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Every act of rebellion expresses a nostalgia for innocence and an appeal to the essence of being. (Albert Camus)
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    Knowmads as metabolic reactors of information (Hybrid Future and Knowmads (pt 3)
    Project: Polytopia
    Part 6 in the series : The Rise of the Cyber Unified Civilization

    The peculiar ‘liquidity’ of our times may be less the consequence of structural change than intellectual exhaustion, the failure of the great ideologies of the twentieth century to bring about change on a scale that really would transform what it means to be human. Bauman rightly warns against attempts to seek refuge in the identities of the past, but in his lament at the passing of lasting values, he perhaps underestimates the possibilities for self-assured human beings unencumbered by the past, and brave enough to face the future.

    The trouble with being human these days
    Zygmunt Bauman (by Dolan Cummings)


    The proliferation of visions of our futures in the last decades has created a kind of black hole situation, a situation which, to say the least, and that is why I use the black hole metaphor, has not allowed the light of virtuality to come forth and shine.

    The tone of most visions we have come across was either of the apocalyptic kind or of the surrealistic utopian variety. Indeed there are as many visions out there as there are researchers and dreamers, visionaries and thinkers, philosophers and experts. In fact from the visions of B.Fuller and Habermas, to the more recent realities expounded by M.McLuhan and G.Deleuze the crucial point defining the core of the visions was and is increasingly developing as such, the technological ability of the human.

    However correct or implicitly insightful those thinkers are it is my view that in one fundamental respect at least we need a different perspective. I refer specifically to the commonly held view about the information society we live in that information produces more information or alternatively that information reproduces as information. The information explosion indeed breeds more information but to focus on this aspect is to my eyes erroneous, not because it is untrue, but because the focus of our vision and the locus of our insights should be on a different plane, the plane of intersubjective meaning.

    Meaningfulness is not something born of the void, there is no inherent meaning to life as such, what makes life interesting, and in certain respects important and valuable, is the intersubjective crosspollination of our localized perception, sensations and mindfulness with another.

    Old others, new others

    Taking this perspective as the basis of our visions, what the technological postindustrial reality has brought to our doorstep, our perceptual doorstep, is the factuality of the other, the new other.
    This new other is not the same as the old other. The commonly accepted view that the other is my next-door neighbor no longer holds sway for the simple reason that my neighborhood is not physical but virtual and is not called a district or a region or city but an infocology.

    Of course my physical neighbor still exists and we still greet each other in the morning or when we meet in the material world, shopping at the local grocer or walking the dog. However the issue standing in front of us is that my electronically mediated neighborhood, my infosphere at large and my infocology in particular is increasingly more pertinent to my mind and indeed to my intersubjective meaningfulness.

    In other words, I do not see us as a technological society, nor as an information society but as a civilization outgrowing its localization into an intersubjective meaningfulness, a/spatial and a/temporal, progressing into a unified cyber civilization.

    Notwithstanding Mcluhan and Fuller, Shanon and Wiener, the real prophets of the 20th century, we need a new manner of understanding ourselves, new myths to satisfy our ever-increasing hyperconnectivity and by consequence intersubjective appetite for meaning.

    Old myths, new myths

    Myths abound around us, but not all myths are created equal, some myths serve their functions better than others, whilst other myths exhaust their meaningfulness long before they exhaust their memetic longevity. A good example of a fatigued myth is the myth of the happy consumer, basically implying that the more the consumption the more the happiness, a fundamental fallacy promulgated for profit and actually believed by many until recently, fortunately finally proved wrong. (as an aside please note that I do not think that consumption in itself is wrong or bad, the joy of sharing in the market of goods and artifacts, services and trade is as old as the agora, the issue here is the equation of increased consumption with increased happiness).

    The myth of the happy consumer of goods is a construct that has evolved, and some say mutated, into the myth of the happy consumer of information. And thus, just as the first was annihilated will this new myth be obliterated into the meaninglessness that it stands for, namely the belief that the more information consumed the more the happiness. In this regard, it is my understanding that the problem with this new myth concerns also, and maybe primarily, the usage of the terminology of consumption. In our current situation we need question critically if what we do with information is consumption, I for one do not think so, appearances notwithstanding.

    But before I present a polytopian stance towards information, a few words about myths.
    I realize that for many nowadays myths are legends to be dismissed, an easy and quite quotidian colloquialism referring to false stories or traditional, and for some, sacred, symbolic descriptions of the origins of reality. However, my take on the issue is that myths serve a purpose in the evolution of civilization, they serve as ideation containers, contours of hard to describe sense impressions, pointers to sense-thoughts that centralize a notion before it is clarified or dismissed as either insubstantial or irrelevant. In other words, myths are contextual operators of our collective minds, given birth to serve a purpose of meaning, in time to be re-appraised and upgraded, or rejected as the case may be.
    Many myths have served us in the past, they serve us no longer, let them rest in peace in the historical dustbin museum of past human ingenuity, to be admired and researched, but not to be used anymore.
    Instead let us create new myths, transitory working contexts, that will permit us new operational attitudes, fresh pathways into possible futures, upgraded understandings and realizations on the nature of our minds, the nature of reality and the directions we wish to pursue as a specie.

    As our minds are evolving into a new kind of state, that of the Knowmad, a specie in a polytopian informational metaverse, we need accordingly a new story, a new myth, to cater for the transit period in the evolution of human civilization we find ourselves in.

    "It is not so much that digital technology recapitulates the language of classical mythology as the story of a fateful struggle between closed versus open systems — Scylla versus Charybdis — but that contemporary technoculture now approaches its apogee as a universe in drift. "

    A new myth – Infocological Metabolism

    In the new myth, Knowmads are not consumers of information; we are metabolic reactors of information, intermediate junctions of innovation and creativity, catalysts of emergent phase spaces.
    Using the metaphor of biological metabolism let us propose that the new kind of mind that is emerging in front of us is a mind that is inherently able to distinguish that which is nutritious from that which is poisonous, a critical mind, implicitly committed to the advancement of knowledge of life, the universe, and everything.

    The metabolic process of an infocology depends on a few but major points; it must be inherently transparent, open and evolutive. It needs become (and is increasingly becoming) a universe of discourse in which semantic representations are inherently transformable, transmutable and ultimately correlative.
    The topology of the knowmadic infosphere if so can be said to be a multiplicity of interacting stories, joining and splitting, merging and detaching. The flow of such infocologies allows for a continuous upgrade of both understanding and critical thought.
    Allowing the metabolic process of an infocology to flourish is amongst the prime goals of a Knowmad mind. The creation of circumstances of infoflows (infocologies) in which and by which self-editing becomes the ambient event is the possible promise of a polytopia.

    "Liberated from the plodding world of materiality by networked regimes of relational processing and ubiquitous computing, the neural mechanisms of the human mind demonstrate unexpected plasticity and openness to heterogeneity. "

    Code Drift- Arthur & Marilouise Kroker at Ctheory

    A knowmadic mind

    It is a Knowmad in as much as the principle of actuation it operates is one of critical self-examination especially with regards to the biases involved in its information processing. And just as there are many kinds of metabolic systems (and by consequence different criteria are applied and different results are arrived at in different organisms) so it is the case that different minds will process information differently and will present different results as to what is considered nutritious and what is considered poisonous. Moreover, even for a particular knowmadic mind, given that evolution is inherent, the metabolic process of information will not remain the same, creating a new state of affairs in which toxic information can become nutritious and vice versa.

    The process I am trying to describe here is a highly complex one and demands a certain poetic license, which I take with both hands. The transformation and at times sheer annihilation of old myths and casual conceptions into new modes of thoughts and fresh fashions of emoting is a difficult one and I do not for a moment fall prey to the idea that the transition will be an easy or simple one. But if we are to thrive into a future humanism, in which compassion and empathy do not find their origins in a Neolithic mindset but on a true posthuman ethics of abstraction and an aesthetic of engagement not based on the material, the transition is inevitable.

    As the new story of our species and civilization evolves, the story of individualism progresses into and as, the hyperconnected node, in given infocologies. These infocologies, nested fractally within the larger hyper sphere of information, the infosphere, evolve metabolic reactors of information. Metabolic reactors of information are collective mindsets evolving criteria for distinguishing wholesome or nutritious information from toxic or poisonous information. These in turn react and interact with and within flows of other infocologies, increasing in the process both the health and wealth of the infosphere and that of the Knowmad.

    The wisdom that results from the transformation and transmutation of data into facts, facts into information and information into knowledge, is not one but many, a multiple kind of wisdom, perforating the very idea of uniqueness and centralization, hierarchy and conformity.

    The revolutions and rapid advancements in Nanotechnology, Biotechnology and maybe more importantly Neurotechnology and Cognitive sciences combined with the globalization of the private and public discourse via the internet will potentially and quite possibly permit us a fresh undertaking in our conceptualization of that which we already are : embodied minds, metabolizing information.

    The Knowmad Polytopian mind is particularly well suited to this new state of affairs since its very exploratory characteristic and experimental inclination relay the importance of keeping all the avenues of our aesthetic engagement, open.

    Our hybrid futures depict a lovely panorama, shining the light of virtuality into our present retinal configuration, changing our insight vessels in the process.

    shortly to be continued..

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    Ashalynd     Mon, Apr 26, 2010  Permanent link
    Thanks for your post. I feel like playing the advocatus diaboli on this one (granted that I am in the right mood for that:) )...

    Unfortunately, lots of existing information is fast-food information, just as lost of existing as-if abundance is an abundance of cheap copies which only serve their intended purpose for a short while.

    Even more unfortunately, there is now a huge generation that takes this situation for granted, that is accustomed to this fast-life surroundings, with fast-food, throwaway cutlery, cartoon houses and newsfeeds which are forgotten almost sooner than consumed. As a result of that, and thanks to the existing technologies, phobias and misunderstandings are spread much faster than before, whereas voices of reason are rare.

    I am afraid that what we see now reminds a lot of what Herman Hesse described long time ago, in his book "Ludi Magister" (or "The Glass-bead Game") as "the crossword culture". People do have access to enormous amount of information now, but because they have limited capacity to process it, and nevertheless want to process as much as possible, they try to make it as simple as possible, discarding all complex and/or boring (for them) parts.

    Apart from that, I think the problem of filtering the useful information out of useless one and "poisoned one" (which includes spam) will become one of the major problems very soon, for everybody. I also think this might even be one of the first areas where AI might be of real usage (as personalized preprocessors of raw information, something like a secretary used to be in the past).

    The other danger that might come is that, next to the possibility of brining together people who are far away from each other, but have simple mindsets, new technologies might also result in creating new cast system, where members of different casts (mindsets) might live next door to each other, but never ever speak, spending their time in the virtual life instead. In the extreme, this might lead to the situation when similarly-minded people will decide to relocate closer to each other, this or other way. May be that is how the states and citizenships will be defined in the future? Will it be good or bad? Is it how everything started long time ago in the past?.. Who knows... (Many fairy tales seem to be mentioning technological wonders not unlike those we have around now already).

    I might sound like I don't want the technological future to happen, but this is not true. As a programmer, and therefore professional paranoiac, I always try to envision as many bad outcomes as possible... hence all the grumbling :)

    Everything aside, the idea of people who will serve as nexuses of information, transmitting it and directing its flows between those who are connected to them, speaks up to me quite a lot. This is what might come in place of huge and slow existing nexuses, represented by official bodies like magazines and newspapers and the like. Also, this is something no science fiction writer (among those known to me) has yet considered in details (though may be I need to catch up on SF).

    And finally, I would like to see these emerging collective minds having more influence on life than it does now. Initiatives which take part in the real world, changing it to look more like what we want it to be, so that it will not be looking like an art for art's sake... Hope to see that soon enough.
    Wildcat     Tue, Apr 27, 2010  Permanent link
    This post has been featured on the Global Sense Making network- many thanks to David Price