisciplinary shifts to which ibbertelsen is drawing attention). So the question becomes: why are we particularly attentive to the possibility of networked models, particularly receptive to metaphors of distributed processes, now? Can a better understanding of how the intuitive plausibility of such concepts is itself constructed, also help us develop a more active relationship to this resonance, such that we can shift from asking “what impacts will this shift have”, to asking “what potentials could this shift hold”?

And speaking of resonance: Stengers’ work, of course, has been “in the air” recently – I would be remiss if I didn’t also point folks to the most recent rounds of the ongoing (should one say evolving?) discussion of Stengers and Prigogine over at Larval Subjects.

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2 responses to “Cultivating – and Surviving – Networks

  1. Pingback: Promising New Blog « Larval Subjects .

  2. Pingback: On torn muscles, the health of publishing, politics and the end of the medium « adventures in jutland

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