Tuesday 10 July 2012

Meditation, Recursion and Science

I'm at the American Society for Cybernetics conference in Asilomar at the moment, presenting on what I'm increasingly seeing as 'recursive visualisation': the harnessing of real-time technologies for ways of organising groups of people to examine available information and identify what's meaningful to them. With so much information, making group decisions about what's meaningful is difficult. Typically, power relations assert themselves as a way out of the confusion: the boss decides and everyone follows. Technology, I believe, may  provide an alternative to this.

Real-time technologies allow us to 1. look at information; 2. look at our looking at information; 3. look at our looking at our looking at information; etc. A recursive real-time dynamic can be revealing of underlying patterns of meaning-making in each other. What do we find? I think we find out something about  the absences that are shared amongst the group, and in identifying shared absences, we can identify a meaningful course of action. The recursive process is a process of making shared absences determinable. It works in the same way that a fractal (like a mandelbrot set) gradually acquires definition with each iteration of the recursive algorithm. So we go from this:
to this...

What's now interesting me is that this process of 'recursive visualisation' is not a million miles away from medieval practices of copying of manuscripts. What it amounts to is a collaborative meditation on artefacts, and a shared activity in re-realising those artefacts. 
Are we simply learning to become scribes again?
Here's another way of looking at recursive visualisation:

It's the same thing, isn't it? A book which has been copied containing an image of someone copying. I'm finding this quite fascinating.

What is more interesting is the relationship between the Scriptorium and the monastery and then the University. These were places of meditation and learning. What went on was profoundly hermeneutic: a reinspection and re-evaluation of ideas: looking again, and again, and again. What emerged? Was it too a shared conception of absence? In the case of the monastery, of God.

Early scientific knowledge also emerged in these circumstances, and I find that interesting as we think of new ways to do science, to avoid the pathologies of reductionism which our modern universities are so beholden to. I believe we need a participative, reflexive, and common-sense science. That means (I think) harnessing the power of recursive inspection to reveal shared absences: for science, although since the enlightenment, science has focused on the positive, working at the heart of the greatest  scientific discoveries has been an acknowledgment of absence (particularly with people like Newton and Einstein).

So the question is "can technology deliver a different form of scientific enterprise?" I believe it can, and I believe we need to invest resources into trying to make it happen.

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