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Interface and the Architecture of Self

I. The End of I

There is a story that sleeps deep within our minds, beneath the frantic currents of higher

consciousness. The I-myth, the first and greatest of man’s innumerable social lies; it has

persisted for so long that the very shape of thought has been recast in its explicit terms.

Whatever nameless prophet or prehuman savant first dreamed this mad projection that so

changed us, the hallucination of selfhood has forever marked our species; wrenching the

natural order apart into the enduring tension between human and nonhuman.

It is in such a state that mankind has reached the modern age; driven by a vision of selfhood

that separates each individual from the rest of reality, projecting the strict bounds of ego upon

the boundless acting networks of causality. With this move, man sections himself off from the

natural, and re-centers the universe about this newly defined self. This may be madness, of

sorts; certainly it is flagrant misrepresentation, but it is anything but stupid. The individual

crafted around the cognitive ‘I’ gains much from this dreaming, and the human society

constituted by these illusory selves has made bold use of its peculiar advantages in its

reshaping of the natural world.

Since the philosophic outburst of the Western Renaissance it has been firmly established that

such a self-defined actor gains a series of powerful advantages within a social network of

similarly constructed selves. By projecting a holographic mental model of the world defined

racial—all fundamentally stem from the same system of ‘human’ motivation. one is capable of (if not prone to) making decisions that negatively impact the very natural orders one seeks to predict and utilize. political. even as this polarization of the self against the other serves to buffer the actor from the immeasurability of consequence. proceeding diligently with action according to the oracular predictions of the self’s bold simulation of reality. Moreover. the resulting system of social motivations (i. there is no way for an external factor to make a truly compelling argument against action. Because of this gap between the modeled decision tree developed by the self and the actual resonant consequence of reality.exclusively from individual experience and memory. one is able to make a series of extremely efficient and highly practical assumptions about the other acting factors that exist that exist outside the bounded self. the rise of human society) has significantly impacted and profoundly changed the ‘natural’ world from which the self has been differentiated. with the ‘person’ nicely isolated within the bounds of self. criminal. the . Since a constructed individual can only access and utilize the modes of action that are collected in personal memory and synchronized by the acting computation of the ‘self’ projection. each individual becomes a functional prophet. With this talisman charm of the self so excised from the natural fundament. by willfully casting faith and fate behind the power of this mode of action to accurately inform choices toward a desired state. one gains the courage to act within an often seemingly absurd framework. It is similarly easy to note the stark drawbacks that result from this societal exercise in self- definition. Ironically. Most of the issues that significantly impact human society—environmental.e.

As the hybrid networks of the modern age proliferate around and through the human species. This has achieved much in terms of the arbitrarily set terms for ‘human progress’. it becomes all too easy to execute a decision that imparts a small convenience to the self at the expense of some external status quo. perpetual communication and free information— the mind is left to grapple helplessly for reference .” (as Latour so succinctly puts it). Should the self realize the full extent to which consequence is hidden and uninterpretable. In addition. reinforced by every societal interaction undertaken. it is reasonable to posit that the Humanist individual is a functional array of lies that has allowed mankind to ignore consequence in favor of self-referenced progress. whether that external system be as large as the global environment or as bounded as another human ‘self’. as such. it becomes increasingly difficult for individuals to maintain the calculated self-deception that has sustained their explosive growth. the individual becomes caught up in the “ironic despair of Postmodernism. but poses profound risks to the larger ‘natural’ system from which humanity has removed itself. Since all external factors must be referenced against the self at several points.impulse toward self-benefit can very easily influence individual choice and action. this choreography of thought requires that in order for the projected self to be sustained. it follows the model of a viral social meme that been firmly established in our cognitive firmament. to build up the symbolic toolset to analyze them and act accordingly. As such. one’s projected psychological identity- barriers begin to break down—abandoned for the promises of futurist connectivity. In many ways. When. the harder it becomes to act at all. the more one becomes aware of consequence. each individual must be kept unaware of the virtuality of this construct.

the ex-individual is suddenly faced with the nauseating realization that any action has potential reverberations throughout reality. A . it should be somewhat easier to determine how best to apply that toolset to the fullness of human hybridization efforts. toward our own outlandish future. it is clear that if the human and nonhuman were to be effectively dissolved back into the natural from whence they came. II. stumbling. to go on? It is clear that one must be cautious. which had been buffered from the psyche by the boundaries of the self. GUI Rising The most straightforward way to begin formulating such an appropriate spectra of analytic foci is with the detailed examination a specific instance of human/nonhuman interaction. Once the symbolic language of hybrid communication is established. it is obvious that a new model and language for cognition and interaction must be developed. a terrified slave to causality.amidst the terrifyingly immense. Where the Humanist ‘I’ is to be edited from the modern consciousness. then. and yet still continue to act in the face of the universal interconnectedness that unfolds upon inspection. consequence. It is only after an appropriate analytic toolset has been agreed upon that our species can fully assume the network benefits that beckon us. Rushing headlong into the alien aggregates of the posthuman would leave one paralyzed and incapable of action. For humankind to proceed in the age-old exploration of individual action within the real. How. the ‘human’ could not survive unchanged. here comes crashing back upon the helpless networked actor. Further complicating matters. dynamic systems of the existent.

Here. If a proper. Researchers and enthusiasts despaired as computers became huge. ‘blackboxed’ in the manner of Latour) from the individual knowledge base necessary for the individual to even consider engaging with the computer. straightforward interface could be developed.particularly interesting. seen as a perfunctory extension of the human mind’s computational ability. the procedural minutia could be effectively sidelined (i. As computers began their manifestation into the nigh-unknowable tangle of logistical detail typical of the modern day. The abrupt evolution and near-universal social integration of the GUI is a saga in its own right. uniquely modern and easily deconstructed example of such a hybridization event is the virtualized computer graphical user interface (GUI). and especially during the explosive growth of electronic crypto-intelligence networks during the Second World War. As this technology began to be realized more explicitly. The idea of a mechanical computation engine is hardly new. wherein the signs and modes of contact between the person and the computer are entirely abstracted from the realities of both the person’s intent and the computer’s mechanical functions. these machines rapidly became far too complex to interact with in a casual manner. traceable to Babbage’s famous difference engine (never realized in its time) of 1822. though. inaccessible to all but the excruciatingly well- trained. it was proposed that the technical elements be masked for practical reasons. one of the . incredibly fragile data powerhouses. The conceptual Memex (a portmanteau of "memory extender") was developed by Vannevar Bush.e. the computation was maintained as a completely transparent mechanical system of gears. It was clear that this line of progression could not be sustained.

bearing little to no relation to the actual structures involved for either party. the abstraction of ‘folders’ is introduced. . The GUI attempts to resolve a very basic problem of higher-order computing. a human mind is largely unable to stratify information in the rigidly algorithmic manner typical of computational data structures. in deciding to whimsically represent discrete data packets with the visual icon of a paper file. a fully realized two- dimensional symbolic interface entered the public sector for the first time. To provide a symbolic visual placeholder for data to the human actor. but still a profound leap from hard- coding any task into the computer. Mac established a firm set of standard symbolic gestures and iconography with which to frame complex data restructuring commands. sketched out just such an instantiated interface—based in hypertext. allowing the human to interact with complex data systems in a mode of action requiring little depth of functional understanding. Merely by being first on the market. From this conceptual framework. What is significant is that for both the computer and the human. yet it represents an untruth that allows the useful meshing of the computer’s mechanical effectiveness and the human’s ability to acquire and interact with data dynamically. as graphic systems were as yet too primitive to support meaningful icons. the idea of the ‘folder’ is an untruth. they ensured that the ‘file’ became a standard symbol and term for the computing movement ever since. as graphic display technologies caught up with theory. the GUI unfolded rapidly. in his 1945 Atlantic Monthly article As We May Think. for example. With the release of the Macintosh OS in 1984.great technocrat-engineers of the Cold War era.

‘double-click’ an ‘icon’… all these conventions are utterly confusing unless one has been trained in the ability to passively submit to them. Asking an individual using a computer for the first time to ‘drag and drop’ something.e. no human would confuse physically moving items from one place to another with virtual drag-and-drop reallocation of data). This bears analogical relation to human methodology. that it is a bidirectional action of compromise that allows this interface to function at all. ‘open’ a 'file'. or those who have grown up unaccustomed to the laws of the GUI. the computer must passively submit to the rules of data movement set by the interface. with the ramifications accepted passively by either involved party. Consider the abject bewilderment on the part of many who use a computer for the first time. other than the general. however. it is interesting to note. as such. the computer) performs this passive submittal to the unique laws of the interface. must passively submit to the casual redefinition of physical and informational laws that is unique to this interface. arise useful formalizations that bear meaning exclusively in the context of the interface itself. It must be noted. A key point of consideration is the fact that this formalized submittal to the interface is very distinct from any actual knowledge of the partner-interactor. yet is obviously an artificial construct (i. The human. even though the binary operations involved are significantly more complex. A good example of this is the ‘drag-and-drop’ concept. in that it standardizes a formal set of spatial relationships in a similar (albeit grossly simplified) graphical way to physical space. It may seem that only the object-interactor (in this case. assumptive .From this type of mechanism. Certainly it is the case that the computer has no choice or agency in this submittal. and very differently structured than the graphical motion conducted by the actor-human. Similarly.

knowledge of its existence. Rejoining the Real. such an assay could. to remove the reverential adoration of the human self in favor of a vision of reality wherein action is constituted solely as the network projection of an extensively interfaced. While most moderns regularly utilize the GUI. Nevertheless. instead forcing the two distinct and complex entities to communicate in a highly ritualized virtual arena. cast in terms of human/nonhuman submission to a mutual interface ruleset. it is an extremely small minority that actually knows how the formalized interactions of the interface restructure the physical data on the other side. The human . are functions of constructed symbolic interface. it is at once a small step and a profoundly premature leap to categorize all of human interaction in this way. they still serve to provide a holographic environment for communication. Moreover. human/nonhuman or otherwise. III. at the very worst result in the substitution of a novel myth for an ancient one. The Humanist revolts at the thought. hallucinogenic miasma of hybrids would seem ridiculous and obscene to many who prize and respect their particularized vesicles of being. albeit one tailored to the human component’s preferences and needs. nor educating the computer in how a human thinks. the End of Objects So let the thought experiment continue: it can easily be put forth that all interactions. and at best it could well provide for an informed and effective solution to the ancient tension so firmly established between society and the natural world. Even as user interface systems begin to utilize adaptive learning. With this analytic mindset. nothing in the GUI is aimed at communicating or training the human participant in an understanding of digital data structures.

From coded signals in colored traffic lights to highly stylized icons directing vehicular and pedestrian movement. Because action depends heavily upon the projected virtual decision sandbox of the holographic self. The individual. so to speak— in each unique context. one effectively avoids the pitfalls associated with that polarization. It is by carefully programmed reflex response to particular arrangement of known symbols that one knows how best to act. one is often forced to invoke a known set of convenient interface mechanisms. and certainly cannot be said to be a truly accurate rendering of the human decision process. yet it does seem to provide an easier model for analysis of communication than does the standard Humanist model. cast amidst this myriad constellation of symbols is forced to adopt distinct behavioral patterns— a different “I”. by informing the choice of a properly bounded. to the facial expressions and clothing of fellow citizens. a walk down the street in any city provides vivid illustration. for matters of sheer practicality. practical set of hybrid communication signals. It becomes surprisingly .mind is exceptionally well adapted to ignore the real in favor of the symbolic.’ Practical discussion of individual interaction quickly bogs down in the semantic contradictions that result from restraining analysis to the classical limits of the self. as opposed to formulating these de novo. For some time. by abandoning analysis in terms of discrete subject-object systems. all represent an inherited set of simple societal signals linked to complex organizational behaviors. to the architectural language encrypted into the buildings themselves. philosophers have struggled to reconcile man’s ease in symbolic communication with the immensity of the construed gulf between the ‘self’ and the ‘other. This sounds admittedly absurd in theory.

consequence and causality—and hence the individual’s choices toward action— are examined exclusively in terms of and within this model. (2) (6) (11) III. which is applied to the projected model of causality maintained by the actor. I. components submit to a consensual virtual interface. as the focus of analytical interest.) (4) (10) II. any input from the ‘other’ must be filtered and processed in a very precise way. and interpreted as a hypothetical maxim (in the manner of Kant). it is that interface that constitutes and defines the acting hybrid. compared to a reference set of symbols. now redefined as one of many engaged elements within the acting system. Figure 1.easier to comprehend the subtleties of communication when one is willing to embrace a remarkably different principle of investigation: whereas the classic standpoint posits a ‘self’ and an ‘other’ acting as discrete and observably real components. then interpreted symbolically. now we are presented with a ‘self’ that never contacts an ‘other’. (1) (5) . Instead. first perceived. Once the model is sufficiently well constructed.. (3) (7) (9) (8. In general. and it is this hybrid that should replace the ‘self’..

consider the toy. once more the data collected is organized by the individual (6) and used to hone the mental projection (7). then the virtual models constructed by each will become more and more similar. which are again projected toward the other (5). . implying that a relatively high degree of accuracy has been achieved. if the ‘other’ is in fact another acting individual. This refined model is used to compute a more efficient second set of queries (4). conducting thought-experiments to predict the outcomes of particular actions. the GUI represents a visualized virtual interaction model that has been optimized to continuity for all involved parties. returned to the individual (2). Once a desirable outcome has been successfully accomplished in this virtual environment. when confronted with an object/person other than itself (III). which is positioned to physically effect the ideal action toward the other (11). the process continues in such a manner (8) until it is recognized that further queries do little to improve the acting model. to the extent that it may be instantiated by reflex. the specific commands associated with it are relayed to the physical individual (10).For clarity’s sake. is used to inform a more specialized representation of the other in the virtual (3). This illustrates the utilization of a projected virtual decision model (I) toward decisive action. without necessitation the formulation of a novel interface for each instance of the human/computer hybrid. when a common model for communication is achieved. From here. by an individual (II). the term ‘interface’ becomes very appropriate. The individual then consults this practically reliable model (9). two-dimensional interaction schema diagrammed in Figure 1. Moreover. In terms of the example previously discussed. Initially. the data from which. crude observational queries are made of the other (1).

sugar. it is especially interesting to analytically engage language in terms of this notion of symbolic interface. Language. a general savor for the pharmaceutical fruits of the high-tech chemical industries. and a well- connected and pervasive illicit drug counterculture. at any point in history—a culture driven by the altered state. in fact. When examined in terms of two polarized selves. the dissection of linguistic communication becomes much simpler. is further massaged into a willing submission to the symbolic ruleset of the human/other barrier. Between institutionalized alcohol and stimulants (caffeine. In abandoning these classical limits. the self. a glass of wine before a social engagement. A shot of espresso before writing a paper. the manner in which linguistic communication is effected through a vast. lends itself nicely to deconstruction as a largely virtual artifice.e. grammatical construction. an individual is provided with an array of methods for optimizing (for a very arguable value of ‘optimal’) the kinetics of interface communication. inflection.It is clear that there is a wealth of material for practical analysis in this way. By utilizing this vast societal chemical knowledge base. it must be noted. modern society is—perhaps more so than any other. The issue of how two individuals can use a simple vocal/textual instantiation of a particular ‘coded’ set of words to pass discrete information from one to the other in a meaningful way has drawn much frustrated analysis down the ages (i. . much of the modern experience of the self involves a calculated skewing of perception. evolving set of coded symbols—words. which is already being recast for deployment in each new context. It has been very well described. Of course. For example. Lacan). such study again tends to break down in the semantic fumbling of the self/other boundary. a furtive joint on the beach with friends. idiomatic style. nicotine).

What is more. humans function as sophisticated group minds. though. if indeed we are to be effectively prepared for the great leaps of consciousness our future will require of us. bounded set of formal symbolic rules. it will become increasingly urgent to forcibly expand the classically limited notion of the acting self.dialect—the appropriate subset of which are carefully chosen in each situation to accurately transmit particular data from party to party in manageable and interpretable forms. it is in such a spirit that we must be prepared to deconstruct the central tenants of the ‘human condition’. ‘lest meaning be lost. skewed or misinterpreted in translation. Whether or not this presents a more accurate model for human behavior than does the classical self/other dichotomy is certainly arguable. Noting this multidirectional effort to assume a common. So viewed. and that doing so manages to skirt many of the pitfalls typical of analysis cast in terms of the self/other barrier. it is a bold but relatively straightforward enterprise to begin redefining humanity entirely in these terms. for language to be effective. Even if the arguments presented here amount to no more than a trivial thought-experiment. it is quite clear that the world of interfaced hybrid-actors is very easily engaged with. it is almost impractical to avoid describing language as a virtual symbolic interface. dynamically interfacing human-human and human-nonhuman hybrids. From even these meager essays into this mode of interface analysis. a society of loosely bounded. Continuing in this fashion. . is that as homo sapiens continues its reckless trajectory into the transcendent network density of the posthuman. What is obvious. all involved parties must make a conscious effort to utilize the same set of symbols.