Alien, All Too Alien: An Infinitely Scaleable Gesture

Ed Keller, talk for ‘Designing Geopolitics, UCSD, June 3, 2011
Alien title
Thanks to UCSD and DGP for hosting this incredible event. And to Ben Bratton for organizing Designing Geopolitics-- and on a personal note- thanks to Ben for providing constant inspiration for me over the past decade with his exceptional work and generous collaborations. And my thanks to both Carla Leitao, and Ben- with whom parts of this text were written. The Center for DGP is a really exciting project, and I for one am keenly anticipating future collaborations at every scale.
>>>>>>>>SOLARIS IMAGES THRUOUT >>Grant M. frames >>>>>>>>Go back thru conference docs/call notes to address points. >>>> renee’s film, other projects; >>>> touchpoints on other prez viz the [post] human and indeed the way the self is extended across mult. landscapes. Instruments.

I'm going to say a few words about our ability to identify the limits of the 'body', and of the 'human'. I'll invoke concepts like xenobiology, alternate models of individuality, and science fiction- such as Solaris, or Ballard's work, to discuss shadow biospheres and the quasi human. Myself, I'm a designer, an architecture/film theorist, a scifi buff, and an armchair speculator on posthumans and aliens. I'm a non-expert getting into territory that many here are serious experts in, but I'll take it on. This presentation is itself a hybrid beast, rehearsed in previous lectures between 2007 and today. man on moon Let me begin with two quotes. Man is a rope stretched between the animal and the Superman—a rope over an abyss.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Thus Spake Zarathustra / A book for all and none

solar flow - sunshine [2] - Klee -sun "... man is only a roundabout, subsidiary response to the problem of growth. Doubtless, through labor and technique, he has made possible an extension of growth beyond the given limits. But just as the herbivore relative to the plant, and the carnivore relative to the herbivore, is a luxury, man is the most suited of all living beings to consume intensely, sumptuously, the excess energy offered up by the pressure of life to conflagrations befitting the solar origins of its movement."
The Accursed Share, Georges Bataille [p 37, Zone Books edition]

Solaris What is at stake in a total rethinking of not only the bounds of human life, but the definition of life itself? Is there a 'dark ecology' already present on earth which is

not only evidence of multiple paths of evolution in our own corner of the galaxy, but which can also provide models for us to re-imagine the limits of organic life, in material systems and also across multiple timespans? DEATH VALLEY MILKY WAY Primo Levi says: "We are alone. If we have interlocutors, they are so far away that, barring unforeseeable turns of events, we shall never talk to them; in spite of this, some years ago we sent them a pathetic message. Every year that passes leaves us more alone. Not only are we not the centre of the universe, but the universe is not made for human beings; it is hostile, violent, alien. In the sky there are no Elysian Fields, only matter and light, distorted, compressed, dilated, and rarefied to a degree that eludes our senses and our language." The Search for Roots And Cormac McCarthy begins Blood Meridian like this: 'The boy crouches by the fire and watches him. Night of your birth. Thirty three. The Leonids they were called. God how the stars did fall. I looked for blackness, holes in the heavens.' McCarthy looks to the sky in this passage, but the book is relentlessly grounded in the earth, in blood, murder. A beautiful paean to the savage practice. Alienness could be as much on earth as it is in heaven. EVENT HORIZON [3] All this makes me think of great B movies like Event Horizon, a film about the places where time/space break down, a scifi horror exploration of contingency. A space ship which voyages into pure chaos and brings it back... This illustrates what might be at risk when we get exposed to radically nonhuman systems. What is the alien, really, and what does it mean to speak with it? Communication, translation, noise, agency and thought itself: all have an indirect but crucial relation to the concept of the 'alien', which by definition seems to be something that exists outside of language or measure. HOST OF SPIRITS: CasaF, Fellini [3], black This quote from Nietzsche's Birth of Tragedy gives context. "At bottom the esthetic phenomenon is simple; one need only have the ability to see continually a living play and to live perpetually surrounded by hosts of spirits, and one is a poet; one need only feel the drive to alter oneself and to speak out of alien bodies and souls, and one is a dramatist. Dionysian excitation is capable of communicating to a whole multitude this artistic power to feel oneself surrounded by such a host of spirits, with whom one knows oneself to be inwardly one. This process of the tragic chorus is the originary dramatic phenomenon: seeing oneself altered before one's very eyes and now acting, as though one had really entered into another body, another character. Here already

the individual gives itself up by entering into an alien nature. And what is more, this phenomenon arises epidemically: a whole crowd feels itself enchanted in this way." Host of Spirits: Berlin Wall I am interested in this idea of the host of spirits- and the consciousness that arises when an individual becomes aware that they are part of a multifarious body. Down by Law [2], Pollack [2] Giorgio Agamben suggests that "The gesture... opens the sphere of ethos as the more proper sphere of that which is human... [and] is communication of a communicability." Any language, according to this, is more important in how it can show an intent on the part of the voices- the transmitters and the receiversthan in how faithfully it can transmit a message. This concept of gesture can be extended beyond just human movements; the exchange of information between aliens allows both parties to discover themselves connected to an interruption of signal- a noise: it is the outside, the open, the unknown, the parasite, and danger. This idea of danger, scaled up to a geopolitical, a transhistorical, a cosmic level, brings us to the figure of the human and the posthuman.

The Figure of the Human and the [Post] Human
FIGURE OF THE HUMAN... Flammarion As Foucault said in a radio lecture delivered in 1966- "My body, in fact, is always elsewhere. It is tied to all the elsewheres of the world. And to tell the truth, it is elsewhere than in the world, because it is around it that things are arranged. It is in relation to it--and in relation to it as if in relation to a sovereign--that there is a below, an above, a right, a left, a forward and a backward, a near and a far. It is at the heart of the world, this small utopian kernel from which I dream, I speak, I proceed, I imagine, I perceive things in their place, and I negate them also by the indefinite power of the utopias I imagine. My body is like the City of the Sun. It has no place, but it is from it that all possible places, real or utopian, emerge and radiate." Yet nearly a century earlier, in 1872, we read in Samuel Butler's Erewhon:

"Man is such a hive and swarm of parasites that it is doubtful whether his body is not more theirs than his, and whether he is anything but another kind of ant-heap after all. May not man himself become another sort of parasite upon the machines? An affectionate machine- tickling aphid?" vitruvian man DaVinci’s image of the Vitruvian man is a body seen, geometrized, and measured, positioning the human body as a proportional model: for thought, for all our design work, and even for the universe: a ‘lens’ by which to analyze and comprehend the cosmos. Of course, that reading of DaVinci’s image has always been challenged- from Rabelais’ extraordinary writing in Pantagruel [1532] [these images attributed to Francois Desprez, 1565], to contemporary science fiction, in films like Andromeda Strain [Wise, 1971] or Splice [Natalini, 2009]. In these, we know bodies through their capacity as agents formed by and participating in complex networks. Schlemmer Our concept of the human body as a discrete entity with knowable and obvious boundaries has shifted into a more nuanced, complex image, interwoven with threads of context—the ecological, political, geographical—that echo our evolved, systems-defined notions of other phenomena. 'Error has turned animals into men; might truth be capable of turning man into an animal again?' Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche. Human, All Too Human 519 Human Biomes In a text for Edge.org, titled Scanning for the Nonhuman in Humans, Paul Ewald, Professor of Biology, Amherst College, writes: "About a decade ago, one member of a Stanford team scraped spots on two teeth of another team member, and amplified the DNA. They found sequences that were sufficiently unique to represent more than 30 new species… ' The medical consequences of this are profound, as he continues: '...not only may thousands of viruses need to be tested to find one correlated with a chronic disease, but even then it may be one of perhaps many different infectious causes." XNA slide Indeed, In a paper titled: Xenobiology: A new form of life as the ultimate biosafety tool, Markus Schmidt observes that "Synthetic biologists try to engineer useful

biological systems that do not exist in nature. … to design an orthogonal chromosome different from DNA and RNA, termed XNA for xeno nucleic acids. … a novel information-storing biopolymer ‘‘invisible’’ to natural biological systems.." So- orthogonal life might create a shadow biosphere that is not in competition for resources with ours. Yet ordinary DNA and synthetic, chemically unique XNA might interact through epigenetic fields. For safety reasons, Schmidt argues optimistically, that possibility should be engineered out. Splice 2 -- epigenetic Microbiome:

Yet isn't there already orthogonal life, teeming across the epigenetic landscape? Recent discoveries indicate that colonizing bacteria influence mammalian brain development and adult behavior by regulating serotonin and dopamine as well as synapse function, profoundly impacting learning, memory and motor control. Clearly, we need new models of the boundaries of the human. Both the body and mind are already, apparently, swarms unto themselves and at play in the fields of the meta-swarm.

Animal, Multitude and Parasite
ANIMAL MULTITUDE PARASITE Is the locus of mind in the human body? Indeed, is it even in humans? In his text Theriomorphous, Giorgio Agamben notes that "...In the Ambrosian Library in Milan there is a Hebrew Bible from the thirteenth century that contains precious miniatures..." Theriomorphs He continues: "The scene that interests us in particular here is the last in every sense, since it concludes the codex as well as the history of humanity. It represents the messianic banquet of the righteous on the last day. Under the shade of paradisiacal trees and cheered by the music of two players, the righteous, with crowned heads, sit at a richly laid table... What is surprising, however, is one detail that we have not yet mentioned: beneath the crowns, the miniaturist has represented the righteous not with human faces, but with unmistakably animal heads." Acephale The political implications of this merging of human with nonhuman re-appears in Agamben's text "The Open', where he observes: 'Indeed, one of the central

issues of Kojeve's lectures on Hegel which Bataille attended at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes, was the problem of the end of history and the figure that man and nature would assume in the posthistorical world, when the patient process of work and negation, by means of which the animal of the species Homo sapiens had become human, reached completion. In one of his characteristic gestures, Kojeve dedicates to this problem only a footnote to the 1938-39 course. [Kojeve says...]: "The disappearance of Man at the end of History is not a cosmic catastrophe: the natural World remains what it has been from all eternity. And it is not a biological catastrophe either: Man remains alive as animal in harmony with Nature or given Being. What disappears is Man properly so called..."' Leviathan But, in the following passage from Leibniz' Monadology, another idea of mind can be intuited. One which doesn't set the human and the animal in opposition, but finds layers of 'life' nested like matrioshka dolls. "... each portion of matter is not only infinitely divisible, as the ancients observed, but is also actually subdivided without end, each part into further parts, of which each has some motion of its own; otherwise it would be impossible for each portion of matter to express the whole universe. Whence it appears that in the smallest particle of matter there is a world of creatures, living beings, animals, entelechies, souls. Each portion of matter may be conceived as like a garden full of plants and like a pond full of fishes. But each branch of every plant, each member of every animal, each drop of its liquid parts is also some such garden or pond." sunspots The concept of the parasite, as the French philosopher Michel Serres employs it, may be a more useful framework to think the human than the term 'posthuman'. The para-site : a site next to a site- might index bodies, next to, inside, and around one's own- alien as well as human bodies. Serres refigures the organism as body in noise- in the thermalhowl of negentropy - as a bundle of perceptions, a fantastic sheaf of times. The organism itself becomes a parasite of noise. He says: ' ...we have discovered the place, the operation, and the theorem where and with which the knots of the bouquet [of time] are tied. it is here and in this manner that time flows back and can change direction... It forms a turbulence where opposing times converge. Organization, per se, as system and homeorrhesis, functions precisely as a converter of time. '
The Origin of Language: Biology, Information Theory, & Thermodynamics

Drawing on this, I reject a simple linear, historical-teleological idea of time as a model for the emergence of the [post] human. Serres' image of a body crisscrossed by many scales of time- some reversible, some irreversible- better

figures the [post] , or [para] human. What could some of the technical/ technological thresholds associated with this multiplicitous body be?

Massive Addressability
MASSIVE ADDRESS I’ll focus on massive addressability- one among many emerging instrumentalitiesepigenetics, extended phenotypes, encryption, biopower, bare life, the open, swarms, post monetary economies, opensource, geotagging, geotecting... Operation Just Cause Massive addressability is a defining characteristic of our rapidly accelerating global network of connections, emerging when cities, buildings, materials, objects, creatures, sites, books, words, molecules, all act as agents in a reciprocal ontology of things that can find each other. [extemp on the SPIMEness of this image] GlobeGrid When massive addressability reaches across all terrestrial systems, the consequences for design are fascinating: not only can we map every tree in a city, every part in a car; but they begin to speak to each other. The relative muteness of matter begins to shimmer and unravel in a haze of information. What defines optimization in a system with hypercomplex feedback loops? MICROBIOME Increasingly, local organisms, objects, and systems communicate with global partners. The older model of organ transplants is being completely re-written as people donate their gut flora to each other. As an aside, I wonder how this will impact cryogenics? Resurrection will have to include one’s microbiome... Invisibles The ontological status of a body/entity changes when it is defined by multiple entry and connective points. The network of things is based on and generates further ultra-locality and remote connection. The IPV6 internet address space has 2 to the 128th addresses in its field of potential- about 5 x10 to the 28

Much as Alexandre Kojève understood that metasystem stability catalyzed a kind of distillation of historical consciousness [or a quiet nullification of it] JG Ballard knew that the spheres of the neurophysiological, the biopolitical, the very temporalities of culture and technology, were in a tight series of feedback loops with each other. He was unafraid to speculate on the weird non-pulsed time landscapes- time for him inseparable from consciousness itself- that would result as humanity continued its headlong rush to fuse with the machinic, the elemental, the nonorganic: with geo-, techno-, and cosmological systems. Another longstanding question: whether larger systemic forms [political, economic, urban, technological, etc.] are capable of provoking some kind of historical consciousness, either in small groups or worldwide. A pale, monochrome anthropocentrism has ruled much of the work debating these orders and 'pulses' of consciousness. {add lines here viz afuera spaces, global smart mobs, etc.]

addresses for each person alive today. Bruce Sterling has unpacked some of the consequences of this addressability in his concepts of 'spime', a space time object whose usevalue IS the cloud of data surrounding it- and the “Biot” – an entity which is both object and person. The 'sense' thus built into each body, actor, and situation works to develop an ontology - rules for classifying and remixing the substance of the world. One is reminded of Thomas Pynchon’s Crying of Lot 49, and his meditations on entropy and the deliverability of messages. That entire book is a hidden play, unpacking the battle between systems which deliver messages reliably and systems which hijack messages entropic and negentropic forces. What would a world, a reality be like if every component in that world was reliably named; findable; and intelligent enough to reach out and find other components? [Invisib2-harleq] So the great problem we face today as designers and thinkers is the mapping of ever more complex, hidden systems of order. Cryptoform, if you will. That long standing project: to distinguish between explicit and implicit order, and make a claim for one's work based on that articulation. Stadium[3] This is what is at stake for biopolitics, governance, individual and collective sovereignty: consciousness and survival, in a world rife with superimposition. Viruses living in us, waves passing through populations, cultures thriving within new technologies, new technologies driving general economies. CODE46 [3] A global surveillance mechanism that tracks each individual’s DNA and actions is all too likely, and indeed, such a disciplinary/prophylactic healthcare regime may be the only way we will survive. I'm thinking here of Winterbottom's film CODE46, and of course Vernor Vinge's novel Rainbows End, for their investigations of the techno-geopolitics of such a surveillance state. Crowdsourcing, decryption, and cryptovirology each impact our collective horizon in unprecedented ways.

Substrate Independent Minds... or Solaris

Substrate... In a recent conference in NY, the philosopher/AI scientist Ben Goertzel asked : "What kind of world is needed to generate mind, or what kind of mind is necessary to generate world?" Solaris [ in both novel and film versions ] provides some clues, as we consider the instrumental range of massively addressable systems- whether they exist in technological substrates, in biological systems, or are complex forms of matter itself. Solaris for quote I quote from Lem’s novel: "...It would only be natural, clearly, to suppose that the symmetriad is a 'computer' of the living ocean, performing calculations for a purpose that we are not able to grasp...The hypothesis was a tempting one, but it proved impossible to sustain the concept that the living ocean examined problems of matter, the cosmos and existence through the medium of titanic eruptions, in which every particle had an indispensable function as a controlled element in an analytical system of infinite purity..." Solaris Soderb In all three versions of SOLARIS, human boundaries are recapitulated from the perspective of a cosmic force or time. In each case, the problem of responsibility is foregrounded: to other groups of humans, to single individuals- and to nonhuman systems. TarkSOLARIS1 TarkSOLARIS 2 Indeed, Solaris is a precursor of the idea of the 'flat ontology.'
"…while an ontology based on relations between general types and particular instances is hierarchical, each level representing a different ontological category (organism, species, genera), an approach in terms of interacting parts and emergent wholes leads to a flat ontology, one made exclusively of unique, singular individuals, differing in spatio-temporal scale but not in ontological status. " Intensive Science & Virtual Philosophy

...simultaneously, the gelatinous geysers are converted into mobile columns that proceed to extrude tendrils that reach out in clusters towards points rigorously predetermined by the overall dynamics of the entire structure: they call to mind gills of an embryo, except that they are revolving at fantastic speed and ooze trickles of pinkish 'blood' and a dark green secretion.

which Manuel DeLanda describes as : "...interacting parts and emergent wholes ... one made exclusively of unique, singular individuals, differing in spatiotemporal scale but not in ontological status. " Intensive Science & Virtual Philosophy SOLARIS3- Dacha in ocean There is a sharp distinction in attitude between the three renderings of Solaris. In Lem's novel and in Tarkovsky's film, though we are nearly certain that humans manage to communicate with the ocean, nonetheless, at the end the main

character is left, stranded, and we cannot know if they will survive or ever communicate again with the alien. Solaris Embrace As the exception, Soderbergh's version ends with the human not only in communication with his alien, possibly resurrected wife, but assured by her that 'all is forgiven'- implying that deep in the electro-hydrodynamic folds of the body of Solaris, redemption can be found. It is a search to ' heal the webs of time, where they have been broken', to quote Chris Marker, another filmmaker concerned with forms of time. Solaris Clip In closeup this works, the two para-humans in embrace, but Doc Baily's stunning final images of Solaris provide persuasive evidence of a profoundly monadic entity - a long shot leaving us in beautiful, hovering doubt. Perhaps the most likely explanation: we humans have been absorbed into a weakly godlike computational substrate capable of simulating the totality of human life. Solaris Hands If a human tried to communicate with the infinitely alien- a consciousness the size and age of a planet- how could any reciprocity be possible? Of course, Solaris is an allegory as much as a space-drama. The ocean- which each version tests uniquely- is an earthly and psychic landscape, asking us to look at our own ocean, our planet, our magnetosphere, our minds- there also finding Solaris. 2001 Although something like this reciprocity and responsibility is implicit in Kubrick's 2001, which ends with the 'Star Child' facing Earth- yet, reading Clarke's novel, we realize that Clarke imagines the alien civilization as so vastly beyond human comprehension that no real relationship is yet possible.

Beyond the Human: the Anabatic Journey
Beyond the Human Solaris long shot So a question remains - whether interiority and exteriority can ever truly trade messages through the gauntlet of noise: can a body, a monad, a parasite, ever connect to systems outside itself (and I think here again of Pynchon's The Crying of Lot 49; or The Invention of Morel, by Bioy Casares); or if immersed in an already given situation, can a body somehow bootstrap into the 'yet to come'?

Agamben Form of Life Agamben locates an ethical challenge in the political agency we have, or lose, in massively addressable systems which are deployed as forms of governance. He says that ‘Thought is form-of-life, life that cannot be segregated from its form; and anywhere the intimacy of this inseparable life appears, in the materiality of corporeal processes and of habitual ways of life no less than in theory, there and only there is there thought. And it is this thought, this form-of-life, that…must become the guiding concept and the unitary center of the coming politics.’ Shannon Thought takes place when systems become aware that they are formed by and communicating with agents that can only provisionally speak their language, yet nevertheless, the desire to communicate is set in motion. Only when we intend to communicate, knowing it is impossible, and knowing that noise could interrupt only then is thought more than repetition. And the ethical frame here is one that insists that ALL the details of our lives must be seen as inextricably connected to the value of life. What he calls naked life is life only understood against the horizon of living and dying. But form-of-life includes myriad registers and flows of information, and values life by them- a kind of [para]humanist cloud of data, if you will. We could refer here to Solaris, and 2001, of course, but we could also refer to Apocalypse Now. The journey taken in Apoc. Now is an upriver journey. Much more savage, but no less alien. It is an Anabasis, to invoke St Jean Perse's extraordinary poem. To conclude, I'd like to use this term Anabasis as a way to rethink the site and process of mind. Earlier, I quoted a passage from Leibniz that suggested there might be many layers to both life and mind. I end by echoing that observation through the lens of Anabasis- the anabatic process, moving against downstream flow. Superstudio If we accept that the mind might indeed be somewhere else than the head [at least sometimes...] then we might search for it in all the scales of the world where anabatic and katabatic processes meet and exchange their complex signals, messages, and noise. And in this model, the acephalous body would be a prima materia, all heads and no heads simultaneously. 15k human To borrow a phrase that appears in connection to Donna Haraway, who argues that 'Worlding is at stake' in her work on companion species: perhaps we have never been human. And what's at stake in this would be something more than the preservation of a form, it would be the opening of a form-of-life, to borrow that term from Agamben- onto regimes of space-time which might support very little of what we conventionally recognize as life. And perhaps... we can evolve a vocabulary of gestures to join, somehow, that host of spirits.

Michel Serres has compared the general figure of anabasis to the concept of negative entropy.

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