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Gilbert Simondon, On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects (translation thus far, 2010)

Gilbert Simondon, On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects (translation thus far, 2010)

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Published by nodnomis
Translation of G. Simondon, On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, c/o Mellamphy, Mellamphy & Mellamphy 2010
Translation of G. Simondon, On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects, c/o Mellamphy, Mellamphy & Mellamphy 2010

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Published by: nodnomis on May 03, 2013
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07/09/2013

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Simondon Translation (in progress), Mellamphy, Mellamphy & Mellamphy 2010
 
 
1
 
Gilbert Simondon
On the Mode of Existence of Technical Objects
INTRODUCTION
 The purpose of this study is to create an awareness of the significance of technical objects. Culture has become a system of defense against technics; now, thisdefense appears as a defense of man based on the assumption that technical objectscontain no human reality. We should like to show that culture fails to take into accountthat there is a human reality in technical reality and that, if it is to fully play its role, culturemust come to incorporate technical entities into its body of knowledge and its sense of values. Recognition of the modes of existence of technical objects should be the result of philosophical thought, which in this respect has to achieve what it analogous to the role itplayed in the abolition of slavery and in the affirmation of the value of the human person. The opposition established between culture and technology, between man andmachine, is false and is not well-founded; what underlies it is mere ignorance orresentment. Behind the mask of a facile humanism it hides a reality that is rich in humanefforts and natural forces, a reality that constitutes the world of technical objects,mediators between nature and man.Culture behaves towards the technical object in much the same way as man whoallows himself to be swept along by primitive xenophobia behaves towards a stranger. The kind of misoneism directed towards machines is not so much a hatred of the new asa refusal to come to terms with an alien reality. Now this alien being is also human, and acomplete culture is one that makes it possible to discover that the alien is human.Similarly, the machine is an alien; it is an alien that has something of the human is lockedin, unrecognized, materialized, enslaved, but human nonetheless. The most powerfulcause of alienation in the contemporary world resides in this failure to understand themachine, which is not caused by the machine but by the non-understanding of its natureand its essence, by its absence from the world of meanings, and by its omission from thetable of values and concepts that are part of culture.Culture is unbalanced because it recognizes certain objects, such as theaesthetic object, and accords them their due place in the world of meanings, while itpushes back other objects, and particularly technical objects, to the unstructured world of things that have no meanings but do have a use, a utilitarian function. Faced with thisdefensive denial decided by a partial culture, men who have knowledge of technicalobjects and who appreciate their significance try to justify their judgment by giving thetechnical object the status of a sacred object, the only status that today prized apart fromthat of the aesthetic object. Then an intemperate technicism comes into existence that isnothing other than idolatry of the machine, and through this idolatry, by means of identification, a technocratic aspiration for unconditional power arises. The desire forpower confirms the machine as a way to supremacy, and makes of it the modern philter. The man who wishes to dominate his fellows creates the android machine. He abdicatesin favor of it and delegates his humanity to it. He tries to construct the thinking machineand dreams of being able to construct the willing machine, the living machine, so that he
Simondon Translation (in progress)Mellamphy, Mellamphy & Mellamphy 2010(rough draft)
 
 
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can remain behind it without anxiety, freed from all danger, exempt from every feeling of weakness, and enjoying a vicarious triumph through what he has invented. Now, in thiscase, once the machine, according to the imagination, has become a duplicate of man, arobot, with no interiority, it is quite evidently and inevitably a purely mythic and imaginarybeing.We would like to show precisely that there is no such thing as the robot, that it isno more a machine than a statue is a living being, that it is merely a product of theimagination, of fictive fabrication, of the art of illusion. Nevertheless, the notion of themachine in present-day culture to a considerable extent incorporates this mythicrepresentation of the robot. No well-read man would allow himself to speak of objects orpersons painted on canvas as genuine realities with an interior life and a will, whethergood or bad. Despite this, the same man speaks of machines that threaten man as if attributing to those objects a soul and a separate and autonomous existence, whichsuggests that they have feelings and intentions towards man.So culture has
two contradictory attitudes
towards technical objects: on the onehand, it treats them as pure
assemblages of matter 
devoid of true meaning and onlyproviding utility. On the other hand, culture assumes that these objects are also robots,and that they have hostile
intentions
to man or that they represent for him a constantdanger of aggression, of insurrection. Judging it good to preserve the first characteristic,culture strives to prevent the manifestation of the second, and speaks of puttingmachines in the service of man, in the belief that reduction to slavery is a sure way toprevent rebellion.In fact, this contradiction in culture arises from ambiguity in ideas concerningautomatism, ideas in which there lurks a truly logical flaw. In general, idolaters of themachine affirm that the degree of perfection of a machine is proportional to its degree of automatism. Going beyond what experience demonstrates they assume that an increaseand improvement in automatism would lead to a bringing together and a mutualinterconnecting of all machines, so as to constitute a machine made up of all machines.Now, in fact, automatism is a fairly low degree of technical perfection. To make amachine automatic, it is necessary to sacrifice many of its functional possibilities andmany of its possible uses. Automatism, and the use of it in the form of industrialorganization called
automation
, has an economic or social rather than a technicalsignificance. The real improvement of machines, that which can be said to raise the levelof technicity, has nothing to do with an increase in automatism but, on the contrary, withthe fact that the functioning of a machine conceals a certain margin of indeterminacy. Itis this margin that allows a machine to be sensitive to outside information. It is thissensitivity of machines to information, much more than by any increase in automation,that makes possible the materialization of a technical ensemble. A purely automaticmachine, completely self-enclosed in a predetermined functioning, could only providesummary results. The machine that is endowed with a high technicity is an openmachine, and the ensemble of open machines assumes man as a permanent organizer,as a living interpreter of the interrelationships of machines. Far from being the supervisorof a gang of slaves, man is the permanent organizer of a society of technical objects thatneed him in the way musicians need an orchestra conductor. The orchestra conductorcan direct his musicians only because, like them, and as intensely as they, he can playthe piece being performed; he slows them down or speeds them up, but is also slowed
Simondon Translation (in progress)Mellamphy, Mellamphy & Mellamphy 2010(rough draft)

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