Total Accumulation: A Cartesian Dream

The notion that knowledge gained during contemplation within study is superior to that gained during experential involvement with nature predominates within our learning centres, guiding the analytical education we receive. The structures of most knowledge gathering institutes assert the importance of maintaining a distance from the objects of study in nature; with universities, polytechnics, and schools even built in isolation from both the natural order and the social order. The ‘ivory tower’ approach has dominated for centuries, providing a steady and ever-increasing procession of information and facts about the ‘things’ we live with. Culminating in the latter 20th century’s over saturation of facts; an environment of ‘knowledge’ too impossible to comprehend, too perplexing to remedy, and too pointless to sustain. These ‘facts’ have [in fact] necessitated the demand for technology and information processing tools. Critic, Michael Kendrick, outlines the thesis of neo-luddite Theodore Roszak which exemplifies this situation: As our world grows increasingly complicated, Roszak warned, we’ve lost the ability to make sense of it. Our technology grows more inscrutable, our politics more convoluted, our foreign policy beyond the comprehension of all but a few. This cultural complexity, Roszak said, is what is leading so many people to try to master the Internet. Many people believe that the computer will give them a way to process and understand the vast quantities of information that swamp our daily lives. The development of parallel processing certainly helped us to manage our information more efficiently. Computer technologies have enabled us to sort, stack, assemble, pattern, sample, divide and conquer our analytical achievements with remarkable ease. The analytical mind after years of long linear processing and serial deduction rejoiced at the acceleration in reaching sequential conclusions. The electronic parallel processor was a logical and necessary development to a mind so ingrained to finding reality in states of succession. Reality is still there, though not in the material realm of the physical universe where the modern era assumed it to be. … I have tried to provide a glimpse of where that reality may be, in the formal, abstract domain revealed by mathematics and computation. [T]he computer has, through its simulative powers, provided what I regard as reassuring evidence that it is still there. (Woolley 254) Woolley looks to mathematical physics and its kin for an authentic world, because mathematical physics is the most revered of all attempts to uncover reality. Computation being the cause to legitimate it’s processes by elliminating the need for laborious and time-consuming manual thought processing. But if the end result of linear de-duction and computation is the need to simulate reality in order to confirm it’s presence then such a knowledge can only be reductive. Sequential thought had forgotten how to claim lateral imagination and vague intuition as legitimate forms to further understanding. Once Copernicus had eliminated place as a basis of the human claim to centrality in the universe, we were at a lost to interpret our spatial experience simultaneously. Descartes replaced it with the reality of our own mental processes—he coined the famous dictum “I think, therefore I am“—a few words which displaced spatial experience, created a referential void, and further dissassociated us from our passages of life. By heralding deduction as the key to understanding Descartes implicitly disdained intuition borne of direct involvement: Whereas deduction involves running through ideas successively in time and retaining some of them in memory, intuition grasps a nexus of ideas all at once. However, if the mind runs through a chain of reasoning quickly and easily enough, deduction can be converted to intuition. Descartes provided the impetus to disdain intuition, if it could be so easily replaced with punctilious reasoning. But the flip side of such ‘reasoning’ cast doubt upon the knowledge of reality (that which firmly established scientific institutions routinely produce), as it coexists with doubt as to existence of anything independently of knower. This is the worm in our modern intellectual and scientific pursuits – that despite all our objective and contemplative stances, ‘truth’ may still be relative. We transfer our wealth of information into cyberspace in the vain hope [unquestioned belief] that truth will emerge. But what does emerge is simply more information, ‘truth’ is actually a value, and therefore there is only truth when it is ‘meaningful.’ Experience is the prerequisite for the creation of meaningful truths. A major twentieth century philosopher, Henri Bergson, developed theories that sought to revolutionise linear thought and prioritise the experential process. Bergson attempted to define the nature of consciousness, particularly the instinctual stream of consciousness by insisting that we attend to to our inner experience. He claimed that states of thought or feeling were interpenetrating organically linked experiences, and that psychology had mislead people by claiming that these states were separate, unchanging things experienced successively as one preceeds another. ‘Instead of regarding our inner life as a flux of fleeting shades merging into each other, we treat it as an array of solid colours set side by side like the beads of a necklace.’ He believed that all is simultaneously present to this consciousness and that it is perpetually mobile, ceaselessly transforming its past into its present through memory, so that its present is composed of an infinite number of interpenetrating tenuous states of being.’ Bergson maintained that analytical reasoning and conceptual knowledge destroyed the inner state of consciousness when it attempts to divide experience into seperate states. Bergson believed that ‘sequential modes of thought and expression were inadequate to realize the fullness and complexity of … modern urban life.’ He proposed that becoming aware of our ‘vital impulse‘ (the direct, immediate experience of living) and thereby rejecting the ‘factitious unity which the understanding imposes in nature from the outside, we shall perhaps find its true, inward and living unity.’ Bergson is proposing that we again take account of the ‘passage over’, a concept of direct involvement which he terms the ‘vital impulse.’ Within the merging of our ceaselessly linked experiences, an organic knowledge will naturally form by accretion. The main problem with maintaining ‘distance’ from the subject is that truth becomes increasingly dissoluble and impossible to locate. The external observer is firstly limited by the “Heisenberg principle”—that observation destroys the thing observed—which has always been an obstacle to the growth of such knowledge. Secondly, the search for simple predictable laws of nature inevitably encounter setbacks due to the enormous complexity of our universe and the variability of measurments of the initial conditions. This type of knowledge inquiry must know everything, measure everything, and be constantly aware of everything in order to be absolutely correct. ‘Truth,’ to date, is nothing more than an intelligent approximation. As designers, we generally find ourselves compelled to impose on our materials some sort of integration, whether it be factitious or ficticious. This is what we do. Our designs are therefore limited in scope and understanding by the knowledge we have accrued. Despite all our best attempts to be creative, we will always fail because this method of imposition allows only for an imitation of nature; we inevitably end up with a simulacrum-—a very poor copy without the essence of the original. For instance, whilst the order of nature continues to move and evolve according to a changeable interrelated logic, the nature ordered by human is so precisely controlled and modified in the search for perfection that the intrinsic quality of the interconnected cosmos is neglected.

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