Do you think in hypertext
The era of the linear tome is dead
, information is a web - who'd have thought it
- a net of knots in time and space, a palimpsest
, self-referential layers
I find that the model of hypertext has become the metaphor via which my thoughts, my research, finds form. I can't read one book at a time. Instead I skip between many, following an annotation in one, buying a bibiliographed reference, dipping into books by the same or similar authors in the bookstore, scribbling notes in one book about another. I make the world my internet; the library my world wide web.
Less I describe my journeys in hypertext, how about I carve them in hypertext, for you to explore?
Here's a hypertextual mind-map
of some of my recent travels as reader. Click the
to interact hypertextually**
I started this post because I am interested in the metaphors we use to model the world. As our understanding of the world evolves, so do our metaphors. As the metaphors shift, so our models are re-moulded in ever newer forms. The forms metaphors take say a lot about the culture they emerged from. The model, in many aspects, is not important: The metaphor is the message.
Over the millennia religions, philosophers, scientists and psychologists have cultivated countless metaphors for the soul; mind; consciousness. By looking at just a handful of the metaphors that were prevalent at different times in history, one begins to notice fascinating messages about the cultures that bore us:
If we look back over recent centuries we will see the brain described as a hydrodynamic machine, clockwork, and as a steam engine. When I was a child in the 1950's I read that the human brain was a telephone switching network. Later it became a digital computer, and then a massively parallel digital computer. A few years ago someone put up their hand after a talk I had given at the University of Utah and asked a question I had been waiting for for a couple of years: "Isn't the human brain just like the world wide web?". The brain always seems to be one of the most advanced technologies that we humans currently have. - Rodney A. Brooks
As new technologies/theories are invented, we tend to use them as metaphors to explain the world around us and within us. Consciousness isn't the only human attribute we blindly re-metaphorise.
In recent years the Gaia Hypothesis
has become very successful at explaining climate change, ecology shifts or the ever-constant salinity of the oceans as the workings of Planet Earth's immune system. The model here posits Earth as an organism, inspired at a time in history when Biological, Darwinian science was reaching its peak. Newton's mechanistic universe was probably influenced by the technically cutting-edge clocks that ticked so perfectly on his office wall. Richard Dawkins' 'meme theory
' of language, for instance, came from a strong understanding of genetics.
Our language itself is packed full of artefacts of metaphor. Phrases and words that have become so absolute in our understanding of the world that we forget they all came from technologies we invented. Think of the phrase "letting off some steam". Or "mapping the territory"? Or "what makes him tick? Or "photographic memory". Engines, maps, clocks and photos have become interwoven into our linguistic frameworks, used to describe anger, ideas, other people's inner-realms and inner-mindscapes.
There are countless other models
that grow out of technological or ideological changes. So too do cultural movements, in turn, become inspired by the models of the world that exist at the time. So we had the Cubists
working shortly after Einstein's Relativity was being devised, or Andy Warhol reacting to consumerist, mass-produced culture by creating art that was also mass-produced. At present, architects are pursuing design down an organic-pathway
, originally laid out by fractal modelling, organic chemistry, and evolutionary theory. Twisting the metaphor of the organism - a concept that philosophers of Biology try to model
with their own metaphors - in order to design and implement more 'natural' human environments.
And the metaphors never stop. Mind is now a quantum computer, mind is a neural network, mind is the internet, mind is a hypertext...
And so I come back to my original point, hypertext, or more specifically the application of hypertext as a metaphor for reading, thinking, researching.
Somewhere in the feedback between culture, science, technology and thought there is an idea called 'human' that persists. Trying to raise this idea to anything above a metaphor is difficult, until we come to recognise the ripples in time and space that our models of reality leave in their wake. Tracing those models back through history and off into the future we begin to draw the outline of ourselves and our limitations.
Is it possible to use and abuse a metaphor, like hypertext, to map that territory, to permanently inscribe those lines in the sand? Even as I attempt to form my ideas into words the metaphors keep coming. Can our evolving metaphors of reality, of its perception be plotted? On a map? A hypertextual mind-map? An interlinking system of symbols, signs, cultures, ideas and relationships that feed into each other, grow forward and away from each other, merge and link back to themselves with enough clicks on the metaphorical mouse-button?
What metaphors are
the message? and can Space Collective, and internet entities like it, espouse new messages in their models?
Part Two of this piece can be found here: Palimpsests/Palimpsests/Palimpsests
** I created this mind-map with online tool mindmeister.com. It is far from a perfect, hypertextual representation of my thoughts as they relate to books. For one thing, the mind-map can only be manipulated into a tree structure, so that branches move outwards, but never come back to link with each other across branches.
Apart from this, the mind-map is merely a tool for you to explore, click on some of the links ( ) and generally interact with. Mind Meister allows for the possibility of collaborative mind-maps, could there be possibilities for Space Collective Projects etc? If you would like to expand my mind-map then let me know and I can add you in as a collaborator.
The metaphor is the message.