Concept and Sense IV: Media Environments

December 23, 2014 § 8 Comments


The internalization of knowledge is to a large extent environmental in that we are absorbed by different knowledge ecologies that propagate within us different perceptual matrices that dispose use towards certain phenomena against others. Here the question transforms one more time, How does knowledge travel? Who has access to it? Which bodies can develop what capacities? The construction of a specific media sensorium provides the environment for the introduction and distribution of certain knowledge and practices. In the enactive approach, recorded knowledge is not a representation of a general class of events but is rather the inscription of an iterable capacity in a medium. A text, for example, is a certain kind of inscription device, to use Bruno Latour’s term, a media ecology filled with affordances for new empirical capacities of observation.

A text deals in conceptual or virtual affordances—theoretical as opposed to practical possibilities. Virtual affordances offer conceptual possibilities for imaging alternatives to the present scenario. A text is a record of past cognitive achievements that in the future can act as a set of affordances for the acquisition of new skills of perception in another person. These affordances enable the acquisition of new capacities for participation, action, and discernment. The text is an ecology that provokes transformation. However, the potency of a concept is not in the text itself but in the contrasts rendered available by the conceptual problems the reader must traverse in order to achieve the new skill, to constellate what is available to perception in a new way through engagement with the text. The constellation of availability again reveals the ecological nature of the concept-subject relation. Texts provide a virtual topos enacted by human practice—a topos that folds back on the human, shaping his or her identity along the shifting contours of new ecologies of thought.

Geocentric Media Ecology

October 14, 2013 § 21 Comments


Media theorist Jussi Parikka has a very interesting essay published in The Atlantic on the geology of media. The essay is part of the ongoing series of “Object Lessons” edited by Ian Bogost and Christopher Schaberg. In the essay Parikka draws our attention to the relations between media technologies and geological elements — for example, to the copper, gold, lead, mercury, palladium, and silver deposits that are transformed into the components of electronic devices. By foregrounding the relationship between material resources and communication technologies, Parikka’s essay offers an important commentary on the geopolitics of media. While this is certainly a worthwhile call to attention, the second half of the essay continues into equally important, though less explored, terrain. On the communicative agency of the Earth Parikka writes

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A New Geocentrism

July 14, 2013 § 5 Comments


In my last post I introduced a new concept I’ve been working on called “geocentric media ecology.” The addition of “geocentric” to “media ecology” is a move inspired by Bruno Latour’s recent Gifford Lectures wherein he stressed the importance of what he called “The Sublunary Matrix” — the planet earth, in simpler terms. In my view, Latour’s aim in highlighting the sublunar dimension of human existence is precisely to re-situate our matters of concern towards the fact that we are not heading for the stars — there is no escape from our earthly drama, at least not anytime soon — and if we are to break with modernity and form an ecological polis we must once again forge a new perspective on human life. « Read the rest of this entry »

Earth Aesthetics: Knowledge and Media Ecologies

July 14, 2013 § 13 Comments


[Image: Mona Hatoum]

Next Saturday July 20 I’ll be presenting a paper at the Integral Theory Conference in San Francisco. This year a major theme of the conference will be an Integral Theory – Critical Realism dialogue with Roy Bhaskar himself giving a keynote at the event. Though I am neither an Integral Theorist nor Critical Realist per se, I am happy to contribute my own thoughts on ecology and philosophy to an already diverse event. My paper considers the avenues opened up by thinking about the ontology of concepts and ideas from an ecological perspective. More specifically, I explore the relation between subjectivity and an ecological conception of concepts. I’ve uploaded a finalized version of my paper for tomorrow. You can read it here here, or in the text below. « Read the rest of this entry »

The Aerobiosphere

February 24, 2013 § 1 Comment


Newly published research indicates that the sky above our heads is filled with complex living ecologies that contribute to global weather dynamics. In the words of one researcher, this “contributes significantly to the hypothesis that the atmosphere is alive . . . The possibility of microbes being metabolically active in the atmosphere transforms our understanding of global processes.” We’ve seen reports like this before, but freshly published research always brings these exciting ideas back to mind.

The report also reminds me of one of the arguments from my article in Thinking Nature (forthcoming . . . soon?). In that paper I suggest we need a new conception of media ecology expanded to include all organisms, and not just human ones. From this perspective the sky is not a given backdrop upon which evolutionary dynamics unfold, but a recursively active media ecology that is constructed by a series of entangled organisms. Organisms are media ecologists enveloped by the media ecologies of other organisms, and aerobiology is just one exotic example that highlights this point. « Read the rest of this entry »

City and Mind

September 18, 2012 § 11 Comments


[Image: Ward Roberts]

The city takes us over. More than an environment it penetrates us; more than a fixed enclosure it shifts with our every behavior. The city, like a giant octopus swimming in the deep, swallows us whole and begins to shape us along its grooves and edges. It swims through the surrounding boundaries thrashing into rock, water, and sand. So much steel and glass metabolizes in our minds and shades the contours of our perceptions. It assigns to us new notions of speed, velocity, and distance; we expand along its metallic curves moving upwards into the condensing droplets of clouds. Its infrastructure percolates with the flow of oil, gas, and concrete; its hum sounds like cancer; its electronic lights glow like a million terrestrial stars. The city is vast, but it rests on the edge of continents like a small nebula floating in deep space. « Read the rest of this entry »

Speculation and Ecology: Some Notes for Friday’s Talk

May 2, 2012 § 3 Comments


[Images: Billy Kidd]

Ecology is typically defined as the study of relationships between organisms and environments, and the relationships between organisms to one another. This essay suggests another way forward: a re-visioning of ecology in the context of Alfred North Whitehead’s speculative philosophy. By thinking ecology with Whitehead we will be able to demonstrate a simple and surprising truth: all relations of any kind—be they between sea anemones and coral reefs or between philosophers and the world—are ecological in nature. By generalizing the definition of ecology to include relations of any kind, we expand our notions of what ecology is all about, and our ability to enact a cosmopolitics—a planetary thought for a planetary ecologyis greatly enhanced. But what, we might ask, does speculative philosophy have to do with ecology? Are we not mixing the empirical world of the natural sciences with the subjective world of a philosopher’s fantasy? I’m going to suggest that in order to actually understand the meaning of ecology—and in particular the possibility of an ecological ethics—we have to speculate, using the best of our sciences and the best of our imagination to do so.

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