Monday 2 August 2021

Technology and Education as Energy Flows

There is some biological evidence for the role of inter-related parameters - particularly with regard to time and gravity in cellular development. For example, when taken into zero gravity, the biological development of cells "stalls" (this has been done with yeast and lung cells). Cells become a kind of "zombie" - nothing happens, time stops. When gravity is restored, development continues. So the removal of one of the fundamental parameters on which the equation for life depends (gravity) produces interference in another parameter of development: time. Normally we might think that such an interference in biological processes might occur through an epigenetic intervention (some chemical in the environment). But this isn't chemical, but a fundamental force. This suggests that physics goes very deep into biology, and biological origins.

One of the ideas of John Torday which has got me thinking most is the idea that a phenotype - any phenotype - is an "agent" which seeks information from its environment, driven by the demands of its internal operations with the ultimate aim of resolving the totality of its evolutionary history within its current informational context. What "resolving" means here, for Torday, is reconciliation within its original evolutionary state - the original "unicell". And since we are all phenotypes built on phenotypes, this process is ongoing at many levels of organisation, resulting (and this is the really intriguing thing) in the operations of mind.

Another interpretation of "resolution" is the "creation of zero" which one would get from the balancing of an equation, or a homeostatic equilibrium. Torday has been influenced by Peter Rowlands's physics, in which zero is everything, and Peter has shown how the mathematics of Hamilton's quaternions can explicitly show how zero can be made by manipulating the equations of Einsteinian relativity, or Dirac's quantum mechanics. What this means is that zero is an attractor, driving an ongoing evolutionary process. 

Another way of thinking about zero as an attractor is to see it as a flows of energy from one "level" of zero to another at a higher organisational level. There is some justification for thinking about zero as energy: Einstein's Mass-Energy-Momentum equation can be reinterpreted in the form of Pythagoras's triangle, which can then be shown to be an expression of zero in terms of mass, space, time and charge. What's powerful about that is that time is a fundamental parameter in the resolution: we tend not to think that material things embrace time, but Einstein says they do (because of the speed of light in the equation). Obviously, biological material things do embrace time, so this backs up the intuition that the evolutionary history must be considered in the behaviour of organisms - time and history are embedded in their structure. The same goes for social institutions (which are perhaps another kind of "phenotype")

Technologies embrace time too. The late Bernard Stiegler is broadly right about this: technologies are not mind-independent objects. A materialist view of technology is an the error. So what about thinking of technology as energy - or rather, technology as a fundamental component in evolutionary energy flows? 

Intuitively this makes sense to me. Quite literally, I find technology gives me energy - but only at some points. Nobody would do anything with technology if it didn't excite us.  It can, of course, also drain us. So at the point where it's exciting, there is an opening up of new possibilities. So is that the phenotype establishing a new level of balance? 

I think the important point here is that technological development is not material development, but energetic development. And technology is only one dimension of energetic development. Art, love, learning and politics are all things which can produce energetic development. They too are about gaining information from the environment. And each dimension (or parameter) is related to each other. Technology and science produce political effects, for example. But if each parameter is co-related then we need a way of examining the dynamics between them. 

At the level of human experience, our emotions are barometers of energy flows. We stall when one of the parameters we need to drive ourselves forwards is missing: something is lacking in the epigenetic environment. Restoring it requires finding ways of rebalancing our evolutionary development.

Our thinking about education is materialist and causal. We perceive educational outcomes as material products, not as flows of energy. This is partly because we haven't known how to organise ourselves to do anything else. What fascinates me about this scientific work is that it might give us new options for examining what actually happens in development beyond material productions.

1 comment:

Rupert Wegerif said...

Piaget claimed cognitive development - learning - driven by need for 'equilibration' - similar idea perhaps