In Donna Haraway‘s essay in Sensorium (embodied experience, technology and contemporary art) she begins by remarking that “worldly embodiment is always a verb”. And that “in formation, it is ongoing, dynamic, situated, and historical”. That “its infoldings of the flesh are comprised of heterogenous partners”. To qualify she illuminates “the infolding of others to each other is what makes up the knots of what we call beings, or perhaps better , following Bruno Latour, ‘things’. Things are material, specific, non-self-identical, and semiotically active”.
Language is capricious. Words merely resonances – each pinging like high notes on a piano – independent smooth isolate pebbles sharing the paleolithic stream bed. Let us harness a team of eight horses to each hemisphere of her evacuated text to see if we can yield the meaning of even this first paragraph.
Haraway makes one note, pulls on one strand and eventually invokes all the music ever written. Her non-specificity is like a quantum memory trap; frustrating our craving for a resolution.
Embodiment is a touchstone term. How does life emerge from non-life? How does intelligence emerge from non-intelligence? What is the phase transition boundary between a bookshelf and a constituent pile of pieces of wood that you’ve brought home from Ikea and poured out of the packaging? What is the boundary between a house and world? What is boundary? Our finities frustrate us and we push against them, becoming as Marc Pesce, or even Prince; philosopher kings spiraling off into incomprehensibility like sparks on the photo emulsion of the bubble chambers of our minds.
Minksy – in Society of Mind – was confounded by how intelligence could emerge from non-intelligence. He inscribed a boundary on science – he noted that reasoning was spatial physical, metaphorical, embodied in our primeval understanding of our world. In doing so he presaged the cognitive psychologists, Lakoff, Wittegenstein, Rosch. We use spatial metaphors; we get “on top of” problems, we “get to the bottom of” issues. Intelligence he reasoned was a reuse of primal wetware – what Lakoff would later note as Embodiment. Minksy decomposed reasoning into what he would call a hierarchy but I would call a teepee of agents each like a thermostat maniacally focused on a single goal.
Next we encounter an idea of a verb; invoking language itself to describe language. Motion, as an action, as an activity, as a key to a homeostasis. As situated and historical, as composed of heterogenous partners. It’s as if the world itself is at risk of a suicide due to some kind of Pauli exclusion principle. So many video game developers reach the same conclusion – they learn that their toy worlds are characterized by the maxim “Objects in the real world have only one thing in common – they are all different”.
Moving along. We encounter an observation of things, material, not duplicates; as if like how when you think about numbers it is the prime numbers that stand up the brightest in the field while the rest collapse away; mere echoes and duplicates of beautiful primes. Reality is continuous however; we arbitrarily invoke cleaving planes for the purposes of rendering finite the infinite.
A single word ‘knots’ demands attention. In fact this week it was remarked in Nature that “The Higgs field is also thought to make a small contribution, giving mass to individual quarks as well as to electrons and some other particles. The Higgs field creates mass out of the quantum vacuum too, in the form of virtual Higgs bosons. So if the LHC confirms that the Higgs exists, it will mean all reality is virtual”. If that’s true then Second Life is literally equivalent to the real world. It just becomes another pattern knotted into an energy field. Perhaps the fields are not transitive. One cannot walk from Second Life into the real world and back again without some kind of translation boundary – but nevertheless it creates an equal footing.
Ultimately I feel she’s speaking about a kaleidoscope of reality; a lens of confusion and self similar mirrorlike ghosts and reflection. But I don’t know that “things” are really as disjoint from each other as imagined. It is an assertion I have a tension with. It is certainly the intersection between things that is most interesting, the relationships. Is semiosis a reference to how artifacts construct their own meaning? Or how they tickle our senses and challenge us to construct meaning from them? Is what she is speaking about an attempt to denote the fusion of the the world and the rotating kaleiodoscope that is the actual truth of Plato’s cave.